Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position for the Chinese Grand Prix after leading every practice and qualifying session in Shanghai bar one.
But with Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa and the ‘third Ferrari’ of Fernando Alonso right behind him he will be under huge pressure at the start.
Meanwhile Robert Kubica failed to qualifying inside the top ten, a major blow to his already slim championship hopes.
Hamilton carried his form from practice into qualifying and with a single lap set a time quicker than anyone else by half a second up to that point. Team mate Heikki Kovalainen eventually improved to second, one tenth slower than Hamilton, but Massa remained four tenths adrift and.
Meanwhile the other title rival – Kubica – was visibly struggling, and only made it into Q2 by 0.228s have languished in the bottom five for much of the session.
Kubica’s late improvement knocked David Coulthard into the drop zone, but Rubens Barrichello got his Honda in Q2 by less than a tenth of a second. But Coulthard fumed at Nick Heidfeld afterwards, claiming the BMW driver had delayed him.
Bottom five drivers’ times for part one
16. David Coulthard 1’36.731
17. Kazuki Nakajima 1’36.863
18. Jenson Button 1’37.053
19. Adrian Sutil 1’37.730
20. Giancarlo Fisichella 1’37.739
While the Ferraris put on the medium compound option tyres and went fastest – Massa with a 1’35.135 – Hamilton stayed on the harder tyres and could only manage fifth, 0.3s slower. He did a second run, switching to the medium tyres. That final lap saw him improve to a 1’34.947, putting him top of the times.
But Kubica was in trouble once again and this time there was no late reprieve – he could only manage 12th while Heidfeld made it into the final ten.
Barrichello managed 14th ahead of Rosberg, and both the Toyotas were also eliminated.
Bottom five drivers’ times for part two
11. Nelson Piquet Jnr 1’35.722
12. Robnert Kubica 1’35.814
13. Timo Glock 1’35.937
14. Rubens Barrichello 1’36.079
15. Nico Rosberg 1’36.210
Hamilton’s first lap in Q3 was spoiled by a mistake in the middle sector. It left him fifth, 0.01s slower than Massa, but 0.6s slower than his team mate, who was quickest.
But he hit back on his second lap, beating Raikkonen by 0.3s to claim the 13th pole position of his career.
Raikkonen carried huge speed through the final corner to claim second and out-qualify Massa for the second race in a row. Kovalainen had a poor final lap, falling from first to fifth behind Alonso. Mark Webber took sixth, but will have a ten-place penalty having changed his engine.
Top ten drivers’ times for part three
1. Lewis Hamilton 1’36.303
2. Kimi Raikkonen 1’36.645
3. Felipe Massa 1’36.889
4. Fernando Alonso 1’36.927
5. Heikki Kovalainen 1’36.930
6. Mark Webber 1’37.083
7. Nick Heidfeld 1’37.201
8. Sebastian Vettel 1’37.685
9. Jarno Trulli 1’37.934
10. Sebastien Bourdais 1’38.885