'Difficult Day' for Hamilton in China: "The pace just wasn't there"

With Lewis Hamilton having been quickest in both Friday practice sessions, Ferrari hit back on Saturday with Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen locking out the front row by over half a second.

Lewis Hamilton set pace on the opening day of practice for the Chinese Grand Prix but with Ferrari hot on the heels of his pace-setting Mercedes.

Sebastian Vettel clinched his fourth career pole in China after pipping Kimi Raikkonen by less than a tenth of a second at the Shanghai International Circuit.

Vettel led away from pole at the start of the race, but fell to second during the pit window when he was undercut by Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas. Maybe a little bit in terms of getting the tyres absolutely ideal for the lap but it's not half a second.

"We thought coming to today that we would be fighting for pole position but it was out of reach", Bottas said.

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"Maybe we didn't get the tyres absolutely ideal for the lap but I don't think it would have been enough for us to beat the Ferraris", he said.

"It was okay, but not good enough", he said.

A late incident involving Max Verstappen and Vettel saw the Ferrari man drop to eighth and the Dutchman served with a 10-second penalty, but Hamilton took little consolation from his rival's misfortune in a race eventually won by Daniel Ricciardo. Which drivers will be the top contenders to win this race?

Bottas admitted Mercedes simply could not find the grip Ferrari did, and the silver cars appeared to be struggling to generate the correct tyre temperatures in the cool conditions in Shanghai.

"I don't think I need to say anything", Vettel fumed over the radio.

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Renault Sport Formula One Team drivers Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz will start in the top ten for tomorrow's Heineken Chinese Grand Prix.

Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon are also level, with the Frenchman making up for his Melbourne deficit in the desert by making Q3 for a Force India team who have struggled to meet expectations.

Fernando Alonso led teammate Stoffel Vandoorne in 13th and 14th, with McLaren again qualifying slowest of all the Renault-powered cars, this week by around 0.3 seconds.

Lance Stroll in P18 led the Sauber drivers, with Charles Leclerc, who nearly crashed his auto when he ran wide out of the last corner before his final lap, heading Marcus Ericsson by half a second.

"Yesterday and today have been a disaster on my side so I have got to try and rectify that and get myself back into normal performance mode, otherwise more valuable points will be lost", said Hamilton.

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