Bottas takes China pole from Hamilton


Valtteri Bottas fended off team-mate Lewis Hamilton in a tight battle for pole position at the Chinese Grand Prix as Mercedes out-paced Ferrari.

Bottas, the quicker Mercedes driver all weekend in Shanghai, found his advantage cut by Hamilton to just 0.023 seconds as the world champion finally found pace.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was third fastest, 0.301secs off the pace, and just 0.017secs quicker than team-mate Charles Leclerc.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly took fifth and sixth places.

Red Bull looked to have a chance to challenge the Ferraris after the first runs, when Verstappen split Vettel and Leclerc, but a misjudgement meant neither car made it around to start the final laps before the chequered flag fell.

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Bottas on fire

Bottas, who had had a comfortable lead over Hamilton all weekend, found himself under severe pressure in the top 10 shoot-out.

The Finn, who leads Hamilton at the head of the championship, was just 0.007secs quicker than Hamilton on their first laps.

It was neck and neck on the second runs, but Bottas managed to improve as Hamilton slipped a little in the final sector of his run and Bottas had his first pole of 2019.

The Finn remains one point ahead of Hamilton in the drivers’ championship ahead of Sunday’s race at 07:10 BST, live on the BBC Sport website and 5 live.

Vettel had the edge on Leclerc all weekend, but the Monegasque came agonisingly close to beating him for the second weekend in a row.

Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto has said that Vettel will have priority in “50-50 situations” but has said the two will be allowed to race.

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A right Red Bull mix-up

It was a lost opportunity for Red Bull as neither car managed to complete a second lap in final qualifying – a problem that also hit Haas.

The Mercedes drivers were backing up the queue of cars at the front but Verstappen still could have made it through in time had he not backed off to try to get some space.

He was urged to hurry up by his engineer, but it was too late.

Team-mate Gasly was held up behind him and the Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean were also caught out.

That left an open goal for the Renault drivers to take seventh and eighth places and Daniel Ricciardo pipped team-mate Nico Hulkenberg by just 0.004secs.

Further down the field, it was a sobering day for McLaren, as Carlos Sainz and British rookie Lando Norris could manage only 14th and 15th places, a blow after their positive start to the season.

British novice George Russell beat Williams team-mate Robert Kubica for the third race in a row and for the first time this season the two Williams cars will not start the race from the back row.

Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi did not take part in qualifying because of an engine problem and Toro Rosso were not able to repair Alexander Albon’s car in time for qualifying after the Anglo-Thai rookie had a heavy crash at the end of final practice.

Albon, who had looked in with a good chance of making the top 10, said: “I am OK. More angry and disappointed than anything else. It was a big one and silly one. We had a good chance of being in Q3. We had a good car.”

His team-mate Daniil Kvyat had been seventh on his first run in Q2 but failed to improve on his second and missed out on a top 10 place by just 0.022secs.

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What they said

Bottas said: “It has been a good weekend so far. I felt really comfortable in practice this morning. In qualifying I struggled a bit in Q3 to get the perfect lap in but it was good enough.

“The car has been really good all weekend and Lewis managed to improve a lot during qualifying and it was super close.”

Hamilton said: “I kept pushing right to the end. Big congratulations to Valtteri. He has been stellar all weekend. I have been struggling and chipping away at it. The gap was 0.8secs at one stage so to be as close as we were is a good job and an incredible result for the team.”

Vettel admitted that Ferrari did not quite have the pace to challenge Mercedes on one lap but was optimistic he could challenge in the race.

“Right from Q1 they seemed to start off from a better place,” Vettel said. “We had a good session. I think there was maybe a little bit more but not enough to beat these guys today.

“When we get close we have an advantage in a straight line, and maybe we can do something there. The race is long and it should be a good day tomorrow.”

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