Lewis Hamilton yesterday roared to his first pole position for Mercedes, in a qualifying session at the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai that was dominated by tire strategy.
The Briton, who has been struggling with an allergy and went home early from the track on Thursday, left it late in the final session to grab pole ahead of Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus, the winner last month in Australia.
In warm and dry conditions, the electric Hamilton, who was fastest in all three qualifying sessions, clocked a best time of 1 minute, 34.484 seconds, compared with Raikkonen’s 1:34.761. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was third-fastest.
Nico Rosberg, Hamilton’s teammate, whose win in Shanghai last year was his first victory, qualified in fourth, ahead of the Ferrari of Felipe Massa. The Brazilian is to line up on the third row with Romain Grosjean of Lotus.
Surprise package Daniel Ricciardo of Toro Rosso and Jenson Button of McLaren rounded out the top eight.
Red Bull’s reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel could only qualify in ninth, but he will have a free choice of tires for the race after failing to log a time in the third and final session.
Nico Hulkenberg of Sauber was 10th on the grid.
Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber, whose strained relationship with the German has put both men in the spotlight, bowed out in only the second qualifying session after his Red Bull simply ground to a halt, waving to the crowd meekly.
He is to start today’s race down in 14th after suffering a fuel-related problem.
“I’ve been healthy the last two weeks and then I came here and felt ill,” said Hamilton, whose previous two outings for Mercedes since defecting from McLaren saw him qualify third in Australia and fourth in Malaysia.
The 28-year-old, the 2008 world champion, has reportedly been suffering a pollen allergy.
Vettel, along with Button, opted to run medium rubber in the final session, putting him in strong contention for the race despite his lowly placing.
He said that he hoped he would not have to pit as early as his rivals, who will start on the quicker, but faster-wearing soft tires.
“Generally I think we saw yesterday on soft tires everyone was struggling, so were we. I had to make them last so we decided to do something different. We didn’t set a lap time at all so we have a choice to go either way tomorrow,” Vettel said.
Alonso, the two-time world champion, said: “I’m very happy. This weekend has been very good for us. The car felt competitive from Friday. The car responded well to the changes we made. Tomorrow, if everything goes well, we should be able to fight for the podium with both cars.”
Outside the top-10 shootout, Force India’s Adrian Sutil found it rough going, his team telling him in the first qualifying session that it “looks a bit of a struggle.” He only qualified in 13th.
Another high-profile casualty was McLaren’s Sergio Perez, who has been battling all week and had to settle for 12th on the grid.