Lewis Hamilton secured a maiden pole for his new Mercedes AMG team in an ultra-weird qualifying session, with Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button both choosing to forsake quick times in favor of harder tires for race day strategy while Kimi Räikkönen placed 2nd for the Lotus F1 Team.
Lewis Hamilton, whose pole position for ‘s Chinese Grand Prix is his first for Mercedes and the 27th of his career, has a number of qualities as a Formula One driver. Most noticeably, there is a breathtaking turn of speed that, all else being equal, is simply too much for his many strong rivals. Now there is another crucially important factor: great luck.
After the mishaps that dogged him at McLaren last year, when he should have won the championship in what was often the fastest car, he may argue this is merely a turning of the wheel of fortune, a levelling of the field of the fates.
But even in his most outrageously optimistic moments, the Briton cannot have imagined what has befallen him in recent weeks. Most wise paddock folk felt Hamilton had made a terrible mistake when he left McLaren, a team of serial achievers, for a Mercedes outfit with a solitary victory since they returned to the sport in 2010 – Nico Rosberg’s win at this circuit last year.
But in the narrow space of three races this year, Hamilton has seen his old team come up with a duffer of a car and his new machine suddenly discover a true Silver Arrow in their otherwise misfiring quiver. On top of that, it is possible to read into recent events – not least of them Mark Webber starting from the back of the field on Sunday because his car did not have enough fuel in it for qualifying – that Red Bull are on the edge of a spectacular implosion. That might be fanciful, for Red Bull still have the fastest cars out there, but it is looking good for Hamilton.
It is tempting to credit him with the foresight of Nostradamus, but it is nothing of the sort. His reasons for leaving McLaren for Mercedes are more complicated. But right now it is looking very good indeed for him. If there is to be a British world champion this year, it is more likely to be Hamilton than Jenson Button, whose eighth place on the grid, one ahead of Sebastian Vettel, is about par for the team’s malaise, although they followed a different tyre strategy here.
After winning his third pole position at this track, Hamilton was so excited that he turned his radio off in case he said something silly. “Every pole is special in its own way,” he said. “Being in a new team, it feels like the first, and the first of many. I’ve been racing for so long it’s good to feel that buzz when it does come together.”
Hamilton also admitted he is still learning how to drive his car, which must have done the world of good for Rosberg, who starts fourth on grid behind the formidable trio of Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso.
Hamilton, who was almost 0.3sec quicker than Raikkonen, said: “There is so much information to take in and I’m still learning. I’m still not up to speed with everything. I struggled with the braking on Friday. Then there are the steering-wheel controls. Things are the other way round from the way they were. But this weekend I’ve made a good step.
“It’s just getting better and better, and we’ve put ourselves in the best position for a win. It feels just like my first pole in 2007. When I signed, I didn’t dream that I would be on pole at the third race. We have good race pace. The Red Bull will be competitive and the Ferrari and Lotus are going to be hard to work with. But it was a great lap. I thought: ‘If someone beat that they deserved pole.’”
This was also a memorable day for the Mercedes principal, Ross Brawn, who took years to turn around Ferrari’s fortunes. “We made some changes last year, which were painful and part of the reason why we had a poor second half to the season,” he said. “But now the boys back at the factory have been rewarded.” On Hamilton, he added: “It takes time to settle into a new team. Lewis has been fast before this, but today he had a quiet determination about him.”
The focus during the race will be on how the frontrunners will fare on their softer tyres; behind them, Button and Vettel, on mediums, will last longer.
While Saturday was all about Hamilton, it was also a satisfactory qualifying session for Daniel Ricciardo (seventh) and Nico Hulkenberg (10th). But Webber’s face looked even longer than it did in Malaysia, where Vettel swept past him against team orders. “It’s very disappointing,” he said, after being relegated from 14th to the back after his team’s mistake. “We need a bit of luck now.” He should talk to Hamilton.
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