Lewis Hamilton has extended his lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings with a controlled lights-to-flag victory at the Chinese Formula 1 Grand Prix. The reigning World Champion led home Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg and the Ferrari pairing of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen to claim his fourth victory at the Shanghai International Circuit.
This year’s Chinese Grand Prix won’t necessary gone down in the annals as a thriller, although there was some very good wheel-to-wheel racing further behind the leading quartet. Added to that, there was a bit of spite in the post-race press conference, as Rosberg accused Hamilton of trying to compromise his own race by running at a slower pace – and there we were thinking that the two had sorted out their differences…
Hamilton successfully launched his car from pole position to claim the lead on the short run into Turn 1, with Rosberg and Vettel slotting in behind from the respective second and third places on the grid.
The fast starter of the pack was Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen, who aggressively forced his way ahead of the two Williams’ of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas to climb to fourth before the end of the opening lap.
Barring each drivers’ two pit stops, the top four ran in that order throughout over Sunday’s 56-lap race. All opted to go with a Soft-Soft-Medium tyre selection over their three stints, as Ferrari and Mercedes acted and reacted to cover the other’s pit stop choices.
Each time, Vettel would pit fractionally early in the hope of undercutting Rosberg, while Hamilton would emerge a few hundred metres ahead of his teammate as he exited the pits.
The second phase of the race brought the tensions between the two Mercedes drivers back to the surface. Hamilton was controlling proceedings, clearly conserving tyres and fuels over his middle stint, while Rosberg ran just over a second adrift, having neither the outright pace to challenge nor wanting to get much closer lest he lose balance in Hamilton’s turbulent air.
All of that was allowing the erstwhile Vettel to steadily close down the gap to his compatriot; Mercedes sensed this and told Hamilton to pick up his pace or find himself given the second-best pit stop strategy in lieu of Rosberg.
Hamilton responded and promptly lowered his fastest lap – and that of the race – by almost a second, pulling away from Rosberg before his second and final visit to the pits.
Rosberg did enough to keep Vettel at bay, but was clearly miffed after the race and accused Hamilton of compromising his own run to the flag.
When asked during the post-race press conference for his view on the radio messages sent from the Mercedes pit wall, Hamilton said: “I wasn’t controlling his race, I was controlling my own race.
“It’s not my job to look after Nico’s race. My job is to manage the car and to bring the car home as fast as possible and that’s what I did. I didn’t do anything intentionally to slow the cars up.”
Rosberg then responded: “It’s interesting to hear from you Lewis that you were just thinking about yourself with the pace when unnecessarily that was compromising my race. Driving slower than was maybe necessary at the beginning of stints meant that Sebastian was very close to me and that opening up the opportunity for Sebastian to try that early pit-stop, to try and jump me.
“I was unnecessarily close to Sebastian as a result and it cost me race time as a result.”
Unfortunately the exchange only gave further evidence that Rosberg is clearly rattled by his teammate, lacking the pace – and perhaps the outright ability – to currently match his teammate. That he currently cannot drive better than his teammate and graciously accept being beaten might be telling in the final reckoning as this season unfolds…
The battle between the top-four never really came to life, although there was some interest late in the race as Räikkönen – on fresher tyres than Vettel – began to quickly close in on his teammate.
The Finn’s hopes of claiming the final spot on the podium for himself were dashed thanks to Max Verstappen – who had been running in the top 10 – slithering to a halt on the main straight with a spectacular engine failure, bringing out the Safety Car with just two laps of the race to run.
Hopes of a one-lap dash to the chequered flag were quashed thanks to a comical ‘Keystone Cops’ effort by the marshals in trying to recover Verstappen’s car through a gap in the pit wall – the volunteers only succeeded in damaging the Dutch teenager’s STR10.
That froze the final order as the race finished under Safety Car conditions. The Williams’ duo of Massa and Bottas continued the Noah’s Ark finishing order by claiming a distant fifth and sixth, respectively.
Lotus’ Romain Grosjean scored his first points’ finish since last year’s Monaco Grand Prix almost a year ago with a tidy run to seventh.
The Frenchman should have been joined inside the top-ten by teammate Pastor Maldonado, who drove oustandingly until comically missing the pit lane entry and losing a bundle of time while the marshals tried to push him back onto the pit lane.
Maldonado’s race was brought to an end when he was punted into a high-speed spin at Turn 1 by McLaren’s Jenson Button in a (rare) botched overtaking move by the Englishman. Maldonado was out with damage to his rear brakes, while Button was issued with a post-race time penalty by the FIA Stewards’ panel.
Another driver who thoroughly deserved a points’ finish was Verstappen, who was one of the few in the field to genuinely put on a show of some dazzling overtaking moves at the Turn 14 hairpin and give yet more evidence (not that we needed it) of his potential as a future star of the sport.
By contrast, his Toro Rosso teammate Carlos Sainz Jr was thoroughly shaded, throwing away a good result with an early race spin at Turn 1 and losing further time when a temporary gearbox glitch struck later in the race. He finished 14th, but was promoted one place thanks to Button’s penalty.
That allowed both Sauber drivers to give the Swiss team its second double-points’ result in three races, with Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson sandwiching the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo.
Despite having talked up his prospects of finishing as high as fifth, Ricciardo’s Sunday did not get off to a good start with the news that he would have his second engine change of the season. Although he managed to avoid a grid penalty, his hopes were over just milliseconds after the start thanks to an appalling getaway off the starting grid which saw him slip ten place to be 17th by the end of the opening lap. The Australian spent the rest of the race playing catch-up, and made heavy work of it too, throwing away a number of successful passing moves by outbraking himself just a few corners later.
Teammate Daniil Kvyat ran an alternate strategy by starting on the Pirelli Medium tyres, and struggled in his opening stint before succumbing to his own Renault engine failure.
Force India’s Sergio Pérez narrowly missed out on a point, finishing just in front of McLaren duo Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, who achieved the team’s first double-finish of the season.
Also getting a double-finish was the Manor Marussia squad. Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi were the last drivers to reach the finish line, two laps adrift in fifteenth and sixteenth respectively.
The fourth round of the season occurs next weekend with the Bahrain Grand Prix on April 17-19.
|2015 Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix – Final Classification (56 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W06 Hybrid||56||1:39:42.008|
|2.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W06 Hybrid||56||+ 0.714|
|3.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF15-T||56||+ 2.988|
|4.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF15-T||56||+ 3.835|
|5.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW37||56||+ 8.544|
|6.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW37||56||+ 9.885|
|7.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Team Mercedes E23 Hybrid||56||+ 19.008|
|8.||Felipe Nasr||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C34||56||+ 22.625|
|9.||Daniel Ricciardo||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB11||56||+ 32.117|
|10.||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C34||55||1 lap behind|
|11.||Sergio Pérez||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM08||55||1 lap behind|
|12.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren Honda MP4-30||55||1 lap behind|
|13.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR10||55||1 lap behind|
|14.||Jenson Button*||McLaren Honda MP4-30||55||1 lap behind|
|15.||Will Stevens||Manor Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03||54||2 laps behind|
|16.||Roberto Merhi||Manor Marussia F1 Team Ferrari MR03||54||2 laps behind|
|17.||Max Verstappen||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR10||52||Engine|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Time|
|DNF.||Pastor Maldonado||Lotus F1 Team Mercedes E23 Hybrid||50||Collision|
|DNF.||Daniil Kvyat||Infiniti Red Bull Racing Renault RB11||15||Engine|
|DNF.||Nico Hülkenberg||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM08||9||Gearbox|
* Jenson Button was awarded a 5-second post-race time penalty for causing an avoidable collision with Pastor Maldonado, demoting him from 13th to 14th in the final classification.
Image via Sutton Images