Lewis Hamilton has thrown down the gauntlet to Ferrari Formula 1 World Championship challenger Felipe Massa, responding to the criticism over his Fuji performance only a week earlier by thoroughly dominating qualifying in Shanghai.
Not only will the McLaren-Mercedes ace begin the Chinese Grand Prix from the top spot on the grid, but he also outpaced Massa to the tune of almost six tenths of a second as the Brazilian found himself – for the second race in a row – behind team-mate Kimi Raikkonen when the chequered flag dropped.
Japanese Grand Prix star Nelsinho Piquet in the Renault was the first man out in Q1, with Toyota's Timo Glock similarly on-track no sooner had the session begun. It was the Brazilian who made the early running from Honda veteran Rubens Barrichello and Williams' Nico Rosberg.
Sebastian Vettel in the Scuderia Toro Rosso and Massa were the first of the big guns to show their hand, the latter immediately leaping to the top of the timing screens before world championship leader Hamilton – who had embarrassingly overshot the pit-lane entry in the morning, bringing back uncomfortable memories of this time twelve months ago – atoned for his misdemeanour by threatening to blow everyone
out of the water.
Sébastien Bourdais and Heikki Kovalainen were also showing strongly up in the top three, as Massa's Ferrari team-mate Raikkonen slotted into just fifth and Hamilton – on the harder tyre – confirmed his promise by taking more than half a second off Massa's opening effort to vault into P1.
The soon-to-retire David Coulthard – Red Bull Racing's sole real hope in qualifying after team-mate Mark Webber's engine had blown in morning practice, necessitating an engine change for the Australian and the resultant ten-place grid penalty that goes with it – moved into the top ten in ninth, with similarly Renault-powered former double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso slotting into seventh with his first run.
An improvement for Barrichello with six minutes of Q1 remaining pushed team-mate Jenson Button and Glock into the drop zone, in company with the two Force Indias of Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella and – surprisingly – outside title contender Robert Kubica, the Pole complaining of understeer in his BMW-Sauber.
Piquet underlined Renault's dramatic recent upsurge in form by leaping up the order into third, leaving experienced hands Coulthard and Jarno Trulli on the bubble and Williams rookie Kazuki Nakajima in trouble.
As Hamilton sat supremely confident in the pits, championship rival Massa headed out on-track for one more run as the clock ticked down, as did the other McLaren-Mercedes of Heikki Kovalainen, and whilst the former made no improvement the Finn certainly did, closing to within six hundredths of his team-mate – and a full three tenths faster than the quicker of the two Ferraris.