SHANGHAI • Lewis Hamilton cast doubt on his Mercedes team's Chinese Grand Prix chances today, after Sebastian Vettel led a Ferrari front-row lockout in qualifying yesterday with his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in second.
"I don't know if we can challenge, we're half a second behind today," the Briton told Sky Sports TV after aborting his final flying lap and taking fourth place on the grid with team-mate Valtteri Bottas in third.
"Honestly, I can't tell you if we can challenge. We were quicker in the last race (in Bahrain) but they (Ferrari) were able to hold on. They will probably do the same tomorrow."
Vettel, like Hamilton a four-time world champion, has won the first two races of the season to build up a 17-point lead over the world champion. He enthused about his Ferrari car over the team radio, calling it "great qualifying, great car".
This was his second pole of the season after Bahrain and his 52nd career pole and, should he win in Shanghai, it would be his 50th career victory, putting him behind only Michael Schumacher, Hamilton and Alain Prost.
No driver has won the opening three rounds and not gone on to take the title.
The German, whose exemplary lap of 1:31.095 was a new track record, was 0.530sec faster than Bottas in qualifying and 0.568sec quicker than Hamilton, who has won an unprecedented five times previously in Shanghai and arrived in town as the favourite.
CHINESE GP GRID
1 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari
2 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari
3 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes
4 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes
5 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull
6 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull
7 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault
8 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India
9 Carlos Sainz Jr (Esp) Renault
10 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas
13 Fernando Alonso (Esp) McLaren
17 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Toro Rosso
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff revealed that making the tyres work was the problem.
"They (Ferrari) have been really strong already in the morning, but qualifying performance, they put one on top and we have something to think about," said the Austrian.
"We're lacking grip. You can fall out of the window by the tyres getting too hot or being too cold. They are two extremes like we had in Bahrain and I think this is what happened. It's a tyre issue."
The Shanghai International Circuit is expected to be a lot warmer today than yesterday's windy and cold conditions.
Wolff added he hoped Mercedes had got their race set-up right, and could show better pace than their rivals and make the most of strategy.
Hamilton, who will start on the soft tyres as will Ferrari, sounded less sure but hinted he would push to overtake.
"It (the track) is in the top three of the easier ones to overtake... but the Ferraris are too fast on the straight so it will be interesting," he said.
Bottas felt like he had got everything out of the car but pole had still been out of reach.
"The gap to them is quite big. On paper, this track is easier for overtaking than Bahrain, so hopefully tomorrow we can make up for what we lost today," he said.
Vettel has only once won the Chinese GP before in 2009 for Red Bull, while Ferrari have not been victorious in Shanghai since Fernando Alonso took the flag in 2013.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN
F1 CHINESE GRAND PRIX
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