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Mercedes lock out Chinese GP front row with Bottas on pole

Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton after qualifying

Valtteri Bottas will start Formula One‘s 1,000th world championship race from pole position after securing a Mercedes front row lockout with team mate Lewis Hamilton at the Chinese Grand Prix on Saturday.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel qualified in third place, ahead of team mate Charles Leclerc.

Bottas, who last started a grand prix from the top slot in Russia last September and won this year’s opener in Australia, was the third different driver to take pole in three races this season.

“The lap was OK, not completely how I wanted. Luckily it was good enough for pole,” smiled the Finn, who had been faster than Hamilton all weekend.

“Lewis also managed to improve a lot during the qualifying and it was super-close.”

Bottas took pole in one minute 31.547 seconds, 0.023 clear of five times world champion Hamilton, who is also a five times winner in China and a point behind his team mate after two races.

“I didn’t give up, I kept pushing right to the end. Big congratulations to Valtteri, he’s been stellar all weekend and I’ve been struggling and fighting the car,” said the Briton.

“To be as close as we are at the end is fantastic. An incredible result for the team. There was a little bit more time left on the table there but that’s cool, I’ll try and get it tomorrow,” added Hamilton.

The pole was the seventh of the Finn’s career and first in China, where his Mercedes team have won five of the last seven races.

Ferrari had arrived in China as favourites after showing their speed in Bahrain, particularly on the straights, with Leclerc on pole.

While unable to match the Mercedes cars for overall pace in Shanghai, Vettel hoped that straight line speed would help him on Sunday, especially with the track’s main straight over a kilometre long.

“I think there was maybe a little bit more but overall not enough to beat these guys today,” said the 31-year-old German.

The top 10 positions went two-by-two in team order, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly fifth and sixth and ahead of the Renault pair of Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg.

With the field of cars bunching up, Verstappen was unable to cross the line to start his final run before the clock ran down, which prompted a frustrated outburst over the radio from the 21-year-old Dutchman.

Haas’s Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean completed the top 10 qualifiers.

Kimi Raikkonen, the former Ferrari driver and 2007 world champion, failed to make the final phase of qualifying for the first time since 2016 and will start 13th for Alfa Romeo.

His Italian team mate Antonio Giovinazzi failed to set a time and starts 19th, one place ahead of Thailand’s Alexander Albon who did not take part in qualifying after a crash in final practice left his Toro Rosso a mangled mess.

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