Mercedes Lewis Hamilton cruised to victory in changeable conditions at the Chinese Grand Prix to go level on points in the Drivers Championship with Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel.
Hamilton scored his third Grand Slam of his career (pole position, fastest lap and leading every of the race) on his way to victory in China over the Ferrari of Vettel and Red Bull of Max Verstappen. A shower in the morning resulted in the track being damp enough to warrant the used of inters for almost all the competitors at the beginning of the race. This easily could have been a problem for Hamilton as Ferrari completed more pre-season mileage on Pirelli’s new 2017 range of wet tyres, meaning they would likely have a better idea of how the car was likely to react to the tyre. However, Hamilton was not deterred by this fact, pulling away and maintaining the lead at the start. From there it was another controlled drive from the Brit with good tactical choices to take his first victory of the season. Hamilton was quick to note the pace of the Ferrari team though, and was quick to point out he thought this would be a tight fight for the title.
“It’s going to be one of the closest, if not the closest, fights I’ve experienced,” Hamilton said on the podium after. “I’m looking forward to this fight and others will soon be amongst it. Ferrari have done a fantastic job. We were both pushing, exchanging lap times. We enjoy it because it’s a close battle and the cars look better and are nicer to drive.”
Indeed Hamilton’s rival, Vettel, finished just behind him in second after a tough race for the German. Vettel managed to retain second place at the start, despite being far out of line of his grid position, but it all unravelled from there. The early activation of the Virtual Safety Car, when the Williams of Lance Stroll was accidentally punted into a gravel by Sergio Perez, offered what Ferrari thought was a chance to make an immediate switch to slick tyres and jump Mercedes and Hamilton.
The gamble did not pay off however, as soon after the VSC ended Sauber Sub Antonio Giovinazzi once again crashed on the main pit straight, damaging his car and causing the safety car to come out. Hamilton took advantage of the full safety car and pitted, maintaining the lead on fresher tyres.
Vettel dropped to sixth at once point but fought his way back up the order with a series of spectacular overtakes. During his title-winning years, critics used to suggest Vettel could not overtake, however he silenced the critics today with a masterclass in overtaking. After being stuck behind his Ferrari team make Kimi Raikkonen for a long time, costing him time to the leaders, Vettel went for a dive down the inside of Turn Six. He wasn’t over with the overtaking though as he took Daniel Ricciardo on the exit of the same corner, even going as far as banging wheels with his former team-mate in order to get ahead. Once released he chased down Verstappen, and when the Red Bull driver made a mistake into the hairpin, Vettel pounced to reclaim second.
Both Hamilton and Vettel are tied with 43 points apiece, however due to the fact he won his race first, Vettel will have the lead in the drivers’ championship.
Verstappen had a commendable drive to third today after starting 16th on the grid, with a drive reminiscent of former Red Bull driver Mark Webber when he went for 18th to the podium in the 2011 race in China. Verstappen made up massive ground in the race’s early chaotic laps, showing off his talent he has for wet and changeable conditions. After the early surge at the beginning of the race he then came under pressure from his team-mate in the race’s closing laps, as Ricciardo finally broke clear of Raikkonen after a near race-long battle with the Ferrari. The two drivers had a fantastic scrap though inspire of the intense late-race pressure, Ricciardo could not get back ahead and finished fourth. While the sister Ferrari of Raikkonen came home fifth after a series of agitated radio messages to the Ferrari pit wall during the race.
The day was not so sweet for Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas. While his team mate went onto victory, he could only managed sixth after spinning behind the Safety Car before spinning again trying to correct himself. Mercedes confirmed Bottas lost control of the car while trying to warm up its tyres for the restart. The incident caused him to drop to 12th. Following that the race became a case of damage control for the Finn.
The Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz finished seventh today after taking a huge gamble at the start. He was the only driver to gamble on slick tyres for the start, while the rest of the drivers started on inters. Although his race very nearly ended on the first lap when he spun and clouted the barrier, his strategy paid off handsomely in the end. While Kevin Magnussen claimed his first points for Haas with a strong drive to eighth. Force India claimed their second double points finish in succession with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon ninth and tenth respectively.
The Haas of Romain Grosjean finished outside of the points in 11th, followed by the two Renaults with Nico Hulkenberg ahead of Jolyon Palmer in 12th and 13th respectively. The Williams of Felipe Massa was 14th on a troubling day for the team, who have shown time and again they struggle in wet race conditions. They just stayed ahead of the sole remaining Sauber of Marcus Ericsson, who finished 15th and last.
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso had been on course for eighth but suffered a drive shaft failure resulting in a DNF for him, making it two for two for failing to finish a race. Team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne also dropped out for technical reasons, resulting in a double DNF for the team.
Overall the race was good. The changeable conditions shook the race up, and the overtaking today was good. The new cars force drivers to take risks when going for the overtake. Going for the lunge now as we saw with Verstappen and Vettel today can and is rewarded. If the racing is like that for the rest of the season, then drivers who take the risks will excel, providing the move sticks. Our Formula E reporter Amie Hawk was quick to point out the on track battles today, particularly between the Red Bull boys. As well as highlighting some of the more unfortunate racers today. “Great race and a very good battle at the end between Ricciardo and Verstappen. A shame for Giovinazzi and Stroll, along with both McLaren’s. An unlucky race weekend unfortunately.” I agree with Amie, the battle between the Red Bull’s had me on the edge of my seat at the end of the race, and I wished there could have been a few more laps to see how spicy that battle could have got. But ultimately I think that was a hint at what may come from the two of them during this season. It does seem to be the case right now at least, the Red Bull is not on the same level as Ferrari or Mercedes on a standard dry weekend. But they are clearly ahead of the midfield too. Meaning Verstappen and Ricciardo are likely to continue squabbling amongst themselves until the team manage to develop the car to the point where they can fight at the front. Until then we should have some juicy racing from the boys if they can both have trouble free Qualifying sessions.
I’ll leave you now with my highlight of the weekend. And following the Australian Grand Prix a fortnight ago the internet was awash with angry Toto Wolff memes, I do thoroughly recommend checking some of them out because they are brilliantly funny, but this is personally one of my favourites (mostly because I’m a big Phil Collins fan.)
Chinese GP race result
1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes,
2. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari,
3. Max Verstappen, Red Bull,
4. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull,
5. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari,
6. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes,
7. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso,
8. Kevin Magnussen, Haas, +1 lap
9. Sergio Perez, Force India, +1 lap
10. Esteban Ocon, Force India, +1 lap
11. Romain Grosjean, Haas, +1 lap
12. Nico Hulkenberg, Renault, +1 lap
13. Jolyon Palmer, Renault, +1 lap
14. Felipe Massa, Williams, +1 lap
15. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, +1 lap
Fernando Alonso , McLaren-Honda, DNF
Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, DNF
Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren-Honda, DNF
Antonio Giovinazzi, Sauber, DNF
Lance Stroll, Williams, DNF
Feature Image Credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas Press Release