Time for a new track (F1 2021 has the feature to switch tracks out and slightly tweak the order). The Chinese Grand Prix, held at the Shanghai International Circuit, has hosted F1 action since 2004, though the 2020 and 2021 races were absent due to the covid-19 pandemic. It exists in the game because… well it just does.
Having dominated the opening round in Bahrain, I felt quietly confident about this track, but my optimism was soon dashed. Between the distinct possibility of rain for the race and a car that felt slippery, I doubted my chances around this track. For reasons I could not quite pin down the back of the car wanted to step out through turns 1 and 2, and I could feel the same issue affecting the car through turn 8. Intriguingly and annoyingly, this was despite running a max downforce setup (assuming rain), and the same problem happened when using a dry setup. The car just would not stay glued to the road, especially under high fuel loads, and even threatened to spin out at turn 11. My practice time also got cut short in P1 when an Alpine wiped me out and ruined my car.
I braced myself for a poor race. My only true hope was that rain (which had been forecast) would come and make me one of the few drivers with a car that would sing in the conditions. I qualified in 16th, the result of squeaking into Q2 and deciding to save my tyre sets, as I was not confident of making much progress in Q2.
I had a half-decent start and made up a few places through moves into turn 1, and once DRS came into play I made a few ‘Ricciardoesque’ late lunges into turn 14, which included some duels with Tsunoda and Stroll, both of whom did not yield easily. However I was staring at nothing better than a ninth place finish, and then a few lucky moments came my way, in the form of retirements ahead of me. No less than three drivers went out, including Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes, and I found myself in 6th! However, though I was able to pull clear of Gasly’s AlphaTauri behind me (he would eventually lose out to Norris), I could not catch the Ferrari of Sainz ahead of me. I ended up with more points than I had dared dream of, but reality had come back to the team with a sharp bump.