Lewis Hamilton to start Chinese Grand Prix in 18th after poor qualifying showing

Hamilton had earlier led the sprint race in Shanghai for eight laps before finishing second to Max Verstappen, who also claimed pole position.

Lewis Hamilton went out in Q1 (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Lewis Hamilton went out in Q1 (AP Photo/Andy Wong) (Andy Wong/AP)

Lewis Hamilton’s troubled start to the new season took another desperate twist on Saturday after he qualified a lowly 18th for the Chinese Grand Prix.

Hamilton earlier in the day had led the sprint race in Shanghai for eight laps before he had to settle for runner-up after he was overtaken by eventual winner Max Verstappen.

But less than four hours after Hamilton’s drive to second place – a result he described as his “best in a long time” – the 39-year-old was brought crashing back down to earth when he was eliminated in the opening phase of qualifying for Sunday’s main event.

The seven-time world champion locked up at the penultimate corner on his speediest lap, and he finished in the Q1 knockout zone, leaving only RB’s Yuki Tsunoda and Williams’ Logan Sargeant behind him on the grid.

An exasperated Mercedes boss Toto Wolff looked to the heavens after Hamilton’s fate was confirmed.

“Sorry guys,” reported Hamilton, 39, over the radio. He finished eight tenths off the pace and half-a-second behind George Russell in the other Mercedes.

Aside from his strong showing in Saturday’s 19-lap dash to the chequered flag, this has been Hamilton’s worst-ever start to a season.

The British driver, who is leaving Mercedes to join Ferrari next year, failed to finish inside the top six at the opening four rounds of the campaign. And his bleak result in qualifying here leaves him staring at another underwhelming result.

Carlos Sainz, the man who is giving up his seat at Ferrari for Hamilton next year, brought out a red flag in Q2 after he lost control of his Ferrari.

The Spaniard dropped his rear wheels on to the gravel on the exit of the final corner, sending him backwards into the wall on the opposing side of the track.

Sainz broke his front wing but he was able to limp back to the pits.

However, following the red-flag delay, Ferrari were able to repair Sainz’s Ferrari and the Spaniard participated in the remainder of qualifying.

Verstappen beat Hamilton by an impressive 13 seconds in Saturday’s sprint and he raced to a perhaps predictable pole position.

The Dutch driver, who is on course to take his fourth consecutive world championship, saw off team-mate Sergio Perez as Red Bull secured a front-row lockout. It also marked Red Bull’s 100th pole in F1.

Verstappen finished 0.322 seconds clear of Perez, with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso third. Lando Norris, who dropped from pole to finish sixth in the sprint race, qualified fourth ahead of Oscar Piastri in the other McLaren.

Charles Leclerc and Sainz finished sixth and seventh respectively for Ferrari, while George Russell could manage only eighth on a poor afternoon for the Silver Arrows.