Having missed the excitement of Mercedes being usurped in Malaysia, I set my alarm for the early hour of 6.45am (urgh) to ensure I was up in time to watch the Chinese GP in its entirety – and whilst the race was not overly exciting, it was certainly a more rewarding experience than the 4.45 experience I had getting up for Australia!
With Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes on pole and teammate Nico Rosberg right behind him, the stage was set for another routine 1-2 finish for the Silver Arrows – though after what happened in Malaysia, and with the Ferrari of Sebastian Vetttel right behind them, it would have been unwise to get complacent, despite the pace of Mercedes in qualifying. At the start, both the Mercs got away well and Hamilton kept the lead, whilst the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen got by both Williams cars on the first lap, whereupon he would shadow Vettel quite nicely – and Vettel would keep the Mercedes’ cars honest.
On soft tyres, the Ferraris were keeping pace reasonably well with the Mercedes’ and both were comfortably clear of the Williams pair of Bottas and Massa (who would end up having a quiet race, pretty much on their own). Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo had a miserable start and lost several places on the first lap, with the Renault engine once again clearly out-matched by the Mercedes and Ferrari power units. At one stage Ricciardo found himself under pressure from the McLarens, and also had to work harder than he would have liked to get past an uncooperative teammate Kvyat. Ricciardo would also make a couple of mistakes whilst trying to pass the Sauber of Ericsson, whilst Kvyat’s engine would fail.
The Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz would nearly suffer a similar fate – a gearbox issue led to a very slow couple of corners for the young Spaniard, but thankfully for him, he was able to correct the problem and carry on, whilst his teammate Verstappen showed composure beyond his years with a series of slick and well-executed overtakes that highlighted his potential as a future world champion.
For Force India, the race was nothing memorable. Hulkenberg was one of the retirements, and Perez would finish 11th, unable to make a meaningful impression on the race. Both the Saubers finished in the points (Nasr was 8th and Ericsson 10th), whilst the pace of the Lotus was a lot better, with Grosjean taking 7th and some much needed points for the team. The second Lotus of Maldonaldo retired (through no fault of his own once again) after a collision with Jensen Button – the normally unflappable Button going into the back of the Lotus at the first corner in an uncharacteristically sloppy move.
Both the Manor-Marussia cars started the race and both finished – they were well down on the pecking order, but to get both cars up and running is a major step forward for them.
At the front of the field, Ferrari attempted to undercut Mercedes by pitting Vettel on lap 14, a move that did indeed bring the Mercedes into the pits – first Hamilton then Rosberg – but with all the pre-race chat being that hard tyres would be the choice for Mercedes, the team opted to put both their drivers on soft tyres for their second stint – and it was then that Hamilton would appear to bunch Rosberg back toward the clutches of Vettel, with Raikkonen not far behind. Whether Hamilton was just conserving tyres and fuel, or whether he deliberately held up Rosberg in a bid to him to ruin his tyres, is something I cover in detail here.
In any event, the team urged Hamilton to pick up the pace, and as the second set of stops approached, Hamilton did indeed up his game. Having previously held the gap at around 1.5 seconds, suddenly Hamilton was racing clear of Rosberg, and by the time the front four had all pitted he was some 6 seconds clear, a gap he would maintain till the end.
On the hard tyre, the Mercedes cars both pulled clear of the Ferraris, whilst in the final stages of the race Raikkonen began to reel Vettel in, but backmarkers held him up too much for a chance to make a move. When Verstappen’s good race was ended on lap 54 of 56 (he retired due to car trouble on the start-finish straight), the safety car came out and led the rest of the field around the final two laps, securing Hamilton’s second win of the year, and Mercedes’ second 1-2 of the year.
So, after three races the title fight looks like this:
1. Hamilton (68)
2. Vettel (55)
3. Rosberg (51)
4. Massa (30)
5. Raikkonen (24)
6. Bottas (18)
Next weekend sees us roll into Bahrain!