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REINING world champion Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) took his third consecutive pole position of 2011 (and fourth in total) in qualifying for tomorrow’s Chinese Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit.

Vettel’s fastest time in Q3 was 1:33.706 at an average speed of 130.122-mph, and is the fastest lap ever around the circuit. I think he’s using KERS don’t you? The McLaren’s of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton will line up second and third on the grid after setting times just over 0.04 seconds apart, but a full 0.7 seconds slower than the pole time of Vettel.

The rest of the top ten on the grid for the race are from fourth to tenth: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa (both Ferrari), Jaime Alguersuari (Toro Rosso) – his best ever F1 grid slot, birthday boy Paul di Resta (Force India) – in only his third Grand Prix, Sébastien Buemi (Toro Rosso) and Vitaly Petrov (Renault).

Petrov couldn’t take part in Q3 itself even though he had made it through because his car stopped out on track with two minutes left of Q2. This caused the end of Q2 to become a mad dash amongst those drivers who weren’t guaranteed of a place in Q3. Massa’s move Sauber’s Sergio Pérez at Turn 6 in order to get some clear air wouldn’t have looked out of place in the race itself.

Those who did go out in Q2 and will fill grid places 11-17 were: Adrian Sutil (Force India), Pérez, Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber), Michael Schumacher (Mercedes), Rubens Barrichello (Williams), Nick Heidfeld (Renault) and Pastor Maldonado (Williams).

The eagle-eyed amongst you would have noticed that Mark Webber (Red Bull) hasn’t appeared yet. That’s because he didn’t even make it out of Q1! Red Bull put him on the slower hard compound tyre for his final run and he didn’t set a quick enough time to get through. Maldonado (who got into Q2 just ahead of Webber) was a full 0.347 seconds faster than the Australian, who will start a lowly 18th on the grid.

Grid places 19-24 will be filled by: Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli (both Lotus), Jérôme d’Ambrosio and Timo Glock (both Virgin) and Vitantonio Liuzzi and Narain Karthikeyan (both HRT). The 107% time in Q1 was 1:41.941, and Karthikeyan (24th and last on the grid) set a 1:40.445.

With regards to who will win, I’ll be mightily surprised if it isn’t one of Vettel, Button or Hamilton.

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