Lewis Hamilton’s Formula One championship fightback has suffered another big dent in Shanghai, qualifying only fourth for the Chinese Grand Prix, with Sebastian Vettel winning pole position.
Hamilton dominated Friday’s practice, but the Mercedes cars had no answer to Ferrari in Saturday qualifying. German Vettel led a front-row lockout ahead of teammate Kimi Raikkonen for the second-straight weekend.
Vettel, who already holds a 17-point lead over Hamilton with victories at the opening two GPs, saw off Raikkonen’s challenge to edge out the Finn with a dramatic last lap.
Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas lines up in third.
Earlier, Red Bull’s troubled start to the new season took another twist after Daniel Ricciardo’s engine blew up in final practice.
Ricciardo raced the clock to be ready for qualifying. But after frantic work by his crew, he emerged from his garage with only minutes of Q1 remaining.
The Australian, whose Bahrain GP lasted less than two laps after an electrical shutdown, posted a lap just good enough to squeeze through to the next phase.
Ricciardo managed to qualify sixth bringing some relief to him and Red Bull following their under-performing start to 2018. Max Verstappen will start one place ahead of his teammate.
Mercedes have dominated in recent years in China. It has been seven years since a silver car failed to line up on the front spot.
Hamilton struggled for pace, spinning during the morning practice session, before qualifying behind Bottas for the second time in as many races.
Hamilton was close to half-a-second down on Vettel, who will be the favourite to convert his pole into a third victory and extend his championship lead.
“I was happy with the whole lap,” said Vettel who finished just 0.087 seconds clear of Raikkonen. “The car was amazing and just kept getting better.
“I lost the rear of the car on my first lap so I was a bit beaten up but I knew, if I get a tidy lap and have a bit of magic, I could push it.”