It sounds like a cliché to say “there was nothing in it today.” But seriously… today, there just wasn’t! 0.187 of a second separated the top three after a battle royal around the Shanghai International Circuit, with just a single thousandth between second placed Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri in third. The intake of breath in the garage when that Ferrari crossed the line could have been heard from all the way across the immense paddock. Our brains on the pit wall reckon that time difference is equivalent to 5.91cm around this track. Just insane…
Lewis: We’re really fighting these guys out there and that’s what racing’s all about
Out at the very front of the close-knit trio, it was that man Lewis who went quickest of all to claim his 63rd career pole position – his sixth at the Shanghai International Circuit, second of the 2017 season and sixth in succession. And he was quite literally quickest of all too – a time of 1:31.678 smashing the 2016 pole time by 3.72 seconds and shading the all-time circuit lap record set by Michael Schumacher in 2004 by 0.56 seconds. That’s fast. Properly fast.
“I managed to just chip away at it session to session, then make my last lap my fastest lap – which is always the target but doesn’t always work out that way,” said the Brit. “The lap started off not quite as well as my previous attempts. But from there it got better and better. I felt really strong coming into the final corner knowing I was up by a couple of tenths.
Lewis: Ferrari have been so fast through practice and then into qualifying
“Ferrari have been so fast through practice and then into qualifying. We knew it was going to be close and that we’d have to pull out all the stops to beat them. Waiting to find out what the others had done after I crossed the line was pretty tense!
“I’m really happy with today and super grateful for the huge effort the team had put in to keep us in the fight. It’s more exciting than ever right now. We’re really fighting these guys out there and that’s what racing’s all about. It pushes you to raise the bar every time you go out, which I love.”
Valtteri: I will look to see where improvements can be made as always
For Valtteri, that mere fraction of a second separating him from a first front row start with the Silver Arrows was understandably a source of quite some frustration. But, in typically determined fashion, the Finn isn’t about to let it phase him heading into the main event.
“It’s a real shame Sebastian managed to get between us. I think last time it was a couple of hundredths and now it’s a thousandth,” said Valtteri. “Around a lap here there are a quite a lot of places you can lose one thousandth of a second, so I will look to see where improvements can be made as always.
“But anyway, the race is tomorrow and we are first and third on the grid as a team, which is a good place to start. Anything can happen with the weather too. Lewis was strong today and Ferrari were very quick too. We were always expecting a close fight and I think it will be the same tomorrow. Thanks again to the team, who did a great job in the short amount of practice time we had today to get the car set up well. It was really enjoyable to drive. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.”
Toto: Qualifying is a very different experience this year!
Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Toto Wolff could be seen clasping his hands in frustration at so narrowly missing a front row lockout. And although the engineering station was spared a Melbourne-esque thumping, there can be no doubt about the fight we have on our hands tomorrow.
“Qualifying is a very different experience this year!” Toto mused. “I find it incredible that you can invent a brand new set of rules, the same for everybody; that the teams go away and do so much work; and still we end up fighting for thousandths of a second to decide positions on the front row.
“It was a very tense end to Q3 and with everything coming down to that final run. Both drivers improved on their final effort: Lewis did a brilliant lap to convert his provisional pole into the real thing and Valtteri found 0.4s. He had a great final sector but lost out to Vettel by one thousandth – or just under 6cm in distance.
“It’s a great battle with Ferrari and we are putting everything on the line each time we go out on track. For tomorrow, it will be a bit of a voyage into the unknown: the conditions are predicted to be cooler, perhaps wet, and we don’t have any Friday data points to work with. So we will need to see if we have anticipated things correctly.”
James: What a great achievement for the team!
For Technical Director James Allison, that anticipation was coupled with a sense of immense pride in his team-mates, as he noted that today’s result marked the 75th pole for the Silver Arrows in Formula One – and a 17th consecutive P1 grid slot for the marque to boot.
“The 75th Formula One pole for the Silver Arrows – what a great achievement for the team! We saw just how close it was in Melbourne and if there was any doubt still remaining, then today has underlined that F1 2017 is a season of very small margins. It’s great to get pole position but it’s a shame to miss out on a front row lockout by just one thousandth of a second. It’s a helpful reminder to us that every single tiny fraction counts. Now we’re looking forward to the battle tomorrow with Ferrari. We’re expecting a cooler day for the race, wet in the morning before drying out in the afternoon.”
Yes, we’re rolling out the clichés once again… but you seriously don’t want to miss this one. See you there folks…