Lewis Hamilton was beaten to pole position for Formula One’s 1,000th race by Valtteri Bottas.
In a nail-biting session, Bottas saw off the five-time world champion by just 0.023 seconds at the Shanghai International Circuit.
The form guide indicated that Ferrari might be the team to beat there, but after they were off the pace at the last round in Bahrain, Mercedes returned to their all-conquering best.
Sebastian Vettel was a third of a second down on Bottas’ Silver Arrows, with team-mate Charles Leclerc fourth. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen finished fifth.
The Dutchman was furious after he failed to cross the line in time to post a final lap.
“It has been a good weekend so far,” said Bottas, who leads Hamilton in the championship by just one point. “I struggled to get the perfect lap in, but it was good enough.”
Hamilton, a five-time winner in China, said: “I didn’t give up and kept pushing right to the end.
“Valtteri has been stellar all weekend. I have struggled. There is time left on the table, but I will try and get it back tomorrow.”
Lando Norris fell at the second hurdle of qualifying for the first time in his short career.
The 19-year-old collected his inaugural points with a fine drive to sixth in Bahrain a fortnight ago, but faces a fight for another top-10 finish, finishing only 15th.
Norris was half-a-second slower than Carlos Sainz in the sister McLaren. The Spaniard will start just one spot higher than Norris on a disappointing afternoon for the British team.
George Russell described his lap as awful, but the English novice still managed to put his under-performing Williams ahead of his team-mate Robert Kubica on the grid.
Russell, who lines up in 17th, has now out-qualified the Pole, back in the sport eight years after his horror rally crash, at all three rounds.
The Williams cars will not be on the final row for tomorrow’s race after London-born Alexander Albon and Alfa Romeo driver Antonio Giovinazzi played no part in qualifying.
Albon, who races under the Thai flag, wrote off his Toro Rosso following a 130mph shunt on the exit of the final corner in practice on Saturday morning.
Albon, 23, walked away unscathed and was given the all-clear by trackside medics, but his team were unable to get his car ready in time. Giovinazzi meanwhile was restricted to the garage with a mechanical issue.
Provided by Press Association
Bernie Ecclestone has called Formula One‘s decision not to stage the 1,000th race at Silverstone a “failure”.
On the eve of Sunday’s landmark grand prix in Shanghai, Ecclestone also claimed Lewis Hamilton is the ‘best and worst’ thing to happen to F1, said Sebastian Vettel will retire from the sport if he loses his number one status at Ferrari, and urged Britain to hire Vladimir Putin to lead its Brexit negotiations.
Liberty Media, the American owners which put an end to Ecclestone’s 40-year reign when they took over the sport two years ago, wanted Silverstone to host Sunday’s race.
But the Northamptonshire circuit rebuffed their approach, fearing a move from its traditional July slot would scupper ticket sales.
“Is that a failure on Formula One and Silverstone? Absolutely,” Ecclestone, 88, told the Press Association.
“If I was running the sport, I would have got Silverstone to change their date. That’s where the first world championship race was staged, so that’s where the 1,000th race should be held.
“Silverstone would have said they were going to lose money. I would have told them I’d make up for their loss.
“People who come in and are fresh don’t have any feeling about where it all started. It doesn’t mean anything to them.”
Ecclestone, the sport’s chairman emeritus, has not been approached by Liberty to play a role in this weekend’s celebrations. He has been to more than 800 races, a figure he says is greater than any person alive.
Ecclestone wanted to be in China, but food poisoning curtailed his travel plans. Instead, he will watch the race on television from his Knightsbridge penthouse.
Hamilton trails Valtteri Bottas by one point as he contends for his sixth title. But will the Briton eclipse Michael Schumacher’s record of seven?
“There is no reason why he shouldn’t,” added Ecclestone. “Lewis is super and there is no doubt about that. Alongside his fashion business, it is almost as if he now treats Formula One as a hobby.
“He is the only real character we have got in the sport, and it is a pity there are not two or three drivers like him.”
Ecclestone continued: “Lewis is the best and worst thing to happen to Formula One.
“The best, because he is Formula One. The worst, because he takes so much of the attention for himself and that is not his fault.
“I wouldn’t like to think anyone is bigger than Formula One but he is certainly bigger than anyone else, even any of the teams.
“We have a Formula One superstar in England, but do we appreciate him? Probably not.”
Choosing not to align with his countryman, Ecclestone, however, is backing Vettel to win on Sunday. He is the driver whom he would play backgammon with. He also celebrated New Year alongside the German and his family in Switzerland.
Yet, the Ferrari star heads into Sunday’s race as a man under pressure. He spun for a fourth time in 10 appearances at the Bahrain Grand Prix a fortnight ago, while it is approaching eight months since he last won a race.
Vettel is also having to contend with the sport’s emerging talent Charles Leclerc, the young Monegasque who is threatening to dismantle his status as Ferrari’s main man.
“Sebastian expected to be the number one, and get that support from Ferrari,” added Ecclestone. “But maybe he is now thinking that Charles is going to be the top driver, and that he will have to support him. He won’t move over. He won’t let that happen.”
But what if the decision is taken out of his hands? “Sebastian would stop, and I don’t think it would take an awful lot for that to happen,” said Ecclestone.
“If something upset him enough he would leave. He is happy with his family, close with his two girls, and his wife, so the last thing he would want to do is upset them for Formula One.”
During his four-decade rule, Ecclestone, unlike his American successor Chase Carey, ensured he created enough controversy to keep the sport in the spotlight. Away from the race track, it is a mantra he is sticking to.
“What we really need to do is hire Vladimir Putin for three months and have him here looking after us,” said Ecclestone when asked about Brexit. “He wouldn’t have suffered all of this nonsense.
“I voted to leave. Theresa May was the wrong person to negotiate the deal. She is a politician. It needed a used-car dealer, and somebody to go over to Brussels and lay it all on the line.”
The 1,000th Formula One race takes place at the Shanghai International Circuit in China on Sunday.
Here, Press Association Sport looks back at 10 of the best.
1958 Portuguese Grand Prix
Stirling Moss became a household name in the 50s and 60s. Despite never winning a world championship, Moss will be remembered not only as one of the greatest, but the most sporting racer.
This was on display in Portugal where he won ahead of title rival Mike Hawthorn. Hawthorn was facing disqualification, but Moss protested his innocence in front of the stewards.
Hawthorn held on to second, and the six points, and ended up winning the championship, the first Briton to do so, by just one point from Moss.
1969 Italian Grand Prix
Jackie Stewart took his first world title with one of the hardest-fought victories of his career, and the closest one-two-three-four finishes ever. The Scot beat Jochen Rindt by just eight hundredths of a second at Monza’s Temple of Speed.
Less than a fifth of a second separated the top four after 100 minutes of spellbinding racing.
1976 Japanese Grand Prix
Such was the theatre of the 1976 season, Hollywood released Rush, a film which depicted the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda, four decades on.
In an incident-packed year, Lauda almost died in a fireball inferno at the Nurburgring, but a few weeks later remarkably returned at Monza. The title went to the wire at a rain-hit Fuji.
Lauda, who led Hunt by three points, retired from the race blaming the awful conditions. Hunt raced on, and despite dropping down the field after a dramatic late tyre problem, crossed the line in third to take the title.
1986 Australian Grand Prix
Millions in the UK set their alarms in the hope of waking up to watch Nigel Mansell become the first Briton since Hunt to win the title. The plucky Englishman was on course to do just that before a tyre blow-out derailed his chances in Adelaide.
“And colossally that’s Mansell,” said Murray Walker as Mansell’s Williams came to a dramatic halt. Mansell had to wait another six years before winning his maiden championship.
1989 Japanese Grand Prix
Ayrton Senna’s rivalry with Alain Prost is probably the biggest the sport has ever known. The enigmatic Brazilian pitched against the diminutive Frenchman they called the professor.
Their relationship as team-mates at the dominant McLaren team had reached fever pitch by the penultimate race of the season in Suzuka, and boiled over when they collided. Senna dived underneath Prost at the chicane in a bid to keep his title hopes alive.
Prost knew he would be crowned champion if Senna did not finish and the pair crashed. Prost retired but Senna recovered to win, only to be controversially disqualified after he was adjudged to have re-joined the track illegally.
1993 European Grand Prix
Senna’s opening lap at a rain-soaked Donington Park is regarded as the finest in the sport’s history. The Brazilian, driving a McLaren not in the same league as Williams that year, started fourth but assumed the lead from Prost within a handful of corners.
In the changeable conditions, Senna put on a masterful display to win by a minute and a half.
1998 Belgian Grand Prix
The race in Spa was unforgettable for two reasons; firstly, an incredible first-lap crash which wiped out virtually the entire field. Then, with Michael Schumacher on course for a routine victory, the Ferrari driver smashed into the back of David Coulthard’s McLaren.
Schumacher retired from the race and then charged down the pit lane to confront the Scot.
2008 Brazilian Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton wrote his name in Formula One folklore by taking his first world championship on the last corner of the last lap of the last race. Needing to finish fifth, he passed the Toyota of Timo Glock in pouring rain at Interlagos, denying local favourite Felipe Massa of the title he thought he had won.
2011 Canadian Grand Prix
Jenson Button won the longest race in history, a four-hour marathon that was red-flagged following torrential rain in Montreal. At one stage, Button was last but the Englishman delivered a memorable display to carve his way back through the field, from 21st to first, passing Sebastian Vettel, who spun, on the final lap.
2014 Bahrain Grand Prix
Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were embroiled in a battle so enthralling in Bahrain, one national newspaper proclaimed it as the Race of the Century.
The Mercedes team-mates slugged it out over 57 thrilling laps for first place with Hamilton ultimately prevailing. The Briton later beat Rosberg to the championship at the final race in Abu Dhabi.