Ferrari came to the Chinese Grand Prix with raised expectations following a dominant performance in Bahrain and, despite being dubbed favourites by Mercedes, it was the reigning world champions who locked out the front row of the grid in Shanghai. We look at the reasons behind that result and the other major talking points from Chinese Grand Prix qualifying here.
Talking points: Bottas 2.1 | A good reason to stay ahead | What happened to Ferrari? | Mad Max sees red | All eyes on Vettel verses Leclerc | Never write off Lewis | Perfect symmetry | Notes and stats
Bottas 2.1?: After seeing what was dubbed 'Bottas 2.0' in Australia, the Finn was off the pace in Bahrain. But he's been back to his Australia spec so far this weekend and turned his impressive practice pace into pole position, outpacing Lewis Hamilton and keeping the world champion at bay in qualifying, which is often when his teammate often comes into his own as a competitor.
A lot was written about whether the more ruthless Bottas we saw in Australia -- signing off his victory with the memorable radio message to his critics: "to whom it may concern, f--- you" -- was capable of winning a championship. As he pointed out, Saturday is not even half the job -- the key to beating Hamilton is converting chances like this into victories so Sunday presents another big moment in Bottas' 2019 campaign, even if it does still seem like early days.
No team orders this time: Bottas won't need reminding what happened the last time he claimed pole position -- at the Russian Grand Prix last year, where he was told during the race to cede the lead to Hamilton. At that stage of the season Bottas was out of title contention and Hamilton was moving towards -- but had not secured -- a fifth world championship, so the order made sense. Mercedes only implements team orders on a case-by-case basis when both its drivers still have a chance, so that should serve as an even greater reminder to Bottas as to what is at stake this early in the year.
What happened to Ferrari?: Mercedes has talked up the power advantage Ferrari has this weekend and the speed-trap figures show exactly why. The dominant Ferrari pace of Bahrain made the red car looks like favourites coming to Shanghai but for all Mercedes is lacking on the straights, it has made up for it in the corners -- Vettel said the silver cars looked "bloody quick" through them.
The China circuit is as reliant on good frontal downforce (which Mercedes appears to have more of) as outright power, but Sunday's race might provide a different story entirely, especially if Mercedes finds it difficult to keep the Ferrari's at bay when the red cars are equipped with the DRS overtaking aid down the long backstraight. The pendulum keeps swinging between the lead two teams and it could make for a fascinating season dynamic if that continues for a while longer in 2019.
Mad Max sees red: Max Verstappen was left cursing down his radio channel ahead of his final lap in Q3. The Red Bull driver had been in the middle of a large train of cars waiting for their final qualifying attempts, all being backed up by the Mercedes pair in front. He found himself between two Ferraris on the track (and at the time, on the timing screens), and later said he opted against overtaking the slow-moving Charles Leclerc because "that's not what you do" in qualifying, adding that he was trying to be nice.
Sebastian Vettel obviously didn't get that memo, overtaking Verstappen around the outside of the hairpin at the end of the circuit (as he is entitled to do on an out-lap). While that gave Vettel a good bit of clear track between himself and Leclerc ahead, it put Verstappen out of sync and by the time he had let the Renault's through, his lap had been compromised. Team boss Christian Horner felt the issue cost Red Bull a spot on the second row between or ahead of the the Ferrari pair.
All eyes on Vettel versus Leclerc: After the events of Bahrain, Vettel might have wished he hadn't baulked Verstappen in that way -- it means Ferrari teammate Leclerc will line up alongside him on the second row. Vettel struggled to match Leclerc's pace in Bahrain and needed a team order to stay ahead of him in Australia, so now we have a fascinating scenario where they line up alongside each other again.
Leclerc's refusal to obey a second team order in Bahrain adds a fascinating element to this brewing intra-team rivalry and he once again has nothing to lose -- all the pressure going into Sunday's grand prix is in the man sitting in the cockpit of the No.5 car. Over to you, Seb, let's see what you're made of.
Speaking of Leclerc, the youngster had a rather telling radio message after qualifying P4, which should give you some insight into how hard he pushes himself: "F--- I did mistakes. Come on Charles, s---. Not good enough for me. From my side, not speaking of the car. Car was good. I should have done better."
Never write off Lewis: Hamilton is quite remarkable sometimes. The world champion looked nowhere until it mattered most in Q3 -- he wasn't able to beat Bottas to pole position but he would have taken P2 on the grid ahead of the session, given how unhappy he's appeared to be with his car so far this weekend. After the session he said he was proud with the performance given how much he had been battling the car.
Hamilton's former teammate Nico Rosberg took a moment to praise the Englishman on Sky Sports after the session, saying it was a reminder of how much of a "beast" he is at the key points in a weekend. And if anyone knows about that, it's Rosberg.
Perfect symmetry in an imperfect world: The first five rows of the grid line up like this: Mercedes - Ferrari - Red Bull - Renault - Haas, which happened to be last year's championship order as well. Red Bull might have felt like it could have messed that up a bit but it's very rare to see the front of the grid ordered like that on a team-by-team basis. It's probably the opposite of what most fans want to see, as well, and at a time when F1 is considering what it needs to look like beyond 2021 it's a good example of the sort of predictability we need to move away from (even if it's slightly misleading on this occasion).
Alexander Albon made the first major rookie booboo of 2019, crashing heavily in final practice after losing control of his car on the exit of the final corner. That gave his Toro Rosso mechanics a busy repair job in the afternoon and means the Thai driver is likely to start Sunday's race from the pit-lane. The silver lining is that Albon's pace has looked very good here.
Lance Stroll has now been eliminated from Q1 on seven consecutive occasions.
Kimi Raikkonen's run of 53 consecutive Q3 appearances -- stretching back to the 2016 Hungarian Grand Prix -- came to an end, with the Finn suffering power issues during the middle session and settling for 13th on the grid.
Ignoring 2013 and 2018, when different teams won, the Mercedes driver on pole position has won the Chinese Grand Prix at every race since Nico Rosberg's maiden victory here in 2012.