Chinese GP Qualifying: Winners and Losers’s Hugh Podmore reflects on a fraught qualifying session in Shanghai which saw the Renault-powered cars of Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, and Mark Webber get the jump on the Brawn GP pair.

An interesting qualifying session today in China saw a breathtaking performance from Red Bull, pole and third for Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber respectively. There were other notable performances as well, and some less spectacular ones too.

Fernando Alonso deserves plaudits for what looks like a very good lap, although the Spaniard has been known to favour a short first stint. It might be that the double world champion has fuelled his Renault light to jump himself up the grid. His team-mate Nelson Piquet could not provide a reflection on the true pace of the car, ending up 17th. Despite conceding in a post-quali interview that the car ”wasn’t that bad”, the Brazilian did not make it to the second part of qualifying.

Sebastian Buemi also merits a mention, putting his Toro Rosso in 10th position on the grid. The Swiss looked good throughout the session, as did team-mate Seb Bourdais, who was unlucky not to make the second session. It seems clear that the Red Bull stable’s two utterly separate and distinct motor cars are both very well suited to the Shanghai track.

Less edifying were the Brawn cars’ efforts. Three races into the season and the armchair fan has become accustomed to seeing the white cars dominate, but they could make no better than 4th and 5th for Barrichello and Button respectively. Commentators who suspected the team’s competitive edge would not last for long appear to have been vindicated, although Brawn would still be the most sensible bet for the race win again tomorrow.

Last year’s championship contenders Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa had mixed fortunes. The Englishman will be reasonably happy to have made it to 9th, with a car that most concede is not capable of threatening the front of the grid. Massa, however, will be miffed to find himself in 13th, and must produce a vintage Massa-midpack-charge-through-the-field tomorrow. Respective Finnish team mates Kovalainen and Raikkonen had reasonable days too, given the constraints of their machinery.

The weather may play a part again tomorrow; heavy rain is forecast. Bring it, as they say, on.