Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 18° Track 37° Humidity 23% Wind 2.1 m/s
Another day, another dollar or so the saying goes. Funny how 24 hours after Mercedes’ seeming display of dominance at FP1 and FP2, a singularly poor qualifying session has the world writing them out of the championship and Ferrari ascendant. I mean, granted Ferrari locked out the front row at a track generally thought to favor Mercedes, but if we walk back just a week, we find that, well, Ferrari locked out the front row. I guess if you say it like that, you might very well have a point. Still, the damage is as much psychological as real this early in the season, although that might matter more in the long run if the racing gods continue to kick a certain team repeatedly in the teeth. Still, it’s in adversity that legends are formed and with any luck, this will be a season long talked about.
The day dawned warmer, the leaden skies around Shanghai were significantly brighter, temperatures much more along the lines of Friday which had to be a small consolation for Mercedes fans, along with the fact that T1 and carnage go together like biscuits and gravy (well, those things go together on this side of the pond at any rate). Less excitingly, the wind was still whipping through the circuit, which Perez reckoned yesterday caused more mischief than the temperatures did. In other news of cruel fate, Ericsson was dinged 5 grid spots for speeding under yellows. On the bright side, his penalty was for going too fast, but having qualified P20, no practical difference for the Swede who was no doubt still hungover from scoring his first ever championship points.
Red Bull, starting on the UltraSofts, were committed to a 2 stop strategy while directly ahead of them Mercedes and Ferrari were on the Soft tyres, and certainly Mercedes looking to one stop (though Lewis was dubious of that possibility) so yet again strategy will be a cruel and fascinating focus at the sharp end. But as Lauda pointed out, it’s all down to how the teams do with the tyres. If they can’t get them into and keep them in the operating window, it’s going to be a long day, regardless of where you qualified.
Kmag with fresh tyres at the start will be one to watch, and frankly, the entire midfield now that Force India have rediscovered their strong pace from last year. Sadly, the lengthy straights are likely mean that Toro Rosso won’t be repeating their stellar performance from last week, but points will be a tantalizing possibility for the team this round…
Lights Out!!!! Out of the sheer madness of T1 it was Verstappen with a fantastic start. Raikkonen onto Vettel but Seb chopped him a bit and it was Bottas sneaking by Kimi. Verstappen nipped a spot from Lewis Hamilton and Raikkonen locked up bringing Ricciardo into play. Vettel, Bottas, Raikkonen, Verstappen and Hamilton led the way. Further back, Carlos Sainz had jumped his teammate, but Nico was not pleased and retook the position. Stroll gained the most, up to P12.
Lockup into T14 for Kimi, but Hamilton was unable to take advantage. Perez was the big loser, having dropped to P14. At the front, Vettel was crushing it, having rocked up a 2.2 second lead at the start of lap 4. On replay, it was the pinball effect of Raikkonen being passed by Bottas, as he had traction loss with a bit of a wiggle that forced Hamilton off the inside line to avoid and opened the door for Verstappen.
Lap 7 and Ocon regained the spot he lost to Stroll as Ricciardo was already saying his race was leaving him. A bit of fratricide at HAAS as Magnussen took Grosjean to the cleaners, up to P9 and prompting a bit of yelling from the Frenchman’s cockpit.
11 laps on the Ultras and it was Alonso now onto the gearbox of RoGro, having a go into the hairpin but there was yet enough life in the tyres for the HAAS and for the moment he was able to fend off the attack of the Spaniard.The presence of Verstappen in P3 was beginning to seriously affect the arc of the race for Raikkonen and Hamilton as he was unable to keep pace with the leading duo. Almost 11 seconds off the lead was Hamilton and he was on the radio with the team, looking for a way to stay in touch. But it was Kimi doing the real damage as he was hanging a full 2.5 seconds off the stern of Verstappen.
Hartley was first in, out onto a set of Mediums but likely needing a second stop before his day was done. T6 and Alonso was at it again, but RoGro with some robust defense held onto his spot going side by side out of T6 and then taking the inside of T7. Ocon was in and out with some Softs and Sainz answered the call, but with a set of Mediums the following lap, the 14th go round.
Hulkenberg in the next lap and out on Mediums as well, quickly by Gasly and Leclerc, off in search of Sirotkin. Where Hulkenberg was quickly round Gasly, Sainz found himself stuck behind and had to do some hard work before rocking by with DRS down the long backstraight.
Lap 17 and it was the undercut for Hamilton to get round Raikkonen, but not till he had cleared Kmag from his pit window. RoGro was in for his set of and RB brought both runners in, no stacking involved though such was the brutal efficiency of the RBR pit crew. Mediums for both cars and this drew an immediate response from Merc. Hamilton in and out with Mediums and just ahead of Kmag.
Bottas followed suit lap 20, out on Mediums and into P3, forestalling Verstappen’s chase. Ferrari stayed out with both Vettel and Raikkonen and lap 21 it was Vettel in, and out BEHIND Bottas with the Mediums. Some slick ass calculating from the boffins on Mercedes’ pit wall and it was Raikkonen now, still out and having effectively lost the position to Hamilton once he pits. To be fair, Mercedes and the Medium have long had a love affair and they took full advantage of their favorite tyre to stick the knife in deep to Ferrari.
Lap 23 and it was KMag and Alonso playing the long game, the only runners aside from Raikkonen without a stop on the board. Well, Sirotkin and Ericsson, but they were well out of the points. 2 laps later Kmag blinked and was back out in P10, presumably with Mediums as the app, in a fit of pique, had stopped delivering tyre data.
Lap 26 and it was redemption time for Bottas, now being held up by Raikkonen. A cautious first look for the Finn resulted in no real damage but that was but a feint, as Bottas went round the outside into T1 and Raikkonen was unable to close the door on him. But it was enough of a job as Kimi let his teammate slip by and it was now Vettel right on the gearbox of Bottas, looking at DRS on lap 27. Just a touch too far back and Vettel continued the chase down the start/finish, as Raikkonen rolled in for his new tyres, out onto lap 28 and well behind Ricciardo at this point, P6.
Leclerc had a bit of an off, finding the only gravel left on the circuit seemingly, but able to get going again. Then lap 31 it was Gasly, from way too far back, super hot and right into the back of his teammate into the hairpin, turning his teammate Hartley right round and necessitating a new front wing for Gasly. The onboard from Gasly was gruesomely incriminating and the resulting mess brought out the Safety Car lap 31.
Red Bull took full advantage and ran both cars through the pits for a pair of new Soft tyres and to the surprise of no one, it was an investigation into the contact. Verstappen had quite the move on a Toro Rosso on entry to the pitstop which allowed Red Bull to get both drivers in and out without delay. The Safety Car came out after Vettel was by the pits and thus it was that both Ferrari and Mercedes chose track position and it was clear that Red Bull was betting it all on getting a good jump on the front runners on old and cold Mediums.
Further back it was KMag inheriting P7 and RoGro P9 as HAAS chose to leave their cars out whilst Renault brought theirs in. Lap 35 and the SC was coming in and Hamilton was betraying a high level of anxiety about the temps inhis tyres. Good start from Bottas and Verstappen was all ove Lewis. Lock up by Vettel and Lewis was onto his gearbox. Alonso had a tilt at Rogro and stole the position away, wheel to wheel. Hulkenberg got Kmag as he went wide on the restart and Ocon was up the inside on Vandoorne. +10 seconds to Gasly, his dramatics on the radio apparently not convincing to the stewards.
Lap 37 and Ricciardo was wailing up the rear wing of Raikkonen into T14, and up the inside Danny Boy went sailing off in search of his teammate, running in DRS of Hamilton. Both Red Bulls were significantly faster than the Mercedes on their old tyres. Into T7 Verstappen went round the outside and with a big snap of oversteer along with a stout defense from Hamilton he was onto the grass, and Ricciardo was by and into P5.
The defense took him well outside the DRS of Vettel and it was Ricciardo on the run from far back into T15 and smoothly taking P3. Vettel was next up for the Aussie as Verstappen was just completing the job of catching him up. Definitely a missed opportunity as Mercedes could easily have brought him in for a fresh set of tyres.
Lap 42 and into T13 Ricciardo easily round Vettel for P2 as behind the carnage for Lewis continued, with Verstappen finally getting the job done. The laptimes were telling the story though, and Danny Ric was now 0.5 seconds a lap faster than Bottas and then the impetuous Verstappen tapped the side of Vettel trying to get by on the inside of T14 and sent them both into a spin lap 44. Almost a repeat of the Gasly incident in T14, and having to avoid it Lewis went wide off track and Raikkonen was by in a flash on the inside, into the last podium spot, Hamilton T4 and Verstappen again off in search of Lewis Hamilton’s gearbox.
Lap 45 and Ricciardo had finally gotten the back of Bottas and into T6 it was a jink by Bottas in the braking zone, but too late as Ricciardo sailed by into the lead, sweet, sweet free air ahead. Vettel was the biggest loser, likely with floor damage and resulting loss of downforce, circulating in P7 and jammed up behind Hulkenberg. The short and efficient investigation into the contact that put him there resulted in a 10 second time penalty for Verstappen, matching the one handed to Gasly for more or less exactly the same thing.
Into T6 on lap 48 Verstappen finally got the job done, but with 8 laps left he needed 10 seconds on Lewis to actually own the spot, a big ask. 2 laps later and it was just 1.5 seconds as Verstappen chased Raikkonen. But it was Bottas, under pressure from Raikkonen with 6 to go and the Finn with DRS with the serious job to do.
Lap 52 and it was 4.3 seconds from Hamilton to Verstappen but it was crucially barely a second from Verstappen to Raikkonen. Not the best of friends those two and the defense from Raikkonen took the pressure off Bottas. 2 laps later and the only change was the delta to Verstappen, up to 5.5 seconds. Alonso had caught the back of Vettel in P7 lap 55 and sensing the opportunity the Spaniard stuck the knife in deep, forcing Vettel off the track on the exit of the turn after putting it up the inside and wresting the position from the Championship leader.
Last lap and Raikkonen and Verstappen were giving it everything they had. Both in DRS of the car ahead as Ricciardo swanned it across the line. Nothing doing though and they crossed the line status quo ante, Bottas Raikkonen, Verstappen and Hamilton, with Verstappen having just enough time on board to hold onto P5 ahead of Hulkenberg and Hamilton being promoted to P4. Alonso P7 and then a brutally savage P8 for Vettel, the racing gods having decided that a closer championship was in order. Not that it was Hamilton’s day either, as he was, ummmm, shall we call it slightly less than happy about the pit strategy under the Safety Car. Once the dust settles, perhaps he will calm down and count his chickens, but P2 was potentially on offer had he pitted with the Bulls, instead he finished behind his teammate yet again, in addition to being twice outqualified.
Hulkenberg was the class of the midfield, which is by far proving to be the closest and most vicious of the fights. Alonso with a P7 will make Macca happy, and perhaps the thrill of passing a Ferrari, even a stricken one, will keep them in the fight. Kmag kept HAAS in the points, barely, and the intrateam rivalry at HAAS is going to be something that Gunther Steiner will have to work hard to keep from boiling over. Toro Rosso retired Hartley shortly before the end of the race, which qualifies them for a new gearbox, and it was hero to zero for Gasly, who was apparently too busy winning things last year to see the Force India debacle play out, although this was more of a friendly fire incident, as the plan was on for Hartley to let him by in that turn.
But it was high class work all the way around from Daniel Ricciardo that dominated the race, and a well deserved win for Red Bull. 2 winners, 3 races and it’s a shame that F1 is broken. Off to Azerbaijan where nothing ever happens…..
And remember to play nice in the comments!!