Despite Nico Rosberg’s runner and Ferrari fluffing their lines, China produced a “wild”, “action packed” and “dramatic” grand prix…
Shang-highlights hard to pick
“Wild”, “action packed” and “dramatic” were some of the adjectives headline writers used to describe the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix.
Team-mates tangled, the underdog picked up a puncture, a driver raged over team radio, a time penalty was issued, the safety car was deployed…the race had everything except a retirement.
There was plenty of overtaking too. Lewis Hamilton’s move on Valtteri Bottas through the switchbacks on lap 40 is a candidate for overtake of the race, though for sheer audacity of Sebastian Vettel using the grass to pass Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg on pit entry edges it.
However, a raft of other manoeuvres and moves would make the highlights reel for any other grand prix of the season. The regulation switch to permit three tyre compounds has, quite clearly, shaken up strategies and provided for more open racing.
But is the balance right? There’s an argument to be made that having a two dozen or more overtakes – often tyre-compound related – devalues the art and craft of racing.
Rosberg does a runner
Not that Nico Rosberg noticed. The German ran his own race up front after Daniel Ricciardo’s puncture to win his second Chinese Grand Prix, his third race of 2016, and sixth race in a row.
All of which leaves him with a comfortable 36-point cushion over Hamilton, who endured a pathetic race by his standards after losing his front wing on lap 1.
With 86% of the season to run, Rosberg’s runner in China, as he acknowledged after the race, is far from decisive.
“It’s three races now and they’ve gone really well for me but it’s the longest season in F1 history with 21 races so that’s 18 to go,” he said.
Two gearboxes, five pit stops, six points, seventh place
A gearbox change compromised Hamilton’s weekend before it even began, but the champion suffered even more after a disastrous first lap.
Contact with Felipe Nasr caused damage to the Mercedes, making it drive “like a four-poster bed”, according to Hamilton, who pitted five times during an eventful day.
But such was the dominance of the Silver Arrows in 2014 and 2015, it comes as a surprise that Hamilton endured such woes and failed to challenge for a top-five finish, let alone a podium.
Ferrari fluffs its line again
Given that there are at least some doubts about the W07 compared with its 2014 and 2015 predecessors, Ferrari needs to do more to push the German manufacturer.
Vettel secured second after an excellent recovery drive, but his error in qualifying coupled with the first-lap contact with Kimi Raikkonen undermined the Scuderia’s weekend.
A podium was a fortunate result for Vettel considering he also damaged his front wing passing Bottas on lap 11.
The rage is relentless and Red Bull’s resurgence
The T1 incident in which Vettel clashed with Raikkonen after Daniil Kvyat came up on the inside effectively ended the Finn’s hopes of a podium.
It was Kvyat who joined Rosberg and Vettel on the podium, but the young Russian did not emerge unscathed.
On team radio, a furious Vettel accused him of being a “madman” and of attempting a “suicidal” move.
A second-place finish did little to cool the German’s temper after the race. “You came like a torpedo,” Vettel said to Kvyat after the race.
Kvyat was seemingly unperturbed as he wrote the incident off as a racing incident. Vettel’s aggravation points to the level of frustration he has faced at the start of the 2016 season in which he hoped to regularly take the fight to Mercedes.
Meanwhile, the team that dominated before Mercedes’s rise has found some form. Ricciardo was feisty throughout the race and showed no fear fighting Hamilton (who, albeit, was wearing worn boots).
The podium for Kvyat was an apt reward for Red Bull as it continues its recovery from a forgettable 2015.
But perhaps more so that Vettel, it is Ricciardo who should feel aggrieved about the opening lap incident involving the Ferraris and his team-mate.
The puncture that the Australian picked up early in the race, which robbed him of a shot at the podium, was a result of the carnage caused by the incident involving his team-mate Kvyat.
Richard F Rose