Three races, three wins for Nico Rosberg in 2016 – and three entertaining races after China delivered.
There was drama even before the race when Lewis Hamilton was unable to take part in qualifying owing to a lack of power from his engine – this meant he would start last, whilst Mercedes teammate and championship leader Rosberg would start on pole – the worst possible scenario for Hamilton. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo managed to poach second from the two Ferraris, whilst Kimi Raikkonen managed to out-qualify Vettel – a rare occasion indeed!
Going into the first corner Ricciardo made a good start to get into the lead, but there was madness behind him as the two Ferraris collected one another – Raikkonen had gone wide and was trying to get back onto the racing line as Vettel went through the middle. Vettel was forced to the left by the onrushing Red Bull of Kvyat, who was ‘like a torpedo’ according to a rather miffed Vettel. Vettel’s Ferrari speared Raikkonen’s, damaging the Finn’s car and also damaging the front wing of Vettel’s car, whilst behind them, Hamilton lost his front wing when Sauber’s Felipe Nasr took action to avoid Raikkonen – and in doing so clipped the Mercedes.
Things would fall in Rosberg’s favour on lap 3, when moving to pass Ricciardo on the main straight the Red Bull’s rear left tyre suffered a puncture, putting the young Australian’s hopes of victory firmly out the window.
Though a safety car would briefly bunch up the field, it was pretty much plain sailing for Rosberg from that point on, with none of his rivals being able to catch him, not least after having to fight their way through the field on several occasions – something Raikkonen and Hamilton in particular had to face. Not for the first time, question marks emerged over whether the Mercedes is capable of following other cars without compromising performance too much – whilst against slower cars Hamilton was able to move up the field fairly easily, he struggled with the Williams’ duo of Bottas and especially Massa (whereas Raikkonen, on softer tyres, was able to breeze past them all). Nevertheless, Hamilton did well to move from 22nd to 7th.
Ricciardo did fantastically well to recover from his puncture to finish 4th – a strong recovery race means he has been consistent with his points since the start of the season, whilst Red Bull will be very pleased for Kvyat, who claimed a podium finish. Vettel also recovered nicely from his early problems to finish second, and Raikkonen took a highly credible 5th, having also fought his way up through the field.
Vettel and Kvyat had a few words for each other after the race – Vettel was clearly not happy with what he felt was Kvyat’s overly aggressive surge at the opening corner, and it would appear Vettel holds him responsible for the accident with Raikkonen. Not surprisingly, Kvyat doesn’t share this opinion!
Today’s winner is of course Rosberg. He now has a 36 point lead over Hamilton, though there are 18 races to go, and a lot of points to be battled over, so the season is far from over. Nevertheless, Rosberg has now won the last six F1 races, and looks confident. Next up is Russia, where Rosberg hasn’t fared too well so far. Will he change that this time around? Will Hamilton finally get on top of things? Can Ferrari fulfill some of that potential? We’ll find out in a couple of weeks!