“We’re on a roll,” was the understatement of the day from Lewis Hamilton, who cruised to his third race win in succession at today’s Chinese Grand Prix. The Mercedes driver led home the team’s third 1-2 finish on the trot, beating home Nico Rosberg by over 18 seconds. Fernando Alonso revived Ferrari’s flagging fortunes with a fighting drive to third.
Having crushed the field in yesterday’s qualifying session, Hamilton did the same in the race, launching off the front row of the grid to enjoy a lead of over 1.5 seconds by the end of the opening lap.
Felipe Massa was the fastest starter, launching quickly off the third row only to find himself pincered into an ever-closing gap between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso. Alonso and Massa touched – leading the Brazilian to momentarily get two wheels off the ground – but both were able to continue. Further behind, a slowstarting Rosberg found himself clipped by the second Williams of Valtteri Bottas, with both also emerging without damage.
Out at the front, Hamilton drove a perfect opening stint on the Soft Pirelli tyres, and defied the usual perception that he’s hard on his tyres with the longest stint of all. With all of his main rivals having already pitted, the Englishman peeled into the pits and emerged with the lead still in hand. He never came close to being threatened.
In comparison to the Bahrain Grand Prix a fortnight ago, today’s race at Shanghai was hardly a thriller. It did, however, have important implications for the championship battle that lies ahead.
Despite his slow start, Rosberg’s superior pace ensured he would have a second-placed finish by the end, consolidating a diminished lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings while the field has a three-week break before the first race in Europe gets underway.
The German’s drive was all the more impressive given he lost all car-to-pit telemetry before the start of the race. With his team completely blind to his performance or any faults on the car, Rosberg had to do it the old-fashioned way by calling out his fuel consumption and sensor readings off the display on his steering wheel.
Alonso secured his and the Ferrari team’s first podium finish of the season, courtesy of one of his trademark opening lap efforts that got him into third place from fifth on the grid. Having managed to split the Red Bulls off the line, the Spaniard pitted a lap earlier than second-placed Sebastian Vettel to emerge in front of the four-time champion when he made his first pit stop.
Blessed with superior straight-line speed, Alonso was never going to be threatened down the 1.1-kilometre back straight and a top-three finish would be his, barring any reliability issues. Red Bull may have had the quicker car over an entire lap, but the RB10’s set-up rendered it absolutely hopeless along the circuit’s fastest stretch.
Having been leapfrogged after the first pit stop, Vettel found himself under attack from teammate Daniel Ricciardo for the third race running, and – like in Bahrain a fortnight ago – he was on the receiving end of a telephone call from the pit wall asking him to let the Australian by. This time, Vettel wasn’t going to cooperate.
“Tough luck,” came his crisp response over the radio. Ricciardo was made to work for it, and despite some defence from Vettel into the final hairpin, the up-and-coming racer was past at Turn 1 after Vettel carried too much speed into the right-hander. Ricciardo staged a late charge to chase down Alonso in the final laps, although it’s highly unlikely his set-up would have allowed him a proper crack at getting by if he’s had enough laps at his disposal to do the job.
Nico Hülkenberg took another healthy points haul for Force India by finishing sixth. His teammate Sergio Pérez was ninth to give the Silverstone team another double points’ finish, but it wasn’t enough to keep second place in the Constructors’ Championship standings as they fell behind Red Bull Racing in overall points scored.
Valtteri Bottas showed no ill effects from his first-corner contact with Rosberg by finishing seventh, but the same could not be said of teammate Massa. The Brazilian suffered a terribly slow first pit stop, with his mechanics getting the back wheels on the wrong way around (right on left and vice-versa) before getting further delayed trying to bolt the tyres on his damaged left wheel hubs. He finished a frustrated fifteenth, a lap down.
Kimi Räikkönen was a very anonymous eighth as his switch to Ferrari continues to underwhelm, while the top ten was completed by Toro Rosso rookie Danillk Kvyat, who once again belied his teenage years with another polished drive in the STR9. It was his third top-ten finish in four races.
Despite hopes that the dry conditions might play more to its strengths, McLaren’s disastrous weekend continued as neither Jenson Button nor Kevin Magnussen looked close to threatening a points’ finish. Button was eleventh, while his Danish teammate was two spots further back.
It was a disappointing day for Romain Grosjean, whose hopes of claiming the Lotus team’s first points finish of the season went when his fourth gear packed up. The Frenchman had no choice but to park the hobbled car. Teammate Pastor Maldonado made some headway from the back row of the grid, finishing fourteenth.
The only other retiree was Adrian Sutil, whose Sauber packed it in with a Ferrari power unit failure after less than half a dozen laps. His teammate Esteban Gutiérrez was all but invisible en route to a lowly sixteenth-placed finish.
The Marussia/Caterham fight continued until the final lap of the race, with Kamui Kobayashi pinching seventeenth place from Jules Bianchi at they braked for the hairpin for the last time.
But that result wasn’t to be. It wasn’t on account of any driving infringement by either party, rather it was the flag management on the start/finish straight as the officials waved the chequered flag at Hamilton one lap too early.
Fortunately for Lewis, he recognised the error and completed his 56th scheduled lap at race pace to ensure the victory would be his. It was an embarrassing for the Chinese officials, who flag marshals had done a very poor job for much of the race, incorrectly waving blue flags at the leaders instead of the backmarkers.
2014 Bahrain Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (54 laps*):
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W05||54||1:33:28.338|
|2.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W05||54||+ 18.062|
|3.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F14T||54||+ 23.604|
|4.||Daniel Ricciardo||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB10||54||+ 27.136|
|5.||Sebastian Vettel||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB10||54||+ 47.778|
|6.||Nico Hülkenberg||Force India Mercedes Mercedes VJM07||54||+ 54.295|
|7.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW36||54||+ 55.697|
|8.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari F14T||54||+ 1:16.335|
|9.||Sergio Pérez||Force India Mercedes Mercedes VJM07||54||+ 1:22.647|
|10.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR9||53||1 lap behind|
|11.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-29||53||1 lap behind|
|12.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR9||53||1 lap behind|
|13.||Kevin Magnussen||McLaren Mercedes MP4-29||53||1 lap behind|
|14.||Pastor Maldonado||Lotus F1 Team Renault E22||53||1 lap behind|
|15.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW36||53||1 lap behind|
|16.||Esteban Gutiérrez||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C33||53||1 lap behind|
|17.||Jules Bianchi||Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03||53||1 lap behind|
|18.||Kamui Kobayashi||Caterham F1 Team Renault CT05||53||1 lap behind|
|19.||Max Chilton||Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03||52||2 laps behind|
|20.||Marcus Ericsson||Caterham F1 Team Renault CT05||52||2 laps behind|
|DNF.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Team Renault E22||28||Gearbox|
|DNF.||Adrian Sutil||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C33||5||Engine|
* Result declared at end of Lap 54/56, in accordance with Article 43.2 of the FIA Sporting Regulations (due to the chequered flag being shown to the leader at end of Lap 55).
Image via Sutton Images