Ever since it was announced that Shanghai would host the 1000th Formula 1 Grand Prix of the modern era, the city has been awash with posters to celebrate the occasion. Sunday’s race is sold out which means 200,000 spectators will be in attendance for this Grand Prix in the Jiading district. So, who would claim pole on such a historic day?
Unfortunately, the Toro Rosso mechanics would have had to break records if they had any chance of getting Alex Albon back on track following his dramatic end to Free Practice 3. With 5 minutes until the start it was announced that Albon would not be part of the session. A day to forget for the young rookie.
The sun was shining and that was a stark contrast to qualifying sessions of previous years. This was owing to the decision to move the Shanghai F1 date later in the month of April than previously so that it did not clash with a national holiday. The numbers had urned up in the grandstands are were ready to be entertained.
First of all, the ROKiT Williams Racing Team did their usual ‘out first to temporarily top the timings’ and did so with a 1:37.421 for Robert Kubica on the soft compound before George Russell followed that with a 1:36.821. The battle of teammates really is all Williams can look forward to in this early part of the season. Following this, the Ferraris were out on track: Charles Leclerc first, closely followed by Vettel. For the Monegasque it was second due to his teammate’s 1:33.557. For Hamilton’s first timed lap he ran wide at the penultimate corner but did not have the same catastrophe which befell Albon due to a quick recovery. For Bottas though, no such issue and his 1:32.658 took him top.
With 5 and a half minutes to go, the field of cars were back in for new sets of rubber: Russell, Kubica and Stroll were all in danger of dropping out if they could not improve. Antonio Giovinazzi did not even make it out on track in the session and so he joined Alex Albon at the back. As it was (and unsurprisingly) the bottom four did not improve.
With the main grandstand full and busily snapping away photos of their idols rolling down pitlane.
The second qualifying session begun with Mercedes and Ferrari running the medium compound and Bottas drove the best lap of the session at that stage: 1:31.728. At Friday’s Team Principals’ Press Conference, Toto Wolff had said how much he disliked the depression of the media to write drivers up and down. Well, if this form of Bottas continued he could expect a week of positive publicity for the Finnish driver.
The driver quickest in practice 3 has taken pole for the last two years running at Shanghai…that honour was bestowed upon Valtteri Bottas – could the trend continue? Bottas’ lap was really something special as the best his nearest rival could manage was over 0.5 seconds behind.
Perez, Sainz, Raikkonen, Norris and Kvyat were the five drivers in the drop zone when the clock reached zero. This meant Pierre Gasly reached qualifying three for the first time since joining Red Bull. Max Verstappen needn’t be worried though.
Prior to this though, Lewis Hamilton lit up the timings with a 1:31.637 – now that was fast.
Unless Scuderia Ferrari could find something special, the pace shown by the Mercedes pair would not be beaten. As the countdown of 12 minutes started for the final qualifying session no one was willing to show their hand first. Everyone was on soft but due to excellent qualifying 2 strategy, Mercedes and Ferrari will start on the mediums.
1:31.570 from Hamilton, but Bottas took provisional pole due to being 0.007 seconds quicker. Ferrari were 0.5 seconds back and not in contention – this was all about Mercedes.
First over the line was Hamilton - 1:31.570 so provisional pole but Bottas had gone purple in the 2nd sector. This speed continued and he took pole by 0.023s! A front-low lockout for Mercedes (the 59th for the team) thanks to Hamilton in P2. Vettel and Leclerc are three tenths back in P3 and 4 respectively.
After all the hype, after all the publicity and after the ESPN.com article calling into question whether this is actually the 1000th Formula 1 Grand Prix - tomorrow the Shanghai Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place and the man sitting on pole for this historic event will be Valtteri Bottas. Fortunately, due to the new regulations, DRS zones and close running cars (in the free practice sessions at least) he will have a battle on his hands to convert it to victory tomorrow.
Binotto: "In a 50/50 situation we would give the advantage to Vettel"