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Lewis Hamilton posted a record-breaking lap in final practice for the Spanish Grand Prix as New Zealander Brendon Hartley crashed out at 160mph.
Hamilton, who holds a four-point championship lead over Sebastian Vettel, ended Friday's final session at the opening leg of the European season on top of the timesheets.
And the 33-year-old defending champion led the way once more on Saturday morning with a blistering effort of one minute and 17.281 seconds.
Hamilton has not been on pole position since the opening round in Australia, but he will head into qualifying later on today as favourite to secure the front slot on the grid.
Hamilton edged out his team-mate Valtteri Bottas by just 0.013 seconds with Mercedes appearing to hold the edge over Ferrari at a circuit where they have performed well in recent seasons.
Vettel was third in the order, a quarter-of-a-second down on Hamilton, with the German's Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen fourth.
The one-hour session was brought to a premature end after Hartley crashed out in the closing moments.
The 28-year-old lost control of his car on entry to the high-speed Turn 9, and while he reported he was unhurt in the smash, he appeared to be sporting a limp as he walked away from the incident.
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Championship leader Sebastian Vettel has laid down the title gauntlet to Lewis Hamilton after beating his rival to pole position in Azerbaijan.
Vettel, nine points clear of Hamilton in the standings, finished 0.179 seconds clear of the Mercedes driver to secure his third pole in as many races.
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Daniel Ricciardo took advantage of a tactical masterstroke by his Red Bull team to win in Shanghai after championship leader Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen dramatically collided during a thrilling Chinese Grand Prix.
Valtteri Bottas appeared on course to claim his victory after a strategy error by Ferrari allowed the Mercedes car to move ahead of Vettel during their one-and-only round of pit stops.
But the race took a second dramatic twist when the safety car was deployed following a coming together between the Toro Rosso pair of Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly on lap 31.
Unlike their rivals, Ricciardo and Verstappen dived into the pits to take on fresh rubber, and the gamble worked for Ricciardo as he passed Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton, Vettel and finally Bottas for a quite remarkable win.
But a hot-headed Verstappen, who had been ahead of Ricciardo, blew his chance of victory when he ran off the road in attempting to make his way past Hamilton and then later collided with Vettel.
Bottas had done everything right, but the safety car cost him dearly. Ricciardo however, made no mistake when handed the opportunity with a superb demonstration in overtaking.
"I don't seem to win boring races," said Ricciardo after claiming his first victory since last June's Azerbaijan Grand Prix. "That was unexpected.
"It was hectic. I heard the safety car call a turn 14 and they said we are going to stop. It happened very quickly, but it was a decisive, winning move.
"Sometimes you have just got to lick the stamp and send it. I enjoyed it very much."
Lewis Hamilton completed a practice double on Friday as he bids to get his Formula One championship charge back on track in China.
Hamilton, who will head into Sunday's race 17 points adrift of Sebastian Vettel, ended both sessions at the top of the order after delivering an ominous warning to his rivals.
But Hamilton's slim advantage over Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen at an overcast Shanghai International Circuit suggests the Mercedes driver may not have it all his own way this weekend.
While defending champion Hamilton was a third of a second clear of Raikkonen in the day's opening running, the margin at the conclusion of the second session stood at only seven-thousandths.
Hamilton's Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, under pressure following a middling display in Bahrain a week ago, was third, just 0.033 sec off the pace, while Vettel was also only one-tenth down.
As both Mercedes and Ferrari cars seemingly teed up a shoot-out for pole position on Saturday, Max Verstappen finished fifth in the order.
The 20-year-old Dutchman, who revealed on Thursday that he will not adapt his aggressive style despite his collision with Hamilton in Bahrain, spun off in Friday's opening session.
Verstappen clipped the apex at the last bend and slid off into the gravel. He nursed his Red Bull back on to the circuit and escaped without damage.
Verstappen's team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who retired from the Bahrain Grand Prix following an electrical issue, was ninth in the order.
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Sebastian Vettel held off a late challenge from Valtteri Bottas to win the Bahrain Grand Prix and extend his lead over Lewis HamiltonRead the full story ›