Morning all! After a three-week break, F1 is back and this weekend we're in the Chinese coastal city of Shanghai.
The Shanghai International Circuit has been hosting motorsport's most prestigious drivers for nine years now. Last year saw Mercedes
man Nico Rosberg
win his first ever grand prix with a superb pole-to-flag finish. The German is in form and could upset the likes of Sebastian Vettel
and Fernando Alonso
The Ferraris of Alonso and Felipe Massa
go into the one-hour qualifying session after a one-two final practice this morning
Yesterday Massa and Alonso were first and third
respectively in second practice while it was Rosberg who topped the timesheets
in the opening feel of the rubber.
It's always surprising not to see Mr Vettel atop the standings in any F1 session but don't write off the reigning three-time world champion. Red Bull
tend to excel in qualifying and that is where Vettel is at his strongest.
Vettel is the current world championship leader
after winning the last race in Malaysia. Remember what happened in Kuala Lumpur? Vettel ignored team orders and overtook teammate Mark Webber
, who had turned down his engine and was coasting home. After the race Webber was extremely angry with Vettel but I believe that tensions aren't running quite so high this weekend.
Just in case you've forgotten how F1 qualifying works or you're new to the sport, here's a quick rundown:
All 22 cars take part in a 20-minute 'Q1' session. The six slowest cars after this period are eliminated and start the race from their position between 17-22.
Next is a 15-minute 'Q2' session where the remaining 16 cars battle for a place in the final top 10 shootout. As before, the cars that finish in positions 11-16 start the race from those spots.
Finally, the 10-minute pole position shootout where the 10 quickest cars from Q2 fight it out for the final positions on the grid.
Here's a little more information on the track: One lap of the Shanghai International Circuit is 3.39 miles long and in tomorrow's race the 22 cars will go round 56 times. There are 16 turns and the highlight section is perhaps right at the start, where a quarter of those turns come very quickly in what looks like a ying-yang symbol from above.
The weather in Shanghai is pretty fair. The sunlight is currently winning the battle with the clouds, with temperatures around the mid-20s.
With five minutes until Q1 begins, it's time for my thoughts on the grid. There's no clear favourite but Ferrari
have looked very strong and I'm going to say that Massa will be on pole in a little over an hour's time.
Expect to see the cars of Marussia and Caterham exit in this first session but which two drivers from the more established teams will join them in being knocked out?
GREEN LIGHT! Q1 is underway but so far there's very little action down the pit lane.
The bigger teams tend to let the smaller ones go out first and 'clean up' the track. It looks like Mercedes
will be out soon though as Rosberg and Hamilton squeeze themselves into their cars.
And still we wait for the roar of an engine. Five minutes have now elapsed of Q1 so we're sure to be in for a frantic end to this session.
The track temperature is up to 41 degrees - the hottest it has been all weekend.
TWEET TWEET! Here's Caterham on Twitter: "A quiet start to quali with tyre conservation on everyone's minds. It's also warmed up since [third practice] - now 27C air temperatures and 41C track temp."
At last we have a car out on track as the Marussia of Jules Bianchi zips out of the pits. He's soon joined by teammate Max Chilton and the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne.
Last year's winner Rosberg is the first big gun to exit his garage and he's on the soft tyre straight away. The second, medium, compound is expected to perform much better during the race tomorrow.
Bianchi sets the first time at 1:39.0. Rosberg is blitzing way past that as he passes the halfway point of his first lap.
The German crosses the line at 1:35.959! Three seconds quicker than Bianchi. That just shows the gulf in speed between the front runners and back markers.
HAMILTON edges out his teammate at the top of the timesheet with a 1:35.793. The Mercedes cars are looking good, they carry truly mighty speed down the straights and the back straight in Shanghai is one of the longest in F1.
He was the winner of the first race in Australia, but Raikkonen has just gone 1.2s slower than the pace of Hamilton. The big teams are all out on track now but they can't get ahead of the two Mercedes at the top.
Into the final two minutes of the first session and it's currently both Toro Rossos who will be joining the Caterhams and Marussias in being knocked out.
Vergne crosses the line and he's done enough for 15th at the moment.
Ricciardo also escapes an exit and it's Bottas of Williams and Sauber's Gutierrez who are set to be knocked out.
OUT! These are the six drivers, in order, who will not take part in Q2: 17 Bottas 18 Gutierrez 19 Bianchi 20 Chilton 21 Pic 22 Van der Garde
At the front the two Mercedes could not be displaced, with Hamilton a tenth of a second quicker than teammate Rosberg.
Further back, the Force Indias of Di Resta and Sutil almost exited after a fairly disappointing first session. Sutil told his team over the radio that his lap was ruined by Raikkonen and that the stewards should look into it.
GREEN LIGHT! Q2 is underway and championship leader Vettel is straight out. No waiting like there was in the first session.
The German crosses the line with a 1:36.260. Not too bad and that should be enough to see him safely through to the top 10. Remember, Hamilton managed to get into the 1:35s in Q1.
Vettel's teammate Webber was quicker in Q1 but not this time as he goes second-fastest with a 1:36.679.
Alonso to the top with a 1:36.186. Vettel is now the meat of a Ferrari
sandwich as Massa goes third.
OUT OF GAS! Oh dear Red Bull! Webber can't make it back to the pit as it looks like he has run out of fuel and parked himself just off the track.
Raikkonen and then Rosberg go quicker than Alonso with times around 1:35.5. Half a second quicker than Alonso!
HAMILTON again with an immense effort as he posts a 1:35.078, almost half a second quicker than his teammate Rosberg and that's the quickest time of the weekend.
Webber will not be able to run again in qualifying because of his fuelling issue. He waves to the fans in his stranded position in the sunlight and once again it's happened to him, not Vettel. He currently occupies eighth place.
Into the final two minutes and Grosjean is the only man not to set a time but he is now out of the garage. The Frenchman will only have one shot at making the top 10.
There's 12 cars out on track as the session is chequer flagged. At the moment the biggest name set to exit is Perez of McLaren
What a ridiculous end to the session. All 12 drivers that were out on track set their fastest times as the leaderboard leapt around with every second.
OUT! Here are the six drivers, in order, who won't take part in the top-10 shootout: 11 Di Resta 12 Perez 13 Sutil 14 Webber 15 Maldonado 16 Vergne
The biggest name of that six is clearly Webber but it's hardly his fault because of that refuelling issue that left him short of gas.
One man who does impress in Toro Rosso's Ricciardo. He put in a fantastic lap to finish in ninth. Button asks who is in the top 10 on his radio and when told that Ricciardo is there he says: "Ricciardo? Wow."
Ricciardo's teammate Vergne was right at the bottom in Q2 and that just shows how superb a lap that was from the Aussie.
THE TOP 10: These are 10 drivers who will contest for pole position: Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel, Massa, Rosberg, Raikkonen, Button, Grosjean, Ricciardo, Hulkenburg
At the moment Hamilton looks unstoppable but now is the time when the likes of Alonso and Vettel will bring their A-game.
Di Resta tells Sky Sports F1 that he will definitely take 11th. The Scot says that the Force Indias weren't looking good this morning and 11th is better than expected.
GREEN LIGHT! Q3 is underway. Ten minutes of action to determine who will start on pole. Once again Vettel is first out.
Vettel is out on a used set of soft tyres and it will be interesting to see how close he can get to Hamilton's mark of 1:35.0.
Hmmmm. Things are a little strange at Red Bull today. Vettel does his out-lap and then is told to pit on his in-lap so no time is set.
Five minutes of the ten have already gone and once more there is no action in the pit lane. This qualifying has seen very little action but we're now in for a gripping finale. Who will grab top spot? I still fancy a Ferrari although Hamilton has been very impressive.
At this rate the drivers are just going to have one shot at setting a time and that of course leaves absolutely no room for error.
This really is very strange. The drivers look very calm and the engineers too are just standing around waiting. I think all 10 cars will go out and here comes Raikkonen, the first to crack.
Vettel surprises us all by putting on a set of the medium tyres and he's joined by Massa and Button. Remember, the tyres you qualify on are the ones you start the race on so it's clear that Red Bull want Vettel on the medium, faster compound straight away.
Here we go then, into the final minute. It's going to be frenetic!
Raikkonen's benchmark is 1:34.761.
Rosberg goes wide on the final corner and is slower. Hamilton goes fastest. Alonso third.
LEWIS HAMILTON WILL START THE CHINESE GRAND PRIX ON POLE!
Tremendous stuff from Hamilton as he crosses the line in 1:34.484. Vettel made a mistake on his flying lap and didn't end up setting a time. That means he will have free choice of tyre for the start of the race tomorrow.
TOP 10! Here's how they finished after Q3: 1 Hamilton 2 Raikkonen 3 Alonso 4 Rosberg 5 Massa 6 Grosjean 7 Ricciardo 8 Button 9 Vettel 10 Hulkenburg
Hulkenburg was the only other driver not to bother setting a time while Button was about 30 seconds adrift of Hamilton's pace. That is because simply crossing the line means that he will start ahead of the two cars who didn't set a time.
One man who won't be too happy is Rosberg. He was absolutely flying until making a slight error on the last corner. He may not have been quick enough to beat Hamilton but would have secured second I'm sure.
Button looks very different with a new clean-shaven look and he says that McLaren
still has a "long way to go" until they're properly competing with the frontrunners.
That's about it from me for this morning. If you've only just joined us and want a recap of qualifying then Darren Plant's report is here
. Make sure you join us here on SM
for the race tomorrow. Our coverage begins at 7.30am, with the race beginning at 8am.