SHANGHAI-Bottas took pole for Mercedes, the seventh of his career and his first in China, beating his teammate Lewis Hamilton into second. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was in third in front of his teammate Charles Leclerc. Max Verstappen was in fifth for Red Bull.

Bottas had looked impressive all weekend and was able to convert the form into two excellent laps when it mattered that could not be matched. He won the opening meeting in Australia and was second to Hamilton at the second round in Bahrain. Yet despite out-driving his teammate and comprehensively beating both Ferraris in China he believed he could still have done better.

“In Q3 honestly during those two runs I never got the perfect lap,” he said. “There was always something but that’s how it goes, the pace was good, it was enough. “Confidence-wise I am good,” he added. “It has been a good start of the year for me personally and for us as a team, I feel confident. Today was a good day and hopefully tomorrow will be again.”

He has every right to be expectant of extending his championship lead, currently one point over Hamilton, on Sunday. Bottas’s first lap in Q3 was a mighty effort when Hamilton had pushed him to the limit. He was seven-thousandths of a second behind the Finn after their first hot runs. When they went the final time in Q3 Bottas found even more, he improved his time to 1min 31.547seconds and Hamilton once again could not match him, finishing two-hundredths down.

Hamilton had generally been behind his teammate over the weekend and admitted he was happy with pushing Bottas as hard as he did. “I was struggling with the car throughout the weekend, even into Q2,” he said. “Then a couple of changes with some settings and some changes to the line and managed to bridge the gap, so honestly I am quite proud of the job we have done considering how far I was in some of the sessions.”

Ferrari had looked strong and their straightline speed is still highly impressive but Mercedes had a definitive edge through the turns that dominate sector two. Vettel and Leclerc ultimately finished three-tenths back but are positive about their potential in race pace. Bottas however has had the best of it overall across the weekend. He was quickest in two of the three practice sessions and fastest in Q1, five hundredths up on Leclerc, although Hamilton had the edge in Q2, nine-hundredths ahead of his teammate.

Vettel, whose contract with Ferrari ends in after the 2020 season, also responded to suggestions made by F1’s former chief executive, Bernie Ecclestone, that the German might quit the sport. “At the moment I feel on top of my game,” he said. “I know what I am doing, I am very, very self-critical, very ambitious and I put a lot of expectation on myself. I love driving, I love the sensation of the speed, I love fighting with these guys so there’s a lot of things I really like and would miss so that’s why it’s not an option to quit tomorrow. I am happy to race.” For Bottas the pole is yet another sign he intends to genuinely challenge this season after a disappointing run last year without a win. He managed only two poles in 2018 and has not scored one since the Russian Grand Prix which was the 16th round. He will want to convert it to a win to stamp his authority on the title fight and he has form here. Last year a win was within in his grasp only to be denied by a late safety car, a clever Red Bull strategy call and an exemplary drive by Daniel Ricciardo.

Pierre Gasly in the second Red Bull was in sixth. Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hülkenberg were in seventh and eighth, in front of the two Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean. McLaren did not enjoy a good session with Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris out in Q2 in 14th and 15th. Daniil Kvyat in the Toro Rosso was in 11th in front of the Racing Point of Sergio Pérez and Kimi Raikkonen in the Alfa Romeo.

Alexander Albon had a major crash in final practice. He was not injured in his accident but his Toro Rosso was too damaged to take part in qualifying and he will start from the back of the grid. Lance Stroll in the Racing Point was in 16th. Williams continue to struggle with George Russell and Robert Kubica in 17th and 18th. Antonio Giovinazzi did not set a time with a suspected power unit problem in the Alfa Romeo and he will start from 19th.