Max and Pierre will line up on row three of the grid for the Chinese Grand Prix, F1’s 1000th race, though there was disappointment for both at the end of the session as traffic at the end of Q3 denied both drivers a chance to improve on their first runs of the session.
In the opening session, as he had done in FP2 and FP3, it was Bottas who set the pace in Q1, with the Finn claiming top spot thanks to a lap of 1:32.658. That left him almost half a second clear of team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who ran wide exiting the final corner. Max put in a good first run of 1:33.274 to slot into P3 ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg. The top five would sit out the final runs.
Pierre’s opening lap was a 1:34.063 and though there were only four to drop out from the session due to Alex Albon’s failure to take part due to car damage sustained in an FP3 crash, Pierre ran again late in the session. The Frenchman went through in P11 thanks to an improved lap of 1:33.863.
Eliminated at the end of the segment were Racing Point’s 16th-placed Lance Stroll, followed by the Williams cars of George Russell and Robert Kubica. Also out was Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi who failed to set a time in Q1.
Bottas held P1 through the final runs, but Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who caught traffic on his first run and lay in 10th ahead of the final laps, jumped to P2 with a second effort to shuffle Max down to fourth.
Bottas again stamped his authority in Q2 early on, setting a benchmark of 1:31.728 as the first of the leading pack to cross the line. Vettel got closest to him, half a second back, with Leclerc third.
Max slotted his RB15 into fourth place with a time of 1:32.389, ahead of Hamilton who again made a mistake on his lap. All five used the medium compound tyre for their opening runs. Pierre, meanwhile, took P6 with a time of 1:32.948, on a set of soft tyres.
Mercedes opted to run again at the end of the session with Bottas bolting on a set of soft tyres, but Hamilton opted instead for mediums and it was he who topped the session, setting a time of 1:31.637 to finish a tenth ahead of Bottas who backed out of his lap. Vettel and Max also went out on softs but also ran considerably slower on the lap as any threat dissipated.
Pierre remained in the garage during the final runs of Q2 and he held onto sixth place at the flag. Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg vaulted up the timesheet with his final time of 1:31.968, but it was two hundredths of a second shy of the Frenchman’s sole time of the segment. Hulkenberg went through ahead of the Haas cars of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, and 10th-placed Daniel Ricciardo.
Bottas returned to the top of the order in the first runs of Q3, but only just. The Finn edged team-mate Hamilton by just 0.007 to take provisional pole, with Vettel third.
Max put in a good lap of 1:32.089 to sit in fourth ahead of Leclerc, and Pierre was again sixth with a lap of 1:32.930, 0.032 ahead of Hulkenberg.
There was disappointment for the Red Bulls in the final runs though. Held up through the final corners during their out laps, neither Max nor Pierre were able to get across the line in time to complete a final flying lap, a situation that infuriated the Dutchman.
The traffic problems allowed Leclerc to jump to P4 with his final run to sit alongside Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel. The move meant that Max and Pierre will start from row three tomorrow, ahead of the Renaults of Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg and the Haas cars of Magnussen and Grosjean.
At the top of the order Hamilton couldn’t find the pace to oust Bottas from P1 and thanks to a marginal improvement the Finn took his seventh career pole by 0.023s.
3 – This is the third year in a row that the team will start in P5 and P6 in China.
2 – This is the second year in a row that Max has qualified P5 here.
Chinese Grand Prix - Qualifying Top 10:
1. Valtteri Bottas
2. Lewis Hamilton
3. Sebastian Vettel
4. Charles Leclerc
5. MAX VERSTAPPEN
6. PIERRE GASLY
7. Daniel Ricciardo
8. Nico Hulkenberg
9. Kevin Magnussen
10. Romain Grosjean