Damon Hill says qualifying felt like the fall of Mercedes' F1 empire

Former world champion Damon Hill likened Ferrari's dominant qualifying display in China, where Mercedes was unable to challenge for pole, to "empires rising and falling" in Formula One.

Sebastian Vettel led Ferrari's second front row lockout in as many race weekends, the first time it has achieved that feat since the 2006 season. Vettel won in Bahrain but Mercedes was expected to be closer due to the cooler conditions at the Shanghai circuit, where it has traditionally excelled in the V6 turbo era. Its engine setting reserved for qualifying -- dubbed the 'party mode' -- is also usually enough to propel the world champions into contention for Q3.

However, having seen both cars struggle for grip throughout the day, that step forward did not materialise and Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton were both over 0.5s behind Vettel's benchmark. Hill, the 1996 world champion who now works for Sky Sports, said the nature of Ferrari's performance felt like a defining moment in the battle for this year's championship.

"This is the turning point," Hill said. "For so long we have seen Mercedes dominate. They've had the party mode in qualifying but now both Ferrari cars are ahead of Mercedes. It certainly does look like the tide has turned for the first time in a long time in this turbo-hybrid era."

Hill also pointed out the fact reigning world champion Hamilton is yet to sign a new deal at Mercedes and hinted that his decision could be impacted by a shift in the F1 pecking order.

"Ferrari have won the first two races and are in a strong position to win the third. If this is the start of a new era, then Lewis Hamilton will have to think carefully about whether he signs up to Mercedes for a long-term contract.

"All these racing drivers know they have to be in the coming team and the team that is showing it's going to be the team with for the next era. It's like empires rising and falling and maybe Mercedes are on the wane and the new Ferrari era is about to come back."

Formula 1 Heineken Chinese Grand Prix U.S. coverage presented by Mothers Polish (All times Eastern)

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