Race day dawned, cold, wet and gloomy, more attune to Silverstone than Shanghai. Apart from Carlos Sainz the rest of the grid decide to start on intermediate tyres, on a drying track. With Sainz opting for softs it was a huge gamble, one which could work out quite nicely, or put him in the gravel on lap one!
As the grid formed up from the formation lap, Vettel was so far out of his grid position he was almost in Hamilton’s pocket, but apart from a near miss between Raikkonen and Bottas the grid got away cleanly, with Hamilton taking the lead from pole position.
Lance Stroll was taken out by Sergio Perez, in a boneheaded lunge even Andrea Iannone would have been disgusted by. Stroll’s retirement brought out the virtual safety car, slowing down the field and bringing the opportunity for drivers to pit for inters, without losing too much time – including Perez with a puncture he got driving into Stroll.
Watching half the grid pit for intermediates, driving past what used to be Hamilton’s gravel trap, makes me nostalgic for 2007. Maybe I will go and watch that instead!
Vettel pitted under the virtual safety car, Hamilton did not. After two laps of the virtual safety car, they finally got racing again, only for Giovinazzi to decide to wreck his Sauber off for the second time this weekend. It has not been a brilliant weekend for Wehrleins replacement, a crash in qualifying, a five place grid penalty for changing his gear box and a second crash during the race. Maybe if Sauber billed him for all the spare parts, he might be a bit more careful with them!
With debris all over the pit straight, race control brought out the full safety car, and sent the cars down the pitlane to allow time and room for the marshals to clean the track safely, which was definitely the right choice. This also allowed the rest of the grid that hadn’t pitted to pit for intermediates without losing any time to those who had already pitted.
The safety car came in at the end of lap 7, with Hamilton moaning about cold tyres, and Perez under investigation for taking out Stroll, and Vettel for being out of position on the grid.
Perez overtook Felipe Massa, driving off the track to do so, but since he’s just gotten away with taking out Felipe’s team mate, I doubt he will be punished for gaining an advantage while off the circuit, as he appears to have gained diplomatic immunity from the stewards for the weekend.
Vettel was also swiftly cleared of any wrong doing for his start line indiscretion, and could concentrate on recovering from 6th place, where he dropped to after the pit stops and safety car period.
Lap 11 and Hamilton was leading from Verstappen, Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Vettel. Verstappen was having a brilliant race, having started in 16th following an engine problem in qualifying.
The stewards announced further investigations into Grosjean, Ericsson and Hulkenberg for overtaking under the safety car, eventually resulting in a 15 second penalty for Hulkenberg. 5 for overtaking under the virtual safety car, and 10 for overtaking under the safety car – they’ve been busy this morning.
They remained in this order for so long, my mind started to wander to more relevant things, the location of my half-drunk vodka from last night for instance.
Finally Vettel forced his car up the inside of Raikkonen for 4th place, before turning his attention on Ricciardo, while the stewards announced yet another investigation, but this time against Kevin Magnussen for “driving unnecessarily slowly under the safety car”.
Vettel continued his recovery with another late braking, desperate lunge up the inside of Ricciardo and was up into 3rd place at the half way stage. It was looking like being a good damage limitation exercise for Vettel, as he closed down on Verstappen and frightened him off the road, leaving Verstappen with a huge flat spot and Vettel only 10.6 seconds off the lead.
Both Red Bulls pitted, confirming Mercedes suspicions that they couldn’t go the distance on their super soft tyres. Hamilton started moaning on the team radio that his tyres are starting to go off, before setting a new fastest lap of the race straight after. Were his tyres really going off, or was he just trying to lure Ferrari into a false sense of security?
Vettel pitted, coming back out in front of Verstappen and confirming second place, as Raikkonen would also have to pit. Hamilton also pitted without losing the lead, leaving Raikkonen as the only one of the front runners yet to pit for a second time. And in a throwback to last season where Ferrari did this at every opportunity, their strategy cost them a much better result, and left many fans thinking they get their strategies from the back of a cereal packet.
Raikkonen finally came into the pits, disgruntled with the Ferrari strategy and not for the first time. He quickly got back past Carlos Sainz, but that’s the best it can get for him as he has no hope of catching and getting past the Red Bulls. Unfortunately he didn’t plan on it getting worse, but Bottas – recovering from an early spin – wasn’t quite finished with his comeback.
With 15 laps to go, Hamilton was still out in front and had lead every lap. Vettel couldn’t make any progress, no matter how hard he pushed. Bottas got past Sainz, only for his engineer to call him Nico by accident. Now I miss Nico, thanks for that Tony Ross!
Is there time for one last fight, before we all go back to bed, as getting up at 7am on a Sunday morning should be illegal?!
Five laps to go and Ricciardo wanted 3rd place from Verstappen and Max is willing to whine, moan and complain over the radio about being held up by a back marker, to try and keep third!
Grosjean was just over a second in front of Verstappen on the road, and not being shown blue flags, as he was quick enough not to interfere with Verstappen and Ricciardos battle, but Max decided he was being held up by him regardless and spent the last five laps begging Charlie Whiting for blue flags, which never came.
So after 56 laps on an unenthralling, utterly uninteresting Chinese Grand Prix, Hamilton crossed the finish line to take the chequered flag for his first victory of the season, and I turned it over to Sky Disney as Lady and the Tramp was on, and who wouldn’t choose a cute dog movie over a Lewis Hamilton cake walk?
Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes – 1:37:36.160
Sebastian Vettel – Ferrari – + 6.250s
Max Verstappen – Red Bull – + 45.192s
Daniel Riccardo – Red Bull – + 46.987s
Kimi Raikkonen – Ferrari – + 48.076s
Valtteri Bottas – Mercedes – + 48.808s
Carlos Sainz – Toro Rosso – + 1.11.115s
Kevin Magnussen – Haas – + 1 lap
Sergio Perez – Force India – + 1 lap
Esteban Ocon – Force India – + 1 lap
Conclusions from round 2: Hamilton cake walks are just as boring as they were last year, Max Verstappen is taking over the whiny mantle from Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso is becoming more and more frustrated at the failures of his Honda engine (which as a Schumi fan I can’t deny enjoying. Sorry, not sorry!) and Sergio Perez is sleeping with the stewards!
Driver of the day: Fan vote, Verstappen
Driver of the day: Fiona’s vote, Felipe Massa! In a nondescript race where there were no stand out performances I am voting for Felipe as he had a rubbish day and needs cheering up.
photo credit: taken from The Telegraph, Reuters