There was no Shanghai surprise as Mercedes racked up four wins out of four, and their third 1-2 of the season, despite Nico Rosberg having to do onerous things like read out his dash display when the telemetry failed.
Star of the Race
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1st
Lewis was at his peerless best, dominating Qualifying and highlighting the difference between himself and his team-mate in the wet. In the race, on Lap 16, we got the bizarre team radio snippet of, “surprisingly the front tyres feel really good - and the rears”. It was something you so rarely hear, like farmers saying they’re going to have a good harvest or politicians endorsing their rivals’ policies.
After winning three of the first four race of the season (and getting pole for the race from which he retired), you have to say there might even be something in the bizarre scheme of Bernie’s. Remember his gold, silver and bronze medal theory of F1. The World Champion is the one with the most golds. It wouldn’t work for many reasons, but should Lewis retire in Barcelona for some stray reason and Nico resume the pattern we’ve established in the first four races in the next four, then he’ll still be ahead. With that scenario Lewis could head to his home GP at Silverstone having won six of eight races still trailing Rosberg by 8 points.
He impressed Niki Lauda with his ability to lift and coast this race, using about 3.7kg less fuel than his team-mate.
Overtaking Move Of The Race
Lap 33 Kamui Kobayashi, Caterham on Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull.
Kobayashi pulled off an Edmund Irvine-like unlapping of himself. In a week where we’re remembering 20 years since that fateful day at Imola where we lost Senna, Kobayashi hustled his Caterham past an out-of-tyres Sebastian Vettel to take a lap back. It was similar to Irvine nipping back past Ayrton Senna at Suzuka - for which Senna had a major sense of humour failure and went and slapped the Ulsterman afterwards. That didn’t happen at Shanghai. But it was a great moment and an indication of just how much fun Sebastian is having in the middle of the pack.
Here we are at the fourth race of the season after the most complex set of technical rule changes there’s ever been in F1, and only two cars retired from the race. It’s another phenomenal achievement for the sport to improve so rapidly from the chaos that was Jerez testing. Given the intense white heat of research into improved performance, reliability and fuel efficiency, F1’s engineers are making breathtaking progress. Forget the dinosaurs who say they’d sooner be deaf than fuel efficient, this is the future. And if they make the engines louder, we may lose that low fighter-jet turbo whistle we get down the straight at the moment.
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 2nd
Rosberg gets the award for second most moody teenager in the pitlane after Sebastian Vettel. Rosberg had no telemetry on his car from the beginning of the race and had to read out the fuel display he was getting on his dashboard. By Lap 35, when his always-polite engineer Tony Ross came on the radio and asked him to read the display, Rosberg replied with: “It really annoys me to do that - you know” . Here’s how it works. Occasionally shit happens. You have to deal with it. Now tidy your bedroom before we cut your internet bandwidth.
Rosberg’s poor start put him a long way back in the pack and after the race he argued that his lack of telemetry meant that he couldn’t set the clutch bitepoint effectively. However he seemed to get away okay on the parade lap. What’s more it would have been interesting to see what the stewards made of his start if he’d actually spun Bottas at Turn 1, as it was Rosberg’s sudden move left that caused it.
Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, 3rd
Ferrari have refined their engine package with upgrades to the engine mapping that have benefitted both the Scuderia and Sauber (although seemingly not Kimi Raikkonen). Thus the first race in the Mattiacci era was a success. Curiously McLaren got rid of their team principal and scored their first podium in Mebourne, and Ferrari have done the same and scored a podium in Shanghai.
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, 4th
Dan’s struggle to get away from the line was more down to an oily grid slot than his old problem. It was another brilliant race weekend from the Western Australian - total commitment in Qualifying and a much better use of his tyres in the race than his team-mate. And more of that below.
Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, 6th
Another strong performance from the Hulk who managed to resist Valtteri Bottas’ late charge on the last lap of the race but certainly benefitted from the fact that Felipe Massa’s woeful tyre stop put him out of contention.
Valtteri Bottas, Williams, 7th
Yet again it was a case of ‘what might have been’ for the Williams team. To have both cars receive hefty thumps at Turn 1 and carry on regardless is testament to the engineering. It’s also useful that front wings are narrower this year because in Bahrain we might have lost a few and in Shanghai; Williams, Ferrari and Mercedes could all have been back for more at the end of Lap 1.
This isn’t a regularly collected statistic but there can’t be many GPs where there is no front wing damage, not even a wing endplate, to anyone.
Chinese GP Chequered Flag Waver
He’s not going to be doing it again is he. By the grace of Murray Walker there were no significant position changes in the last two laps, other than Kamui hurtling past Bianchi for the much-coveted P17 slot.
Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, 5th
For those who think that Sebastian Vettel is only a four-times World Champion by virtue of the extraordinary cars he’s been given, then the Chinese GP was another check-box ticked on the way to confirmation of that theory. On display again was the ‘Mr. Toad of Toad Hall’ arrogance.
It’s hard to say whether his unnecessary delaying of Ricciardo cost his team-mate a podium, because the Red Bull was significantly weaker than the Ferrari down the straight, but the fact is that Vettel would much sooner his team-mate finish in fourth place than third. Had Ricciardo made the podium that would have put an uncomfortable spotlight on his performance.
It’s one thing reacting badly to having team orders imposed, most drivers aren’t happy at being told what to do, it’s another to display the kind of: ‘I’ll decide what happens’ arrogance we saw in that brief radio exchange. ‘Tough luck’. It also makes a mockery of all those slowing down lap speeches over the radio about how he’s really grateful to the team and everyone back at the factory for doing a great job, because when push comes to shove, he thinks he’s the one doing the great job. He’s put himself above the team twice now and Christian Horner needs to take some action.
Sure there are smiles and excuses and explanations afterwards, but he knows the team well enough that they wouldn’t be asking him to move on a whim. He’s intelligent to know that they can’t give him the full reasons over team radio at the time.
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 8th
In reality this was the equivalent of P9 for Kimi, as under normal circumstances, Massa would have finished a long way in front of him. For the Finn it was hardly different than Bahrain and he came home almost a minute behind Alonso and 25 seconds behind 7th placed Bottas.
Felipe Massa, Williams, 15th
Felipe Massa picked the track the Radio 5 team played as background music to the formation lap. His choice was ‘Happy’ by Pharell Williams, because “I’m just so happy at the moment”. He got another flyer off the line, and then another flyer courtesy of Alonso. It was a curious incident because from Alonso’s camera it looked like Felipe came in and hit him, whereas from the more definitive camera, Rosberg behind, it was Alonso moving into Massa.
McLaren, 11th and 13th
Small comforts - at least Magnussen didn’t hit Raikkonen on the opening lap. Ron can’t be happy that his team are fourth best Mercedes runner, and in this race they had Grosjean in front of them. So that’s potentially six teams quicker.
The BBC were without Three Times Le Mans Winner Allan McNish in China and it was just DC and Suzi Perry coping with the adoring Chinese pitlane public. The Chinese receive the BBC coverage of the racing and so they are stars in their own right (not that DC is anything less) so it was a bit close to the knuckle when Suze finished off a piece on Mercedes with: “they’ve had clear-the-air talks. That’ll be the only clear air in China you’ll get this weekend…”
On Radio 5, James Allen had passed the microphone over to the competent and engaging Jack Nicholls who had the brilliantly acerbic Eric Silbermann of Toro Rosso alongside him on Saturday and Giedo van der Garde in the race. They were linked, as always, by Kylie height-alike Jenny Gow and her powercell of enthusiasm. Jenny can talk to drivers on their level, because she ison their level.
Eric: “It always worries me that Sergio Perez looks like a NASCAR driver with the hat he wears.”
Jenny: talking about Kevin Magnussen - ““He’s got his head firmly bolted on to the rest of his shoulders.
Jenny: “It’s not dry underground here… I mean, under foot.”
Jack Nicholls: “Giedo van der Garde is alongside me in the commentary box. He may be Dutch but he does know that points win prizes.”