Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton suffered another setback as Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel grabbed pole position in the Chinese Grand Prix.
Hamilton dominated practice here yesterday, but the Mercedes cars had no answer to Ferrari in qualifying with Sebastian Vettel leading a front-row lockout ahead of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen for the second weekend in succession.
Vettel, who already holds a 17-point lead over Hamilton following victories at the opening two races, saw off the challenge from Raikkonen to edge out the Finn with a dramatic last lap.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas lines up in third.
Mercedes have dominated in China in recent years. Indeed, you have to go back seven years for the last time a silver-coloured car failed to line up on the front spot.
But here, Hamilton struggled for pace on Saturday, spinning during the morning practice session, before qualifying behind Bottas for the second time in as many races.
Hamilton was the best part of 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 know if I get a tidy lap and have a bit of magic I could push it.”
Daniel Ricciardo faced a race against time to be ready for qualifying after his engine blew up in dramatic fashion in final practice. But following frantic work by his Red Bull crew, the Australian emerged from his garage with only minutes of Q1 remaining.
Ricciardo, whose Bahrain Grand Prix lasted less than two laps last Sunday following an electrical shutdown on his car, posted a lap just good enough to squeeze through to the next phase.
The Australian then qualified sixth which will come as a relief to both Ricciardo and his Red Bull team following their under-performing start to the new season. Max Verstappen will start one place ahead of his team-mate.
On the topic of Formula One’s under-performers, it proved to be yet another qualifying to forget for McLaren, with Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne again 13th and 14th.
The British team expected to be challenging Red Bull following their switch to Renault power, but they have failed to make progress over the winter and on the basis of their early-season form are only seventh of the 10 teams in F1’s pecking order.
The race in Bahrain marked McLaren’s 100th appearance without a victory and they appear further away from winning than ever before.
The failure of Britain’s biggest F1 teams has become a depressing theme this season with the two Williams cars again falling at the first hurdle. Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll qualified 16th and 18th.