Lewis Hamilton holds off Sebastian Vettel to win in Shanghai

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton stormed to pole position for Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix after clocking the fastest ever lap of the Shanghai circuit in the dying seconds of a hard-fought qualifying session on Saturday.

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel just put on a masterclass of insane, ain't-care passing trying to claw his way back up from a decidedly meh start to his Chinese Grand Prix.

The safety vehicle was called again after Antonio Giovinazzi smashed his Sauber into a wall, allowing Hamilton to take a "free" pit stop to switch to soft tyres and build an early cushion.

"It's going to be one of the closest (title fight), if not the closest one I've experienced", Hamilton said on the podium.

"And I think Ferrari's race pace is a step up [over their one-lap pace], particularly when it's warm, so it will be interesting to see what the weather brings".

"Those last 20 laps or so, we were really exchanging times and I tried to match it".

It allowed Vettel through and he set about chasing Hamilton down, but the triple world champion, who is now level with Alain Prost on 106 career podiums from just 190 starts (only the great Michael Schumacher has more) was in no mood to be caught.

Canadian rookie Lance Stroll was the first casualty of the inclement conditions after he was punted from behind by the Force India of Sergio Perez. As the race developed, both Vettel ad Verstappen took over their respective team mates and then Vettel heading wheel to wheel with Riciardo managing to pull off another move to get ahead of the Red Bull.

Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas was third, just one-thousandth of a second further adrift.

"If you have got two kilos on either side, and then take the two kilos off and put four on, what is the point?"

When the race restarted on lap seven, the whole field was now on slicks, with Ricciardo stood Hamilton's closest rival, after Vettel lost ground through the earlier stop and Bottas spun under the safety vehicle when trying to warm up his tyres. The Canadian beached his Williams in the gravel, bringing out the virtual safety auto.

Two weeks after beating Hamilton at the season-opening Australian GP, Vettel had to settle for second place this time, finishing 6.2 seconds behind his rival. Waiting to find out what the others had done after I crossed the line was pretty tense!

"Ferrari have done a great job and so have we". He came out ahead of Verstappen in third, some 35s behind race leader Hamilton, who pitted two laps later for softs and re-emerged in the lead.

Hamilton and Vettel both lowered their times by a little over 0.2secs on their final runs and the Mercedes man kept the advantage.

Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo rebounded from a disastrous race in Australia to qualify in fifth place. I felt really strong coming into the final corner knowing I was up by a couple of tenths.

McLaren endured another miserable race as neither Stoffel Vandoorne nor Fernando Alonso finished, and Daniil Kvyat also failed to get his Toro Rosso to the end.

"I think he was happy about losing the bet".

  • Julie Sanders