Lewis Hamilton was in a league of his own at the Chinese Grand Prix. The Brit was able to beat Sebastian Vettel by six-seconds, but crucially built a bigger gap at the front whilst the Ferraris dealt with the Red Bulls ahead.
The drying conditions on the circuit allowed the exceptional drivers to flourish in the opening stages. Max Verstappen was able to make up nine places on the opening lap. Fernando Alonso was also at his best in the opening phase, starting 13th but in the dizzying heights of 6th place after coming through in damp conditions, a promising sign for McLaren, who could score points with the Spaniard if they can find some reliability.
As the tyre blankets were removed from the grid, it emerged that Carlos Sainz would be the only driver to start on the slicks. His bravery didn’t pay off initially with the Toro Rosso driver spinning out on lap one. He was able to save the car though and his risk ultimately paid off with an eventual 7th place finish.
Lance Stroll’s race was over early after a coming together with Sergio Perez in the Force India, the collision saw the virtual safety car activated and Vettel took to the pits from 2nd to change onto slicks. This would prove to be a bad call, as on lap five, Antonio Giovinazzi got it wrong again at the final corner and lost the C36 on the wet surface of the track and went into the wall. This brought out the real safety car, and the leading five cars of Hamilton, Bottas, Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Verstappen pitted. By the time Vettel had caught up, the top five were out of the pits and ahead of the German on the right tyre.
It wasn’t quite a strategic error from Ferrari. The team believed it was the right call to get Vettel onto a dry compound as quickly as possible, but the later error by their reserve driver Giovinazzi made it a taller order for Vettel to challenge for the lead later on.
It all went wrong for Bottas on lap seven, the Finn made a costly error whilst weaving behind the safety car to get his tyres up to temperature. Bottas managed to spin the car and fall from 5th to 12th, condemning him to a difficult race in which he only managed to finish 6th, a poor showing by Mercedes’ standards.
It’s worth noting that the cars at the front looked to be able to keep the car they were chasing in the crosshairs much more effectively than was predetermined due to the wider-lower rear wings and the increase in dirty air. But the durability of the new Pirellis appears to be giving drivers the confidence to attack, which bodes well for the rest of the season.
Red Bull had a stronger showing in Shanghai than was expected after the RB13 looked over a second slower than the Mercedes and Ferrari in quali, but Verstappen and Ricciardo were Hamilton’s main challengers on the supersofts for the first twenty laps. But Vettel eventually subtracted the earlier strategy mishap by overtaking Raikkonen on lap twenty, pulling an aggressive move on Ricciardo two laps later and then reestablishing himself in 2nd after catching Verstappen on some heavily-worn supersofts.
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 9, 2017
From halfway point, Hamilton and Vettel pulled away substantially from the chasing pack and their respective teammates, cementing that it looks to be a two-way fight for the title unless Bottas and Raikkonen can find some form.
Fernando Alonso unfortunately retired from the race from 7th. The Spanish veteran was simply incredible. He outdrove the MCL32 and was definitely on for a points finish. As counterintuitive as it sounds, McLaren should leave this weekend with some hope despite another double DNF. In terms of performance, they now know that they can lean on Alonso’s talent to fight for points if they can improve reliability. Power unit performance is still a problem, but they need to fix finishing the race first as they’re currently throwing away points in the Constructors fight.
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 9, 2017
Lewis Hamilton’s winning margin was 6-seconds over Vettel. Both drivers head to Bahrain next week with 43-points each after both picking up wins and a 2nd place. Verstappen was able to hold off Daniel Ricciardo at the end, the Red Bull cars finishing 3rd and 4th. Raikkonen had another race that wasn’t at the same level as his teammate and similarly, Bottas could only manage 6th.
Carlos Sainz managed to secure 7th and was best of the rest despite his spin on the first lap. His efforts have promoted Toro Rosso to 4th in the Constructors standings as the new el Matador continues to impress. Kevin Magnussen corrected the errors of his first Grand Prix weekend with Haas with a solid performance in Shanghai. The Dane was able to finish 8th and pick up the first points of 2017 for the American team. Sergio Perez finished 9th and Esteban Ocon put in a mega shift on the soft compound, running on the same tyre for forty laps and finishing 10th despite starting from the back.
After the race, a relieved Hamilton said,
“During the race I needed to keep my composure in some really tricky conditions out there. After the pit stop under the Safety Car the speed was low and the tyres were very cold, so it would have been very easy to make a mistake, so I’m just grateful that I didn’t. In those final 20 laps Seb and I were just pounding around as fast as we could, exchanging fastest lap times, that’s what racing is all about.
In the future there will be times when we don’t have a Safety Car and we won’t have that gap. I’m excited for that. It’s very close and there were times when it was hard to match Sebastian. It has been a fantastic weekend and I’m so grateful for the effort the team has put in for us to be where we are today.”
– Lewis Hamilton
Heading to Bahrain, Mercedes and Ferrari could hardly be any closer. One point separates the teams in the Constructors standings with Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel now equal on points. Red Bull’s race was strong too, they will be convinced that the mountain that is the gap between them and the top two over a single lap could be smaller in the race. Toro Rosso are continuing to impress and Daniil Kvyat would have scored points too had he not retired early on with an issue. Force India retain their 100% record so far of scoring points with both cars in 2017.
Williams had a terrible race with Felipe Massa dropping from 6th to 14th throughout the race. The Williams philosophy appears to stand in 2017 too. The FW40 doesn’t seem to like the wet conditions either. McLaren looked more likely to score points this weekend with Alonso, but the team were again plagued by attrition.