Chinese Grand Prix: Hamilton Hattrick

Once again Mercedes dominated in tonight’s race, and for the third time this season, Hamilton took the top step of the podium ahead of Nico Rosberg and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. It was another thrilling start from Massa, as the Williams made up four places running down the inside into turn 1. The move was met with some contact from former Ferrari team mate, Fernando Alonso as the Spaniard appeared to move a touch too far to the right. Though both emerged unscathed, the contact caused Rosberg to brake, leaving him caught off guard as the remaining Williams attempted to sneak through. Bottas however didn’t have the cleanest line through, making contact with the Mercedes. Ricciardo was on the defence from Alonso as soon as Massa passed them both, forcing the Red Bull to hold his line through the opening corners. Further back in the field, Vergne was defending hard against McLaren’s Jensen Button.

Hamilton cruised to the victory from pole position, not once having to defend from his team mate, or anyone else for that matter. Rosberg had a very different race, battling hard to regain positions lost on the opening lap, and having to communicate all of his race data back to the pit wall. On the sprint down to turn 1, Rosberg was somewhat caught off guard to Bottas, touching his front left tyre against the Williams. The Mercedes didn’t have the quickest getaway, and the contact saw Rosberg run back in P7. Rising to the challenge, Rosberg immediately laid an attack on Nico Hulkenberg for P6, before hunting down Massa and the rest of the front runners.

It was Ferrari’s best race of the season with Fernando Alonso taking the final step on the podium. It was a quick start from the Spaniard, though possibly turning into Massa too much on the sprint down to turn 1, resulting the former team mates making contact. In the final stint of the race, Alonso responded to the threat of a fast approaching Ricciardo, getting out of DRS within a lap. It was the first time this season that the F14 T and Alonso really seemed to mesh well, making his podium finish more than deserved. The same cannot be said for the other side of the garage as Kimi Raikkonen continued to struggle with his set up. It’s hard to believe that Kimi and Alonso are in the same car after such an incredible race from Alonso. Though the Finn made light work of both the McLarens, Kimi was lapping nearly 4 seconds slower in his F14 T eventually finishing P8.

It was another incredible drive for Daniel Ricciardo, after again out-qualifying, and out-racing his team mate. Ricciardo managed his tyres better than Vettel, resulting in lap times more than 2 seconds faster than the other RB10. The Red Bull ran out of laps in closing the gap to Alonso, finally settling for P4. Sebastian Vettel had a clean getaway off the line, though almost immediately struggled with graining of the front tyres. The Red Bull driver held his P3 position until his first pit stop, where he emerged P5 behind Alonso. Vettel did manage to get within DRS range of the Ferrari, though didn’t have the straight line speed to pass him, and was told to back off by his pit wall. The German was clearly in very feisty mood, ignoring team orders to let Ricciardo passed. “Tough luck” was the response from Vettel, when told to move aside, the battle for position was short lived however as Ricciardo made his way through in turn 1 on lap 29. When Kobayashi, on fresh tyres, unlapped himself from the Red Bull, Vettel didn’t quite remain calm. Resulting in a very annoyed and amusing rant from the reigning world champion. Perhaps the world champ was kept out for possibly too long on medium tyres. Shortly after, he was told to box, and cheered up… Slightly. Vettel eventually finished 24 seconds behind his team mate in P5.

Both Force India drivers finished in the points. Hulkenberg suffered from a number of lock ups throughout the race, first in the hairpin and then again when coming in to pit. Luckily the German, running on a two stop strategy, managed to keep his VJM07 under control and crossed the line P6 after holding the Williams of Valtteri Bottas at bay. Perez put in an impressive race after a poor qualifying. Starting from P16, Perez initially battled for position with Button into the hairpin on lap 15, moving up the P14 as the Mexican made the move stick against the McLaren. The race became more difficult for Perez, who despite being on the same tyre strategy as Hulkenberg, appeared to struggle for grip, running wide at turn 14. After pitting for new medium tyres, Perez was told to bring the car home, which he adhered to, not before making up additional places to finish P9.

Bottas had contact with Rosberg into turn 1 on the opening lap, which seemed to affect his race pace. The Finn did manage to recover some pace towards the end of the race, closing the gap on the Force India. Bottas ran out of laps however, to finish P7, half a second behind Hulkenberg. It was a phenomenal start from Felipe Massa, giving him the strongest chance for a podium until disastrous pit stop cost him the race. It was a stubborn left rear wheel nut*, which had to be removed manually, which sent him very uncomfortably to the back of the field. The Brazilian put in a lot of fight to make up places from dead last, however the Williams ran out of laps, finally coming home P15. A real shame considering the strength of Massa’s drive.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat picked up the final point of the race coming home with P10. The Russian driver out performed his team mate on his first visit to the Shanghai International Circuit. Jean-Eric Vergne drove without incident. While he couldn’t quite match his qualifying pace, Vergne showed that the Toro Rosso package is reliable if anything with the Frenchman eventually finishing P12.

Neither McLaren picked up points during the Chinese Grand Prix. The MP4-29 was clearly running with the middle range teams. While Button did make an early move on Vergne stick for P13, it would be expected that a McLaren with a Mercedes power unit would have the advantage over a Renault powered Toro Rosso. Though once against another Mercedes power unit, it is painfully clear how inferior the McLaren package is. Button was easily passed by the Force India of Perez on lap 15, before tyre graining would have been an issue for the Brit. Button eventually finished just outside of the points in P11. While a positive race for a rookie driver, Magnussen has still not able to deliver the same overall race performance seen in Australia. Starting on medium compound tyres from P15, the Dane initially made up places with the strategy as others pit. However, by lap 18 the advantage had worn off and after conceding P9 to Raikkonen, the McLaren came in to pit for softs. Admittedly, the Dane suffer from front wing damage from early on in the race, affecting his performance, eventually finishing P13.

The stewards decided to let Maldonado drive in today’s Grand Prix. Starting from the back of the grid, Maldonado kept out of trouble throughout the race to eventually finish P14. Romain Grosjean was not as fortunate as his team mate, in what was a truly disappointing race for the team after such a strong qualifying. The Frenchman lost fourth gear around lap 25, making it impossible to keep on the track through the middle sector. On lap 29 the E22 went off at turn 11, and the team chose to retire him.

Esteban Gutierrez would no doubt have been a little nervous when he saw the E22 of Maldonado in his mirrors. The Sauber held him off for a few corners, though preferring to remain upright, moved aside for the Venezuelan on lap 38. Though lapping in the low 1:44s, the Sauber wasn’t as competitive as previously seen. In an attempt to pick up the pace, the Mexican was forced to run with four stops, coming in for fresh soft tyres and a new front wing on lap 42. The best Gutierrez could manage was P16 for the team. Adrian Sutil was the first retirement of the race, suffering from a failing power unit from the opening laps. The German pitted to retire on lap 6.

It was a double finish for Caterham, and a minor victory, with Kamui Kobayashi finishing ahead of both Marussias**. After pitting for medium compound tyres on lap 12, Kobayashi was lapping very quickly on his second stint, much to the disgust of Vettel, as he unlapped himself on lap 34 on the fresher tyres. The Caterham finished ahead of his team mate in P17. Marcus Ericsson seemed to lose steam in the race, allowing both the Marussia’s passed him to take last place usually reserved for Chilton.

Marussia split the two Caterham with Jules Bianchi finishing P18. The Frenchman had contact at the start, though settled down as the race progressed. Max Chilton finished P19. It would appear that Chilton may slightly be improving, as this is now the second race that the Brit has managed to finish somewhere other than last. The Marussia is definitely taking baby steps with the concept of over taking in Formula 1.

Despite the drastically different track conditions from qualifying, the Chinese Grand Prix was somewhat predictable. The season is beginning to unfold with an imminent Mercedes 1-2 finish, where we are left wondering who will fill the final podium position. The rest of the field hasn’t quite caught up to the advantage of the Mercedes package, and with Hamilton’s performance over a single qualifying lap, it’s almost up to Rosberg to catch Hamilton at turn 1 before he walks away with the victory. Red Bull are the closest competitor now to Mercedes, having sorted out their reliability issues. Daniel Ricciardo is more than comfortable in his seat at Red Bull, consistently out performing Vettel. There is a short break in the calendar before Formula 1 moves to Europe for the first time in 2014 for the Spanish Grand Prix, until then, wǎnān.

– Alex

* And the crew not having any rear tyres ready

** As the chequered flag was shown two laps early to Lewis Hamilton, the results were decided on Lap 54 when Kobayashi was P18 behind Bianchi in P17.

Qualifying Pole Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Podium Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
Fastest Lap 1:40.402 Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
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