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Lewis Hamilton was beaten to pole position for Formula One's 1,000th race by ValtteriBottas.
In a nail-biting session, Bottas saw off the five-time world champion by just 0.023 seconds at the Shanghai International Circuit.
The form guide indicated that Ferrari might be the team to beat here, but after they were off the pace at the last round, Mercedes have returned to their all-conquering best.
Sebastian Vettel was a third of a second down on the Silver Arrows, with team-mate Charles Leclerc fourth. Red Bull's Max Verstappen finished fifth.
"It has been a good weekend so far," said Bottas. "I struggled to get the perfect lap in, but it was good enough."
Hamilton said: "I didn't give up and kept pushing right to the end. Valtteri has been stellar all weekend. I have struggled. There is time left on the table, but I will try and get it back tomorrow."
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Formula One bosses are exploring the possibility of staging a grand prix in Greater London.
Ross Brawn, F1's head of motorsport, has ruled out a city-centre race, but believes there is scope for an event on the outskirts of the capital.
Brawn told the Evening Standard: "I think because F1 is a week-long activity minimum, the disruption it would cause in the centre of London would be unacceptable. I don't think Londoners really need to worry about us taking over the centre of London for a week.
"But there are things on the periphery that are being explored - not slap-bang in the centre of London but Greater London.
"London is an iconic city with a massive history in the sport and there's huge enthusiasm here."
Any new race would not necessarily affect the future of a grand prix at Silverstone, though.
Next year's round at the Northamptonshire circuit is due to be the last unless a new agreement is reached.
But Brawn added: "We'd like to see London complement Silverstone, not replace it. We could see ways we could make it work both sides."
Liberty Media, F1's American owners, is keen to add city races to the F1 calendar, with a round on the streets of Vietnam's capital city, Hanoi, penned in for 2020.