Lewis Hamilton takes his sixth pole at Chinese Grand Prix after early Ferrari threat

Phil Duncan
Sebastion Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas after Chinese Grand Prix qualification - Rex Features

Lewis Hamilton delivered the perfect retort to Sebastian Vettel by holding off the Ferrari driver to claim a thrilling pole position for the Chinese Grand Prix.

Vettel cemented his status as the number one rival to Hamilton and his all-conquering Mercedes team by virtue of winning the season-opening race in Australia a fortnight ago.

And the two title protagonists went up against each other again at the Shanghai International Circuit in a pulsating qualifying session, with Hamilton winning the battle to ensure he will start from the very front while Vettel is in second and his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas third.

Daniel Ricciardo is fifth for Red Bull with Felipe Massa starting sixth in his Williams.

After the weather farce of Friday, in which second practice was abandoned without one driver completing a single lap, blue skies ensured the cars roared back into life on a dry track on Saturday.

And while rain is still forecast to play a role in tomorrow's race it is Hamilton who will lead the pack off for the second race in a row.

The 32-year-old triple world champion, who is closing in on Michael Schumacher's all-time pole record, set the fastest lap ever seen in Shanghai to beat Vettel to pole by 0.183 seconds. Bottas was just one thousandths of a second slower than the Ferrari man. Kimi Raikkonen lines up in fourth.

Hamilton got out of his car and climbed aboard the scaffolding adorning the pit straight to pump his fist and salute his large legion of Chinese fans in the main grandstand - many of whom were waving Union Jacks.

Lewis Hamilton goes to salute his fans Credit: AP

Hamilton's former team-mate Fernando Alonso predicted a gloomy outcome for his McLaren team this weekend, and the Spaniard declared that he was "driving like an animal" to haul his car into the second part of qualifying.

But that is where it would end for the double world champion, who will start 13th on Sunday. His rookie team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne failed to progress from Q1 and lines up in 16th.

Antonio Giovinazzi impressed on his last-minute call-up to replace the unfit Pascal Wehrlein in Melbourne, but the Italian was brought back down to earth here after he crashed out.

The 22-year-old lost control of his Sauber as he exited the final corner before smashing into the tyre barrier on the opposite side of the track.

Giovinazzi walked away from the incident but his car was not so fortunate, with bits of Sauber debris littering the pit straight.

The crash, in the final moments of Q1, scuppered a number of drivers on their final runs. with Britain's Jolyon Palmer falling at the first hurdle of qualifying for the second race in a row.

F1 race calendar: All the scheduled Grands Prix in the 2017 Formula One championship

"I was miles up on where I was so I think my lap was enough for Q2," Palmer said. "I couldn't believe it because the car has been feeling good this weekend."

Palmer, who was only 18th of the 20 runners, is also under investigation by the stewards for failing to slow sufficiently for the yellow flags deployed after Givoinazzi's crash.

"I lost a second in the final sector," Palmer added. "If they look at the data I think they will see I was cruising across the line."

Max Verstappen will start one place behind Palmer after his day was thwarted by a problem with the Renault engine in his Red Bull.

Final positions after qualifying:

1. Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes 1:31.678

2. Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1:31.864

3. Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes 1:31.865

4. Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:32.140

5. Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull 1:33.033

6. Felipe Massa (Brazil) Williams 1:33.507

7. Nico Huelkenberg (Ger) Renault 1:33.580

8. Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India 1:33.706

9. Daniil Kvyat (Rus) Toro Rosso 1:33.719

10. Lance Stroll (Can) Williams 1:34.220

11. Carlos Sainz Jr (Spa) Toro Rosso 1:34.150

12. Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas 1:34.164

13. Fernando Alonso (Spa) McLaren 1:34.372

14. Marcus Ericsson (Swe) Sauber 1:35.046

15. Antonio Giovinazzi (Ita) Sauber

16. Stoffel Vandoorne (Bel) McLaren 1:35.023

17. Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas 1:35.223

18. Jolyon Palmer (Gbr) Renault 1:35.279

19. Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1:35.433

20. Esteban Ocon (Fra) Force India 1:35.496 

10:03AM

In case you missed it

If you didn't catch it the first time or just want to watch it again, here is the lap that gave Hamilton his 63rd career pole. 

9:57AM

Provisional start

Here is where your favourite driver should be starting tomorrow, with Grosjean and Palmer still due to meet with the stewards for speeding under the yellow flags. 

9:50AM

The man on pole

Talking after qualifying, Hamilton said: "We're really fighting these guys [Ferrari]. It's amazing. It's what this sport should be all about"

"I haven't driven on the new wet tyre at all this season. So it will be a new lesson for me if it rains tomorrow!

"It's meant to be wet at the start. If it is, tomorrow could be one of the most exciting days we've all had for a long time."

Do you think he will get his fifth Chinese GP win tomorrow? 

9:45AM

Your front three

Will the same three driver's be on the podium at the end of the race? 

Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas Credit: Getty Images

9:42AM

Strolling into Q3

There has been a lot of talk about Lance Stroll getting his chance at Williams, but today he did his team and father proud. 

Starting in tenth is very respectable and puts him ahead of Fernando Alonso, , Max Vertsappen and Jolyon Palmer in only his second qualifying session.

9:35AM

Vettel to Bottas

Toto Wolff has just explained that the gap between Vettel and Bottas equalled 5.9cm on track - described as a thousandth of a second. 

Lets just think about that for a minute.

9:33AM

Tomorrow, tomorrow...

With a 90 percent chance of rain for the race all teams will know that their starting place may not be enough to get them the points they need. 

Verstappen will fancy his chances of moving up from 19th, especially in the rain after he went from 14th to third in Brazil last year.

9:29AM

Not a bad record

9:28AM

Is anyone else excited for tomorrow?

Thankfully for the table, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff won't be banging it today after some more impressive driving from Hamilton.

9:17AM

He has done it again

It wasn't easy but the three-time World champion dug deep to get his pole, knowing that the man who starts at the front in Shanghai. 

Key moment may well be those two turns of 9 and 10, where Hamilton just sailed along the track.  

Who knows what the race will bring tomorrow. 

9:15AM

Hamilton on pole!

The Briton clocks a time of 1:31.678 for his sixth consecutive pole and Vettel joins him again on the front row. A superb drive from the Briton who was ahead of the Ferrari by 0.186. 

Bottas is third and will be followed by Raikonnen, Ricciardo and Massa. Hulkenberg, Perez , Kvyatt and Stroll make up the top ten. 

9:10AM

We're nearly there

The remaining nine cars are out on track and it will go down to the wire as Mercedes look to claim that front row. 

As lovely as it is to see Stroll in Q3, he is slowing the pacesetters down as they look to start their final laps. 

Who will come out on top?

9:08AM

The Renault retires

Hulkenberg is in the garage and the helmet is off so he is not expected to run again. He is currently sixth with cars still running. 

9:06AM

It's tight at the top

9:05AM

Six minutes of Q3 left

Hamilton leads from Vettel by 0.184s followed by Bottas, Raikonnen and Ricciardo. 

Hulkenberg is sixth, then it is Massa, Kvyat, Perez and Stroll.

9:02AM

The fight for pole

Every driver except Stroll and Perez are out on track and Hamilton will feel confident at a track where he has been on the podium seven times.

The Mercedes is not the only driver to get a bit of oversteer in the middle sector of the track. Is this a sign of things to come?

Hamilton is provisional pole. 

9:01AM

Q2 provisional positions

9:00AM

Q3 begins

Hulkenberg and Sainz are out of the pits as we wait to see if Mercedes take their sixth consecutive pole at the Chinese Grand Prix. 

8:55AM

Here's Kimi!

Raikonnen sets the fastest ever lap recorded at shanghai with a lap of 1:32.181!

8:54AM

Q2 comes to an end

The driver's out at the end of Q2 are Sainz, Magnussen, Alonso, Ericsson and Giovinazzi.

8:52AM

Sorry sauber

The battered car of Giovinazzi will need a lot of work tonight before he starts tomorrow's race in 15th. 

Antonio Giovinazzi crashes his Sauber Credit: Reuters

8:50AM

Two minutes of Q2 left

The two Ferrari's of Vettel and Raikonnen are out for another lap on the supersoft tyre's after using their soft's in Q1. The rest of the top five - Hamilton, Bottas and Ricciardo remain in the pits. 

8:48AM

Q1  catch-up

In case you missed it earlier, here were the provisional times at the end of the first qualifying session. 

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes