Team-Mate Wars: Chinese Grand Prix

Date published: April 12 2017

Andrew Davies assesses the team-mate battles after a challenging Chinese Grand Prix.

Mercedes

Hamilton 2 – Bottas 0
Race: Hamilton

Lewis was at his peerless best in Qualifying, but most importantly, got off the line like a scalded cat. And as we all know, scalded cats’ use of Pirelli intermediates is legend. Yet another race where he was a significant step in front of his team-mate, and nobody needs to tell Valtteri that he messed up big time by spinning in the manner that he did.

However the Finn’s recovery was impressive, he was right back on it for the rest of the race and pounded away to get back onto Raikkonen’s exhaust. (At Williams, that was the difference between Bottas and Massa, Felipe tended to give up when things went wrong).

Hamilton was faultless at the front aided by a Mercedes strategy that didn’t take a ‘hair trigger’ approach to changing to slicks once Vettel had taken that option. The only thing we were missing is how far his team-mate could have pushed him if he’d stayed in the fight, and we may well find that out in Bahrain.

Ferrari

Vettel 2 – Raikkonen 0
Race: Vettel

There was a lot of post-race suggestion that it was two Ferrari drivers that had hindered Vettel the most, Raikkonen for holding him up and (reserve driver) Giovinazzi for crashing his Sauber at precisely the wrong moment. (Monisha would tell you there is no ‘right’ moment for crashing a Sauber).

But it could easily have been Vettel himself who did for his own race by deliberately lining up outside of his box on the grid. Had the stewards chosen to give him the kind of small demotion that Bottas’s spin gave him, then that would have been his race challenge over.

If drivers perceive there is an advantage in rubber, or start traction by moving laterally out of their boxes then we will never have an even-looking grid again.

Raikkonen spent a lot of the race moaning on team radio about his lack of front end, and Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne can ring up team manager Maurizio Arrivabene as much as he likes after the races and discuss Kimi’s motivation, but what the Finn needs is a good front end and he’s away.

And it always seems as though Kimi gets the ‘B’ strategy when he qualifies behind his team-mate. What will happen if he qualifies in front of his team-mate will be interesting…

Red Bull

Max Verstappen 2 – Daniel Ricciardo 0
Race: Verstappen

Ah, shades of ‘Interlagos 16’ (the tattoo that all Dutch F1 fans are compelled to have) at the start of the race when Max seemingly started on a different tyre compound to everyone else and from 16th on the grid ended up in 7th place on the opening lap.

He then picked his way through pulling off an audacious move on team-mate Daniel Ricciardio on Lap 11, no slouch in the place-defending stakes. A podium finish would have been far more than Christian Horner could have expected from a race in which no further rain fell.

Dan had upheld team honour in Qualifying by getting into Q1 after Max had been eliminated in Q3, but 4th place was still a significant result, finishing in front of a Ferrari and a Mercedes.

Should Renault achieve engine parity with those two teams, and draft Alonso into a prancing horse, then imagine how much fun you could have.

Force India

Sergio Perez 2 – Esteban Ocon 0
Race: Perez

Sergio Perez raced hard in the early stages of the Australian Grand Prix and it came off, in Shanghai it didn’t. He put Lance Stroll into the gravel and picked up a puncture that compromised his race strategy.

The stewards decided to take no action for punting Lance off, and with the front six finishing, the most he was racing for was P7, and with Sainz’s superior pace then P8 would have been his target. And he came home in P9.

So not a bad afternoon’s work when he could have been heading back to the pits on the back of a Chinese-built scooter after Lap 1.

Ocon had a quiet race to P10, holding off a late charge from Romain Grosjean, but making steady progress as he gets to know new circuits.

Williams

Felipe Massa 2 – Lance Stroll 0
Race: Massa

Some more tough lessons learned for Lance Stroll, but he is gradually scaling that steep learning curve. It’s easy to throw rocks at the son of a billionaire who’s bought into an F1 racing experience, but look no further than Antonio Giovinazzi for the cautionary tale.

This was a GP2 champion who crashed badly in practice and crashed badly again in the race – under acceleration on the straight.

That degree of damage is expensive enough for a big team, but throw that kind of bill at a struggling one and you put them in great jeopardy. Lance’s indiscretions were nothing on that scale.

This was a distinctly forgettable race for the Williams team as Massa faded from a strong grid position. To get two cars into Q3 – start the race from P6 and P10 and get zip all for your troubles is a poor return, but with the clear strength of the top three teams, even to get P6 on the grid is a bit of a result.

McLaren

Fernando Alonso 2 – Stoffel Vandoorne 0
Race: Alonso

You don’t need to be an F1 aficionado right now to know that Fernando Alonso is driving the wheelnuts off his McLaren-Honda.

You don’t need to be, because he’s telling us. He described his Shanghai drive as “incredible” and indeed it was. For most of the race he was in a good points paying position in today’s equivalent of an Andrea Moda or a Simtek, and it was only a driveshaft failure that denied him that ultimate glory.

After Barcelona it looked as though getting the engine to last till half distance without vibrating out of the chassis might be the benchmark, but, in Shanghai, Alonso was getting racy.

Although Stoffel Vandoorne has yet to have an untroubled set of three practices before a Qualifying showdown against Alonso, on the sketchy basis of China and Australia, Fernando looks to have a bigger margin over his team-mate this year.

Toro Rosso

Carlos Sainz 2 – Daniil Kvyat 0
Race: Sainz

So, is Kvyat getting better or Carlos Sainz getting worse? Daniil has had an encouraging start to his 2017 campaign and outqualified Carlos – P9 to P11.

In the race, with Carlos going for slick tyres on a surface that looked likely to drain all the heat out of them it was difficult to judge their relative performance, though after a couple of Safety Cars (Virtual and Real) Carlos ended Lap 6 in front of Daniil – and that was the order until Kvyat’s car failed, before the strategy had played out.

Carlos’s luck was in when he skated off the track at the start – and he also got away with a tap against the barriers, after which he drove exceptionally well.

Haas

Romain Grosjean 1 – Kevin Magnussen 1
Race: Magnussen

After a dismal Australian GP, Kevin Magnussen showed what a potent weapon the Haas can be by outqualifying his team-mate and scoring Haas’s first points of 2017.

Grosjean had a spin on his first run in Qualifying and then Giovinazzi’s encounter with the wall put paid to his second. After the farce of Nico Rosberg’s 0.10 ‘lift’ for double waved yellows in Hungary Qualifying last year, the stewards have cracked down hard on non-hot-lap-aborters, and so Romain felt the full weight of the stewards’ wrath when he tried to make good on his final run.

In the race he was stuck for a long time behind Jolyon Palmer and no-one wants that.

Renault

Nico Hulkenberg 2 – Jolyon Palmer 0
Race: Hulkenberg

Hulkenburg was impressive in Qualifying, and the mixed conditions at the start of the Chinese GP are those in which he excels. Except the moment he changed to slicks he started spinning the Renault, very much like his team-mate. For one car to get substantially  into Q1 and the other not to make it out of Q3 raises more than a sceptical eyebrow.

Sauber

Marcus Ericsson 1 – Antonio Giovinazzi 1
Race: Ericsson

It’s a totally overused phrase but Antonio Giovinazzi went from hero to several degrees below zero when he spun his Sauber twice on the straight – once in Q1 and once in the race. Both times he destroyed substantial areas of the car, just what you need at one of the furthest flung of fly-away races…

Ericsson managed accelerating down the straight without incident over 50 times and gets the TMW booty.

 

Star of the Race: Max Verstappen – because he’s Dutch

Overtaking move of the Race: Max Verstappen – on Lap 11 passing team-mate Daniel Ricciardo for P2 with a late-braking move into the hairpin. Get one of those wrong and you can cancel the doughnut order for the post-race debrief.

The Maldonado Award: Antonio Giovinazzi. He was an absolute star last time out, but this weekend he got a black star.

The Last Word: Fernando Alonso: “I push like an animal.”

Andrew Davies