SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton stormed to his third successive pole position of the season, and third in a row in China, after edging team mate Nico Rosberg in a front-row lockout for Mercedes on Saturday.
Hamilton, unbeaten in qualifying this year, lapped the 5.451 km Shanghai International Circuit in one minute 35.782 seconds to take his 41st career pole just 0.042 of a second clear of Rosberg.
“Oh, come on guys,” exclaimed a frustrated Rosberg when informed over the radio that he had lost out by such a small margin.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, winner of the previous race in Malaysia, will start third.
Ferrari, who were helped by a bold strategy gamble and searing temperatures at Sepang, continued to lead the chasing pack but were unable to match Mercedes’ formidable one-lap pace in the cooler conditions.
Vettel’s best time was nearly a second off Hamilton’s benchmark.
However, the Ferrari’s race pace remained a concern for Mercedes and Hamilton, who was fastest in all three practice sessions.
“I wasn’t very happy with it but great job by the team and all the guys back at the factory,” he said of his record fifth pole in China.
”You can’t really get too excited, even though it’s a pole position so it’s quite special.
“There’s a long, long race ahead of us tomorrow...they (Ferrari) are very quick here and they’ve been quick here in the past. This should be still quite a close race.”
Brazilian Felipe Massa and Finland’s Valtteri Bottas, seeking to re-establish their Williams team as Mercedes’ closest challengers, were fourth and fifth ahead of Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari in sixth.
Raikkonen’s lap was a disappointment after a promising showing in practice by the 2007 world champion.
“Maybe it is my fault. Maybe it just happened. But it is disappointing anyhow,” he said. “It is not a complete disaster but it seems to become a habit. I would rather get rid of it.”
Former champions Red Bull, who had looked the third-best team after final practice, dropped back with Australian Daniel Ricciardo only seventh while Russian team mate Daniil Kvyat failed to even make it into the top 10.
Ricciardo, however, still saw grounds for optimism.
“Driveability has improved and our long-run pace is better, I think we should be closer to Williams tomorrow and I am optimistic we can have a good fight for top five,” he said.
McLaren had another bleak afternoon and failed to make it past the first session of qualifying for the third successive weekend, once again qualifying ahead of only the backmarking Manor Marussias.
Both Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso had hoped to make it into the second phase after an encouraging Friday but in the end missed the cut by just over two tenths of a second and will start 17th and 18th respectively.
Manor Marussia got both cars on the grid for the first time this season in a sign of progress for a team that started the year in administration.
“There’s still a long way to go but the progress over the past three weekends is clear for everyone to see,” said Britain’s Will Stevens, who has yet to race this season but qualified 19th.
Editing by Alan Baldwin and Ed Osmond