Valtteri Bottas admits Mercedes has been left shocked by the half a second gap to Formula 1 rivals Ferrari during qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix. 

Mercedes was tipped to begin its fightback to Ferrari in Shanghai, at a circuit the reigning world champions has dominated throughout the V6 turbo era. Despite setting the pace on Friday, Bottas and Hamilton struggled in the cooler conditions in qualifying, with Bottas ending up 0.5s down on Sebastian Vettel, who denied Mercedes a seventh consecutive pole in China. 

With Raikkonen completing Ferrari’s first back-to-back front-row lockout since 2006, Mercedes was left to settle with the second row, with Hamilton less than 0.1s adrift of his teammate at a venue where the Briton has previously claimed six poles and four victories.

“We are surprised by the gap,” Bottas admitted. “We thought going into today we could fight for pole position but that was definitely out of reach, there was nothing in the lap that we could gain that much, in terms of getting the tyres ready, but not by half a second. 

“I think they have a really strong car, you can see in very long corners they gain quite a bit on us. Now there is no speed difference on the straights and with the gains they are making on the corners, we have definitely work to do. Hopefully we can make up tomorrow what lacked today.”

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff believes his team’s struggles were down to a lack of grip compared to Ferrari in the cold temperatures and issues relating to tyre warm-up. 

“They’ve been really strong all day, already in the morning but qualifying performance they put one on top and really given us something to think about,” he said. 

“It’s tricky. We are lacking grip and you can fall out of the window by the tyres getting too hot or by the tyres being too cold. There’s two extremes like we had in Bahrain. I think this is what happened. I think it’s a tyre issue.”

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