Ecstatic Hamilton claims first pole with Mercedes in China

Mercedes driver powers to the front in Shanghai as Webber is demoted following fuel error.

Lewis Hamilton said he was ecstatic with his first pole position for new team Mercedes after a qualifying session that saw Mark Webber demoted to the back of the grid after a fuel problem left his RB8 without the amount needed for an adequate sample to be taken.

Although quick throughout the weekend’s opening practice sessions, Hamilton’s hopes of claiming pole seemed to have been dealt a major blow in FP3 by Ferrari for whom Fernando Alonso delivered a lap some six tenths of a second clear of second-placed team-mate Felipe Massa. It looked like the afternoon might see the Spaniard claim his first pole since Germany last year or the rejuvenated Massa hit the front for the first time since Brazil 2008.

Hamilton put paid to that, however, with a superb final lap of 1.34.484 that put him well clear of Raikkonen and Alonso.

“It’s an incredible feeling, I’m so happy to have our first pole for some time,” said Hamilton afterwards. “I’m just ecstatic really. The lap was great. The team performed well all weekend so far and I hope that we can carry that into tomorrow.”

The Briton admitted, however, that he had been unsure as to whether he could eclipse the Ferraris in the final top-10 shoot-out.

“In P3 the Ferraris were very, very quick and I didn’t know where they’d be in qualifying,” he said. “Obviously we had really good pace for Q1 and Q2 but that last lap is so difficult to get. In qualifying we had 10 minutes but we left it down to right to like three minutes to go or something like that. You’ve got to get the perfect out lap, you’ve got to do the perfect lap to get yourself up there and I really can’t complain about the laps, so I’m really happy.”

It was a less happy day for Webber, who was sent to the back of the grid after running too low on fuel midway through Q2 and being forced to halt at Turn 14. As Webber was unable to drive his car back to the pits under its own power and because official could not extract the required amount of fuel from his RB9 the race stewards thus decided that Webber and his team were in breach of Article 6.6.2 of the technical regulations and the Australian was excluded from qualifying.

He will be allowed to start from the back of the grid. The team also has the option to start him from pitlane if it opts to effect any changes to the car to compensate for Webber’s lowly starting position.

Raikkonen, meanwhile, confessed that he lacked the ultimate pace with which to challenge Hamilton’s pole lap but said he was pleased with his start on the front row.  

“I think the gap is quite big still and we don’t have that speed right now,” he said. “So, second is not bad, I think it’s the best that I’ve been with the team ever. Not too bad, but of course you’d rather be in first place. I think we are missing downforce in the middle sector a bit, but we’ll see what we can do tomorrow.”

For Alonso, third place and a fifth-place spot on the grid for team-mate Felipe Massa represented a solid return for Ferrari.

“I think the weekend has been very good for us,” he said. “This morning we made some changes and the car is responding well and I think we have a good set-up for the race as well. I think tomorrow if everything goes well we should be able to fight for the podium, hopefully with both cars, so this is good news so far for the team.”

Vettel, meanwhile, decided to bolt on medium tyres for Q3 in the hope that in the race he might steal a march on soft tyre-shod rivals in the first stint tomorrow, as they will have to pit much earlier. However, his hopes of being the best-placed medium starter faded when a brake problem on his RB8 saw him skid off at the end of his final lap and he abandoned the run. His inability to set a time in the final session gives him the choice of which tyre to start on tomorrow. Vettel will line up in ninth between Jenson Button who will start on medium tyres and tenth-placed Nico Hulkenberg who also has a choice of tyres after opting not to set a time in Q3.

"I lost the brake pedal or something broke, so I couldn't finish the lap anyway," he said.

"I checked the tyres and there's no damage. There wasn't much load on them when I locked up."

Performance of the day, perhaps, went to Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo who made it to Q3 for the first time since the Bahrain Grand Prix of 2012.

“I’m definitely looking forward to having a strong race tomorrow and will give it all I've got to make the most of this seventh place on the grid,” he said. “This result will boost everyone's spirits, and mine as well and I really can't wait for the lights to go out tomorrow! The guys have been working so hard back at the factory and they've made the car quicker, so well done to everyone.”

2013 FIA Formula One Chinese Grand Prix qualifying results
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:34.484
2 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 1:34.761
3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:34.788
4 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:34.861
5 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:34.933
6 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:35.364
|7 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:35.998|
8 Jenson Button McLaren 2:05.673
9 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing No Time        
10 Nico Hülkenberg Sauber No Time      
11 Paul di Resta Force India 1:36.287     
12 Sergio Pérez McLaren 1:36.314          
13 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:36.405      
14 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing 1:36.679        
15 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:37.139|
16 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:37.199          
17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:37.769      
18 Esteban Gutiérrez Sauber 1:37.990  
19 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:38.780        
20 Max Chilton Marussia 1:39.537          
21 Charles Pic Caterham 1:39.614          
22 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:39.660