Formula One: Ferrari leads way in China

Momentum shift? Red Bull and Ferrari are prising open the Mercedes grip

Sebastian Vettel takes pole position for a second successive race in the 2018 Formula 1 season, after a scorching lap at the Chinese Grand Prix on Saturday.

Unlike their rivals, Ricciardo and Verstappen dived into the pits to take on fresh rubber, and the gamble worked for Ricciardo as he passed Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton, Vettel and finally Bottas for a quite remarkable win. In the afternoon he was slightly quicker with a time of 1:33.482.

It wasn't a particularly quick effort, however - the Australian struggled to extract pace from the ultrasoft tyre, as was the case during Friday practice - and he set a time good enough for only P13. Should he win here it will be his 50th career victory, putting him behind only Michael Schumacher, Hamilton and Alain Prost.

And it's why the Chinese GP is so crucial, perhaps the most important for the reigning world champions since their era of dominance began. Haas driver Romain Grosjean rounded out the top 10. Mercedes are now under real pressure. They will struggle to have a worse weekend than last time out in Bahrain, when both cars retired within the first six laps. Ferrari have not been victorious in Shanghai since Fernando Alonso took the flag in 2013, although Vettel was second a year ago, in a race dominated by Hamilton and Mercedes, who have won every meeting here since the turbo hybrid era began in 2014. We've even seen them dominate Mercedes by more than half a second.

The opening sector is a tight, twisting run that demands balance and downforce but the two major straights require low drag.

The big surprise of qualifying was how far off the Ferraris the defending constructors' champions Mercedes AMG F1 were. The conditions at the Shanghai International Circuit are cold, which should suit Mercedes, but it didn't in FP3. They were so fast on fresh tyres.

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A second coming together with Hamilton in as many weekends saw him lose fourth place to Ricciardo, before his clumsy manoeuvre on Vettel into Turn 14 - the same corner where Ricciardo so expertly picked off Hamilton - wrecked the chances of both drivers.

Sign up to The Recap, our weekly email of editors' picks. The stewards concurred slapping the Red Bull man with a timed penalty.

Ricciardo's participation was in question at the start of the qualifying session as his auto suffered a blown engine.

Max Verstappen will start one place ahead of his team-mate.

Nico Hulkenberg was seventh for Renault ahead of Force India's Sergio Perez.

Fernando Alonso led teammate Stoffel Vandoorne in 13th and 14th, with McLaren again qualifying slowest of all the Renault-powered cars, this week by around 0.3 seconds.

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