Despite to the all-Ferrari front row in the Bahrain Grand Prix's qualifying session a week ago, the Scuderia's form shocked its rival Mercedes which was denied to pole position in Bahrain and Shanghai which used to be Mercedes' territory.
Ferrari locked out the front row in the all-important Satuday's qualifying session. Gasping for the last drop of performance, Sebastian Vettel beat his team mate Kimi Räikkönen in the dying moments of the qualifying to secure his second consecutive pole position just a week after his Bahrain first starting place.
While Ferrari's advantage over Mercedes was only 0.166 seconds in Bahrain, it grew to a shocking 0.530 seconds on the 5.45km long Shanghai track.
Despite setting the pace in the first practice session with a time of 1:33.999 on softs and in the second session with a time of 1:33.482 on ultrasofts, Lewis Hamilton was struggling for grip, resulting in losing the confidence in the car. The Briton had unusually many off-track excursions over the day. His team-mate Bottas felt more comfortably in the Mercedes W09 and eventually beat Hamilton to third place.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff revealed that his squad found it extremely difficult to turn on the tyres which then caused balance issues in Saturday's chilly conditions.
"On some laps, we have hit the window of tyre performance just right like on the final run in Q2; but more often it has felt like we were chasing that window, especially on the UltraSoft tyre where we have been lacking overall grip. On the other hand, Ferrari have been strong in all conditions and on all tyres and this afternoon’s qualifying results reflect as much."
The Anglo-German team's chief engineer Andrew Shovlin said that Mercedes realized right at the beginning of the day that the grip which was not a problem during Friday's sessions faded away in the much cooler conditions.
"Conditions today have been even cooler than yesterday and we really struggled to get the tyres to work well. We saw this more or less straight away in FP3: both drivers were reporting that the grip wasn’t there and it was taking us multiple laps to get down to a time."
Ferrari's two drivers topped the sector times in every three sections of the track. Räikkönen was the fastest in front of Vettel in the first two sectors while the German covered the last section fastest in front of the Finn.
Hamilton was 0,255 seconds slower than Räikkönen in the first sector, Bottas was the faster Mercedes driver in the middle and last part of the track, trailing the Ferraris by 0,074 seconds in the second sector and by 0,106 seconds in the last sector. Interestingly, Ferrari had lightening speed in the last track segment in the first two qualifying sessions, owing to its top speed advantage on the 1,125m long back straight before Mercedes and Red Bull drivers were allowed to turn up their engines in the dying minutes of the session and managed to curtail that gap.
Confirming the trend this year, Vettel recorded the highest top speed on the speed trap with 331.1kph in front of Valtteri Bottas' 329.6kph. It was also Vettel who topped the speed measurements across the finish line and the border line between the first and second sector, and was beaten by Bottas by only 0,9kph on the border line between sector two and three.