The Chinese Formula 1 Grand Prix, the sport’s 1,000th Formula 1 World Championship event, will not rank among the all-time classics in its history. Mercedes-AMG walked away with its third 1-2 finish in a row, with Lewis Hamilton dominating proceedings as soon as the lights went out to take a six-point lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas.
The Silver Arrows were not expected to enjoy such a strong start to their 2019 season after the supposed dominance of arch-rivals Scuderia Ferrari in pre-season testing, yet after three Grands Prix it already holds a commanding 57-point lead in the Constructors’ Championship over the Italian team. Hamilton (68 points) and Bottas (62) sit first and second in the Drivers’ Championship respectively, with Sebastian Vettel (37) the leading Ferrari driver in fourth, one spot ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc.
On the surface it would seem that Mercedes-AMG has another world-beating car at its disposal, but the truth is far from that. The Ferrari looked the quicker car in pre-season testing, was unusually (but not alarmingly) off-song in Australia and then threw away victory through driver error and reliability next time out in Bahrain when it had a clear pace advantage over Mercedes.
The this Grand Prix of the season in China showed a reversal of form and aside from heading the timesheets in Friday’s opening practice session, the red cars didn’t look like being in with a sniff of victory for the rest of the weekend. It then created more unwanted headlines by – for the second time this season – instructing Leclerc to yield to the supposedly quicker Vettel on Lap 11 when its two drivers had already fallen well behind Hamilton and Bottas who had skipped clear after the start.
Leclerc was unhappy to receive the telephone call from the Ferrari pit wall and when Vettel was unable to make any headway, the Monégasque driver quickly pointed out that he was now losing time behind his German teammate. His calls fell on deaf ears, and worse would come when Ferrari kept him on an inordinately long middle stint which ultimately cost him fourth place to Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen. Third and fifth places were not what Ferrari had hoped to achieve in Shanghai.
Up front, Hamilton cruised to an untroubled victory – the 75th of his Formula 1 career and his sixth in Shanghai – after jumping pole-sitter Bottas at start, holding the inside line on the run to Turn 1 to grab the race lead.
While Bottas had looked for much of the weekend to be quicker of the Mercedes duo, it was Hamilton who had all the answers when the championship points were handed out.
By Lap 14, Hamilton had opened up a lead of four seconds to Bottas and over ten seconds to Vettel, who made his first of two pit stops at the end of Lap 18. The attempt at an undercut was the right call; once the two Mercedes’ had pitted Vettel was now within five seconds of the pair, but Hamilton and Bottas used their fresher tyres to re-open the gap.
A second cycle of pit stops came with roughly 20 laps to go, by which point Hamilton and Bottas had eased away into an almost uncatchable lead. The two Mercedes drivers made a flawless ‘double stack’ pit stop on Lap 37, with Bottas rejoining the circuit behind Leclerc, who was yet to make his second tyre stop.
The Ferrari youngster defended gamely for a lap until Bottas swept by on Lap 42 to reclaim an effective second place. Leclerc made a belated second pit stop on Lap 42, but emerged too far behind fourth-placed Verstappen to challenge the Dutch driver in the closing laps.
Up front, Hamilton kept extending his race lead and by the final lap his advantage to Bottas was over six seconds and almost fourteen seconds to Vettel.
Verstappen finished fourth ahead of a frustrated Leclerc, with the second Red Bull Racing of Pierre Gasly finishing sixth. The Frenchman used an ultra-late final pit stop and much fresher set of soft tyres to post the fastest lap of the race and claim the bonus World Championship point on offer.
Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault finally saw the chequered flag, with the Australian earning his first points of the 2019 season in seventh.
Racing Point’s Sergio Pérez fended off a hard-charging Alfa Romeo of Kimi Räikkönen, with the pair finishing eighth and ninth respectively. The final point on offer for tenth place went to Toro Rosso’s Alexander Albon, who drove impressively after starting the race from the pit lane.
|FORMULA 1 HEINEKEN CHINESE GRAND PRIX 2019 – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (56 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result||Pts|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||56||1:32:06.350||25|
|2.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||56||+ 6.552||18|
|3.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||56||+ 13.744||15|
|4.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing RB15||56||+ 27.627||12|
|5.||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||56||+ 31.276||10|
|6.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Racing RB15||56||+ 1:29.307||9|
|7.||Daniel Ricciardo||Renault F1 Team RS19||55||1 lap behind||6|
|8.||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||55||1 lap behind||4|
|9.||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||55||1 lap behind||2|
|10.||Alexander Albon||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||55||1 lap behind||1|
|11.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team VF-19||55||1 lap behind|
|12.||Lance Stroll||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||55||1 lap behind|
|13.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team VF-19||55||1 lap behind|
|14.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||55||1 lap behind|
|15.||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||55||1 lap behind|
|16.||George Russell||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||54||2 lap behind|
|17.||Robert Kubica||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||54||2 laps behind|
|18.||Lando Norris||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||50||Damage|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Reason|
|DNF.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||41||Damage|
|DNF.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault F1 Team RS19||16||Electrical|
Points are awarded to the top 10 classified finishers on a 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 scale.
Pierre Gasly is awarded an additional 1 championship point for posting the fastest lap of the race by a points’ finisher.
Images via Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport