Chinese Grand Prix: Mercedes Rivalry

Lewis Hamilton returned to the top step of the podium after the Chinese Grand Prix. The Mercedes driver took the win from pole position, finishing ahead of his teammate, Nico Rosberg, and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. The final laps of the race were neutralised following the deployment of the safety car on lap 54. For the first time this season, 20 cars were on the grid for lights out. Hamilton was quick off the line, angling his F1 W06 to defend from Rosberg. While slightly further back, Sebastian Vettel passed Massa, immediately moving up in P3. In the other Ferrari, Kimi lined up behind the two Williams to move up on the inside of turn 2, giving himself the better line through turn 3 to pass Bottas and then Massa later in the lap. The rest of the grid snaked their way through the first corner relatively unscathed, with some contact between the two Toro Rossos.

Hamilton once again outstretched his Championship lead after being relatively unchallenged throughout the race. The Mercedes duo ran the same tyre strategy during the race, running the soft tyres for the first two stints, before swapping to medium compound tyres for the final leg. Rosberg however felt his race was compromised, complaining that his teammate was cruising in front of him. This then allowed Vettel to catch up to the Mercedes causing Rosberg to defend and use his tyres. Despite this, Rosberg still came home P2 in front of Vettel.

Ferrari had a competitive race for both Vettel and Kimi, finishing P3 and P4 respectively. It was a stormer of a first lap for both drivers, managing to pass the two Williams in the first sector. Like the Mercedes, Ferrari chose the run the soft compound tyres for the first two stints before swapping to the medium tyre for the final stint. The team didn’t however manage to make an undercut for Vettel to challenge for the win, despite pushing like hell to pull the gap. Kimi Raikkonen was on form from the get-go. Back to his old ways the Finn didn’t let up, maintaining his tyres until the final laps. However, Verstappen’s retirement on lap 54 robbed us of what would probably the most exciting battle for position in the race.

Williams were strong throughout the afternoon, maintaining a healthy position for both Massa and Bottas. However, being Ferrari’s main target for the race meant having to be on the defence from lights out. While the Williams were unable to keep their position from the Scuderia, Massa and Bottas were able to engage in some good old competitive rivalry amongst teammates. In the opening stages, Bottas made a move on Massa, moving himself up to P5, only for Massa to lay a move a few corners later. The two spent the remainder of the race in the same positions, eventually finishing P5 for Massa and P6 for Bottas after a two stop strategy.

Lotus scored their first points of the season as Romain Grosjean came home in P7. Keeping out of trouble, Grosjean managed his tyres well, running on the soft compound before running the final two stints on the medium tyre. Pastor Maldonado was not so lucky however. After a strong start, passing Felipe Nasr in the early stages, Maldonado began to show signs of braking issues after missing the entrance to the pit lane, and spinning a few laps later. Falling back in the grid, the E23 then found himself in the midst of a McLaren sandwich, simultaneously challenging Button for P13 and defending from a charging* Alonso. Maldonado’s luck ran out on lap 49 after behind rear-ended by Button, forcing the Lotus to retire on lap 52.

Both Sauber’s collected points, with Nasr finishing P8 ahead of Ericsson in P10. Ericsson lost a position early on after running wide on the opening lap and allowing the Lotus of Pastor Maldonado through. Despite some good battles for the team, the C34 was a little down on pace even with the Ferrari power. However, a well managed two-stop strategy did allow for a few battles for position for Felipe Nasr.

Red Bull continue to rue the Renault power, with Ricciardo picking up just two points for the team. Taking a somewhat unwanted leaf out of Mark Webber’s book, Ricciardo struggled with the anti-stall off the line, losing 10 places before reaching the first corner. The Renault power continued to misbehave, completely giving out in a ball of smoke on Daniil Kvyat on lap 17.

It was mixed feelings for Force India, with only one car finishing the race. Sergio Perez was unlucky to finish outside of the points in P11. Unable to maintain competitive tyres, the team switched Perez to a three stop strategy, however this failed to come off in a points finish. Nico Hulkenberg was the first retirement of the race, crawling to a halt on lap 10 after reporting over the radio that something wasn’t right with his gearbox, as it turns out there was something wrong.

In a step in the right direction, both McLaren’s finished the race. Alonso and Button both managed to engage in some competitive battles for position, albiet at the back of the grid. However, some contact with Maldonado nearly cost Button his race. Alonso eventually came home P12 ahead of Button, who finished P13.

Toro Rosso were another to have a bittersweet race, with Verstappen becoming a late retirement from a strong and points scoring finish. The rookie driver continued to race beyond his years with late braking into the corners without locking up or getting too close. Verstappen’s best battle was with Felipe Nasr in the middle stint. It was a slightly more difficult race for Carlos Sainz, losing positions after suffering a spin on the second lap. Eventually finishing outside of the points in P14. The feel good race moment goes to Manor F1 Team, with both Will Stevens and Roberto Mehri starting the race and making it all the way to the chequered flag. Stevens finished ahead of Mehri in P15 and P16 respectively.

Without a break, the championship moves to the Middle East for the Bahrain Grand Prix next weekend where the track is hot, hard, and abrasive. A nightmare for tyre management.

– Alex

* As charging as a McLaren-Honda can be this season

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