2017 Chinese Grand Prix – Ferrari are definitely back at the front.
Australia wasn’t a fluke. Ferrari are back.
The safety car period caused by Giovinazzi’s second crash in two days handed the win to Lewis Hamilton. Mercedes were definitely stronger this weekend. They had the pace to at least match the speed of Ferrari.
Ferrari were the headline act of this weekend though. They really do look as though they are going to be able to make some kind of return to Championship contention.
Vettel took the upper hand by pitting early for slick tyres. That decision would have put him firmly in the running for the win. Lewis said after the race that he felt the intermediate tyres were still the best tyre at that moment, but the times that were being set by the dry tyres certainly didn’t back up that claim. I think Seb would have been close, if not ahead, had the safety car not come out. Unfortunately for him, the time he would have gained by pitting under the VSC turned into time lost as his rivals were able pit under the safety car.
Ferrari have been lambasted in recent times for being to reactive in their race strategy. A number of poor decisions have cost the team numerous race winning opportunities. They appear to have left all that behind them this season. Their performance in Melbourne was flawless, the car was fundamentally quicker, however the decision to pit early in China could have been a race winning move. Ferrari are certainly sending a strong message.
An organic battle at the front.
The ineffectiveness of DRS was a blessing on this race. There was a lot said about the amount of overtaking we have seen at this circuit over the last couple of years. For me, the ridiculous amount of DRS assisted passes at the hairpin, or should I say before the hairpin, do not count.
This year, the DRS does not seem to be having the same effect thanks to these hugely draggy new cars. And so the back straight did not provide the guaranteed overtakes it has done in the past.
It was therefore up to the drivers to be more creative with their overtaking. Thankfully, these new tyres are up to the task. The significant moment in this race was when Vettel found himself behind team mate Raikkonen and Ricciardo’s Red Bull. Raikkonen made little to no progress over a number of laps and it was becoming a frustrating scene.
That was until Sebastian fought his way past Kimi with a seriously impressive move at the action packed Turn 6. Once he was ahead, that three car battle changed completely. The extra aggression that Vettel showed was so obvious, his car was visibly more on edge than Kimi’s had been. He was able to force his way past the Red Bull within a couple of laps. It was real racing, and Vettel proved right there that, with enough speed and enough aggression, it is possible to overtake in these cars.
It was also extremely refreshing to have all this action taking place at the very front of the field. We had 161 overtakes in China last year, but there was very little in the way of action at the front. I think it showed that the fights for the positions that matter will always be more hard fought.
Max Verstappen put his name in the headlines yet again. The driver of the day flourished in unpredictable conditions to achieve another excellent result in a career that is glowing brighter and brighter. His overtaking is supreme, although I did wince when he moved to defend from Ricciardo on the final lap. An accident there would have set him back somewhat.
Verstappen’s ex-team mate, Carlos Sainz was the other man who really impressed this weekend. The decision to start on dry tyres helped him to achieve best of the rest status, as position I think he will hold for the rest of the season. He showed good pace, and was a way ahead of the squabble for points.
Valtteri Bottas’ race was unfortunate. We have since seen Verstappen and others get away with very similar mistakes behind the safety car. He did well to regain some composure, but its a race to forget for the Finn.
Kimi Raikkonen was still a long way off the pace of his team mate. The difference between the Iceman and Vettel was so strikingly obvious, it doesn’t seem as though Kimi has anything in the bag to reach the next level of performance. I’m really hoping he can get a foothold in this season soon.
Another double retirement for McLaren is about as good as they could have hoped for. This car is as bad as it has ever been. Alonso is driving for the sake of it at the moment. There is a forlorn loss to his driving. Simply going about his business, outperforming the car by 5 seconds a lap and waiting for it to break.
Palmer has work to do.
Some hard criticism of Jolyon Palmer was a little harsh in my opinion. He has not had that most impressive Formula 1 career, but his credentials in the lower levels are more than good enough to warrant a place on the grid. Unfortunately, he is yet to complete a clean weekend this season.
A costly mistake in Melbourne required his car to be rebuilt. As a consequence, he struggled for the entire race having been unable to perfect his set up. Meanwhile in China, everyone missed out on Friday’s running. Jolyon was then affected by the yellow flags in Qualifying which knocked him out in Q1. It was another mistake which caused him more problems. I do agree with the stewards decision to penalise him for his failure to slow down sufficiently. One area that does need to be clamped down on is the slowing under yellow flags. He eventually did well to finish just behind his team mate, lapping very similar times.
Jolyon will need to iron out those mistakes quickly now though. He needs to get his head down and keep it clean in Bahrain. With a team mate like Nico Hulkenberg pushing for points, anything less that will be seen as a failure by the bosses at Renault. Points were the target, and points are going to have to start arriving soon for this team.
(Morio CC BY-SA 3.0)
(Morio CC BY-SA 3.0)