Confusion reigned supreme at the end of Chinese Grand Prix qualifying, as Formula 1 drivers diced for track position to ensure they could get in their final flying laps.

Behind the battle for pole position, a gaggle of cars nearly tripped over each other in a desperate bid to start their final runs and beat the chequered flag with the clock ticking down at the end of Q3.

The bunch were headed by Max Verstappen, who was overtaken by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in a move that caught the Red Bull driver by surprise and meant he missed the chance to complete a second lap.

Verstappen was left outraged by Vettel’s behaviour and cited an unwritten rule of F1. The referenced “gentleman’s agreement” - a form of driver etiquette - where drivers abide by an orderly queue while on their build-up laps in qualifying.

The Dutchman immediately opened his pit-to-car radio to complain to his team, saying: "They are such wankers, honestly. Everybody just lining up and they are just fucking it up. You're just trying to be nice but everybody's just fucking it up."

Speaking to media after the session, Verstappen explained the situation in more detail.

“Looking back at it, I was just staying behind the Ferrari because with two corners to go, it’s basically like a kind of a gentleman’s agreement that you stay behind,” he said.

“So, I was doing that but I thought we still had like 20,30 seconds left [before the chequered flag]. But I guess the other cars who then overtook me, they got a hurry up from their engineer that there was only like 10 seconds left. That’s how it is.

“When they got past, then they were like you have to hurry up as well. But it was already too late. I got the flag for the line. It was one or two seconds [late].”

Vettel, who set off the chain-reaction of drivers overtaking Verstappen, was quick to defend his strategy amid fears he would be caught out at the end of the session.

“If you are at the end of the straight - which I was - then it was quite difficult,” Vettel said.

“When the team told me that we only have ten seconds margin to cross the line in time to make another attempt, I had to think of something.

“I don’t know if others were not told. If everyone would have speeded up the way I did then we would have all made it. I obviously prioritised at that point to make the lap. It felt like the others were not aware.”

Verstappen’s teammate, Gasly, was one of the drivers who lost out in the confusion. The Frenchman was behind Verstappen on track and was blocked at the final corner, meaning he also ran out of time to complete another flying lap.

“It wasn’t ideal, but in the end it would not have changed the position, so nothing to worry about,” Gasly, who ended up qualifying behind Verstappen in sixth, said.

“I think at that time we were in about 30 metres five cars, so I knew there was not enough space for everybody and you just try to get the maximum out of it. I was just trying to find the gap, and then in the end we both didn’t make it.”

Arguably, the biggest losers of the mix-up were the Haas duo of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean.

The American squad opted to wait until the dying moments of the session to send its drivers out in a bid to get the optimum track conditions, but both Magnussen and Grosjean got caught out in the late chaos.

As a result of the misjudgement and failing to register a time on the board, Magnussen and Grosjean will start Sunday’s race ninth and 10th.

“It was pretty messy towards the end of the lap,” Magnussen explained.

“Everyone was trying to get started but also had somebody in front. It ended up being too much and cost a few guys the lap.

“Everyone also went out at exactly the same time out of the pits, so we were following each other and it was already a bit tight.

“Then towards the end of the lap you didn’t know whether to try and overtake people - which in that case they’re going to defend - it was messy.

“It’s not like we went out too late really,” the Dane added. “In hindsight yes, but under normal circumstances it was OK. We wanted to have somebody in front, but not seven cars.

“But shit happens and we move on. I don’t think it was a bad qualifying for that reason, we just missed out on that last opportunity at the end.”

Magnussen ultimately backed Vettel and the Renault drivers in their decision to overtake Verstappen.

"I didn't want to be an arsehole," he joked. "You know what I mean. We are racing.

“I didn't attack anyone not because I'm a gentleman, but because I thought my chances would be pretty poor of actually getting past people because people don't want you to get past and it's just messy.

"I don't want to screw anyone. I don't see any point in that. I try to do my own thing and try to do a good qualifying for myself and I would never try to screw anyone just for the hell of it."

Grosjean, who was at the very back of the queue, added: “It was a bit of a shame. That’s the problem when you’re furthest away from the leaders.

“You don’t want to be the first one, so you wait for the first cars to come. But everyone does the same. Once the queue is going, the queue is going.

“At Turn 14, they told me we’ve got a 20-second margin, it’s tight but go, and then the next thing I heard was five seconds within two seconds? I think five was still optimistic.

“The problem is the outlap, we’re driving…anyone in the world can drive faster than we’re going on the outlap because of the tyres.”

Renault recorded its best qualifying result of the season so far in Shanghai, as Daniel Ricciardo beat new teammate Nico Hulkenberg to seventh on the grid.

But the Australian felt he would not have made it across the line in time to start his final run had he not followed Vettel in passing Verstappen.

“I passed the line with maybe a second or less [to go],” Ricciardo recalled. “I remember passing it and then I saw the red, so it was close.

“I don’t know if the others weren’t getting the information, but my engineer was saying it is going to be tight, you need to go. So I just don’t think that the others were maybe getting the same information because a few of them were taking their time.”

Ricciardo acknowledged there is “usually some etiquette” between drivers but felt the time pressure exacerbated the urgency to complete the lap as quickly as possible.

“Initially I didn’t know,” he said. “I was getting a countdown saying you have this much time, so I was trying to calculate. Starting the lap there were a few cars in front, but I knew that there were more behind so I thought it would be quite easy.

“Then my engineer was saying you’ve got to start going now. And then it all started to back up for the last corner. He told me there were 20 seconds to go already a while ago. I was like I can’t wait anymore, I gotta go.

“Nico passed me and he passed Max, so he had some urgency. I was like alright I have to do the same or I’m not going to get my lap. So then I had to pass Max and start the lap, but it was tight.

“A lot of the time there is a bit of a gentleman’s agreement, like [at the] last corner everyone prepares their lap and you just hold file. You try not to screw anyone intentionally.”

Hulkenberg echoed his teammate’s comments, adding: “I wasn’t aware it was that tight to be honest. But I could see sort of leaving the pit lane I could tell it’s going to bunch up at the end.

“I had the Mercedes in front of me, the Ferraris were pushing already behind and overtaking early on, bunch of cars pushing up behind, I made sure towards the end of the lap that I got ahead and not run into trouble.”

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