Lewis Hamilton delivered the perfect response to Ferrari, but his team-mate wasn’t very happy…
Star of the Race
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1st
It was pretty much perfection from Lewis Hamilton this weekend; fastest in all practice sessions, pole, fastest lap and the race win. The only flaw in Lewis’s GP was his failure to improve on his second run in Q3 which might, just might, have allowed Nico Rosberg to get pole. Maybe there is some psychology in that Lewis’s first lap of Q3 is often quicker than his second, typified by his failure to press on on a drying track at Silverstone last year with disastrous consequences (the track got much quicker at the end of the lap, as Hamilton aborted his final run).
In the race, once away in front, he drove an incredibly measured race only going as fast as his engineers allowed, based on the degradation of the limiting front left tyre. But we’re right back to the old complaint of driving-to-the-tyres. This was exemplified on Lap 20 when Rosberg got on the radio and moaned, “Lewis is driving very slowly, tell him to speed up.”
Lewis’s engineer ‘Bonno’ got on the radio and gave him a new target time, “Okay Lewis, if you’d like to pick the pace up, target time 1:43.7”. So on Lap 21 Lewis delivered a 1:43.735 – a whole 0.035 too slow. Next time round he put in a 1:43.696, a commendable 0.004 too fast. By Lap 24 he got the closest, a 1:43.702, and having done what he was asked to do, he decided to break loose with a 1:43.508 on Lap 25. This is F1 driving by numbers.
All this is absorbing to watch on timing screens, to see the ebb and flow of lap times, but it’s not exactly balls-out-round-the-Nordschliefe. Delivering perfectly executed sector times doesn’t put bums on seats.
Lewis did exactly what he had to do to win the race. Afterwards he had to field complaints from Rosberg that he was being backed up into Vettel, and it tells you something about the quality of the race when the post-race interviews are more interesting than what went on on track. At the front anyway.
Overtaking Move of the Race
Lap 10: Max Verstappen, Torro Rosso on Marcus Ericsson, Sauber
Verstappen has built up an uncanny level of confidence in his car after just three races and this was demonstrated at the Chinese GP with positive moves on Kvyat, Nasr, Perez and Ericsson.
The pass he made on Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber into the Turn 14 hairpin may have been a DRS move, but it was far from routine. Max came from a long way back and Ericsson clearly thought he was going to follow him through when all of a sudden he looked right and there was a 17-year-old in a Toro Rosso blocking his view to the apex. Verstappen’s lock-up-less braking was superb and such was Ericsson’s surprise that he almost ground to a halt and wasn’t able to hound him back on the following start/finish straight DRS zone.
Max was on for 8th place, but the power unit thought otherwise.
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 2nd
Nico almost snatched pole on Saturday, and when he couldn’t beat Lewis into Turn 1 at the start of the race his main concern seemed to be behind him, not in front.
Rosberg’s complaint that he was being backed up into Vettel had some substance in that when Lewis was allowed off the leash at the end of the second stint, he could run very much quicker than he did before. But the Malaysian GP showed that Mercedes had to be careful. If Hamilton had gone too quick in either of the first two stints and compromised his tyres, the depth of criticism would have been enormous.
Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, 3rd
Although he looked a potential threat for P2 up to the end of the second stint, the Ferrari on the medium tyres was no match for the Mercedes on them. And at the close, team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was closing on him at around 0.3 seconds a lap. On Lap 52 (of 56) the gap was 1.7 seconds and on lap 53 it was down to 1.4 seconds. What’s more, Kimi had fresher tyres.
Unluckily for everyone wanting a grandstand finish, the Renault Twingo engine in the back of Max Verstappen’s car called it a day and we were denied some serious Ferrari on Ferrari action by the appearance of the Safety Car.
Three races and three podiums for Vettel and second in the Championship heading to the fourth race can be nothing less than a dream start.
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 4th
Kimi’s qualifying performance on Saturday might have been less than expected, but at last he got a race start to remember and jumped from P6 to P4 on the opening lap.
In the race, he kept station behind Sebastian Vettel, carefully looking after the tyres with a minimal amount of steering input. The only grievance he had was with lapping Alonso and then Button/Maldonado impeding his progress as he inexorably reeled his team-mate in at the end of the race. Close observers of F1’s nearest thing to ‘The Stig’ reckoned that he was even chuckling to himself as he yelled down team radio, “Come on, get these two cars out of the way!”
Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas, Williams, 5th and 6th
The emergence of the Safety Car at the end of the race robbed us of the true performance gap between Ferrari and Williams, but on Lap 51 Massa was 29 seconds in arrears to Kimi Raikkonen. Both Williams drivers got jumped by the Finn at the start and both had fairly uneventful races. No last-lap heroics from Bottas this time round.
Romain Grosjean, Lotus, 7th
Finally the result the Lotus team deserved, Daniel Ricciardo’s poor start meant that the most likely candidate for P7 was probably never going to make it back up there to challenge for the position. Grosjean managed to negotiate the pitlane entry far more successfully, than his team-mate and kept it on the island, thus inheriting the place that his team-mate gave up when he failed to turn left at the pitlane entrance.
Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, 8th and 10th
Another double points finish for the Sauber duo who came home in the positions they finished Q2. Although Ericsson’s single point was more thanks to the adventures of Pastor Maldonado than anything else.
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, 9th
It’s hardly something to shout about, a 9th place for Red Bull, but Dan was the lead Renault runner. His third engine of the year kicked into anti-stall on the grid which converted a P7 gridslot into a P17 position at the end of the opening lap. On the way to 9th he had an unnecessary tussle with his Russian team-mate who was told to move over and didn’t. Any more of that and we’ll be cranking out the Putin-analogies.
Dan looked to be struggling with his braking all race long, but still managed a great move on Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber despite the uncertainty of whether his car would stop or not.
Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, McLaren, 12th and 13th
After a double race failure in Malaysia, a double race finish in China was not exactly The Great Leap Forward, but it was a significant move forward. The new McLaren-Honda was capable of lapping in the 1:43.7s in the hands of Alonso on Lap 41 at a time when Lewis was putting in laps less than a second quicker.
Before the Winners and Losers column heads off to pastures new – after the Bahrain GP – it would be nice to see them back in the points. That may not happen at a hot GP given the Honda’s inability to stay cool, but for old time’s sake it would be nice to go out without a bang. And not the kind that Jenson picked up two points for for bumping Pastor Maldonado.
F1 race Action
The over-supply of statistics in a sport is often an indication that nothing is happening. For instance there are a lot of statistics supplied in baseball. If baseball is the benchmark sport for nothing happening, then F1 is surely closing the gap. After the race we were told that it was the sixth race to end behind the Safety Car, the last one being Brazil in 2012.
Lewis Hamilton has now finished on the podium for the 10th consecutive race. His previous best was the first nine races of his career, at McLaren in 2007. He’s also now passed fellow British World Champions Jackie Stewart (1,921) and Jim Clark (1,942) on the all-time laps led list. (though in many more races than Clark). It’s also the seventh time in his career that he’s got pole, the fastest lap and the win…etc
Pastor Maldonado, Lotus, DNF
Pastor’s had three successive races where he’s been hit by another car. There is a website – Has Maldonado Crashed Yet – which really should be renamed, Has Someone Crashed Into Maldonado Yet. However at Shanghai, he set about taking himself out of the points a long time before Jenson Button arrived at Turn 1 too quickly.
Having crashed at the pitlane entry once in his career you’d have thought he might have sorted it out. But no, his failure to make the left-turn dropped him from P7, and a nailed-on points finish, to scrapping it out with a couple of McLaren-Hondas that were just itching to have someone to play with.
David Coulthard said: “There’s no hiding from the fact that it’s a scrappy driver error,” which is true. And when he crashed in the pitlane while leading a race, he never did it again.
The Button versus Maldonado duel was one of the best in the race, the only pity being that it was a fight for that coveted P13 spot.
Radio 5’s Jenny Gow: “Don’t count your eggs too quickly, Lewis’s bottom is getting hot. That happened to him yesterday…”
Former Cosworth boss Mark Gallagher adding to Jenny’s comment”...there was a suggestion last night that Lewis should take his salary and stuff it down his race overalls…”
R5’s Jack Nichols on the stranded Toro Rosso of Max Verstappen: “The engine seized and locked the rear wheels. That car’s not going anywhere. Oh no, they’ve just done it.”
Andrew - on the last lap, now - Davies