LEWIS Hamilton grabbed a pole position he claimed felt as good as his first, but faced “a crazy race” according to Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg.
Hamilton was exceptional in qualifying for today’s Chinese Grand Prix as he finished quickest at the end of all three sessions at the Shanghai International Circuit.
The 27-year-old’s reward was top spot on the grid for the 27th time in his Formula One career, moving him up to seventh on the all-time list, and, more importantly, his first for his new team.
Describing himself as “ecstatic”, Hamilton conceded the feat is one that caught him by surprise as he was not expecting it to come so quickly following his switch to Mercedes. “When I met with Ross [Brawn, Mercedes team principal] at some point last year I was confident they were making the right changes, taking the right steps to move forward and we would start to see great results,” said Hamilton.
“But coming here we never expected to be as high as we are – I definitely didn’t expect it.”
The “crazy” aspect, according to Rosberg, would be played out in the first few laps because the top seven drivers all start on the soft Pirelli tyre. The compound degrades ultra rapidly, to such an extent you could see drivers pitting at the end of lap one as the tyre will be four laps old at that stage given the three completed by the end of qualifying.
In contrast, McLaren’s Jenson Button and three-times world champion Sebastian Vettel, who lined up eighth and ninth, were starting today’s race on the medium compound as they used that rubber in Q3.
Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg was lining up tenth and had a choice of rubber as he did not set a time.
With the German almost certain to go for medium, he, Button and Vettel were expected to be the leading trio – in whatever order – after just a handful of laps.
They, however, have to use the soft tyre at some point, likely to be at the bitter end of the race when the rest of the field will be coming back at them.
It was Mercedes’ first pole since this race a year ago when Rosberg took the chequered flag, and only the team’s second since returning to F1 at the start of 2010. Joining Hamilton on the front row was Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen, who was almost three tenths of a second adrift of the Briton, followed by Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.
Scotland’s Paul Di Resta qualified in 11th for Force India.