After Sebastian Vettel had claimed victory for Ferrari in the opening Formula 1 race of the new season two weeks ago in Australia, the F1 circus moved on to sprawling and smog ridden Shanghai in China last weekend for the second Grand Prix and Lewis Hamilton fought back with a win for Mercedes ahead of Vettel and Red Bull’s rising Dutch star Max Verstappen who had started a lowly 16th on the grid. Who says overtaking isn’t possible in this exciting new era of F1?
The three day F1 weekend had faced a difficult start last Friday when weather related issues meant that the cars ran only briefly during the opening 90 minute Free Practice session and then the second session was cancelled altogether, much to the understandable disappointment of fans at the circuit.
The problem was that, although the wet track was perfectly drivable and helicopters could fly in its vicinity, the weather conditions at the main hospital 38km away to which any potential accident victims would be transferred were too bad for helicopters to land there and so the F1 cars were not allowed to take to the circuit. Possible road transfers by ambulance were ruled out too as the sport’s governing body, the FIA, stipulates that any such journeys must last no longer than 20 minutes, which was not possible. However, the subsequent transfer of neurological medical facilities to a hospital far nearer the circuit obviated any risk of Sunday’s Grand Prix not being allowed to take place.
So, after an opening day which was embarrassing for both Shanghai and F1 and when moving the race from Sunday to Saturday for weather reasons was briefly considered before being rejected, the third Free Practice session took place on the Saturday afternoon local time. This was followed by the all-important qualifying session in which, as in Melbourne, Hamilton got the better of his arch rival Vettel for pole position, the British driver achieving both his sixth pole in Shanghai and his sixth pole in a row. Vettel edged out third placed Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas by a mere one thousandth of a second and with his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Räikkönen fourth fastest the two front rows of the grid were again set to be filled by the silver arrows of Mercedes and red cars of Ferrari.
Come race day the weather was cool and damp, but the fans in the grandstands were in for a treat in terms of racing action. Hamilton made an excellent start and quickly established an early lead ahead of Vettel, Bottas and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, but there was drama on the very first lap when Force India’s Sergio Perez and Williams rookie Lance Stroll collided, bringing out the Virtual Safety Car whilst the latter’s stranded car was removed.
Then on lap four Sauber driver Antonio Giovinazzi, again deputising for the injured Pascal Wehrlein, crashed his car on the pit straight, just as he had the day before in qualifying, and this time the real Safety Car was required to lead the field until the damaged car and debris were removed.
Verstappen was on a charge and by lap eight was up to an amazing third position behind Hamilton and Ricciardo before improving to second three tours later, whilst Ricciardo was clearly holding up Räikkönen and Vettel. The latter then pulled off two brilliant overtaking manoeuvres to pass his team-mate and Ricciardo, setting his sights on chasing down Hamilton and Verstappen ahead of him.
The German quadruple champion got the better of Verstappen at the Hairpin on lap 29, but was unable to ever get close to the leading Hamilton who put in a master class about how to win a Grand Prix from the front. With plenty of other action throughout the field, the race reached an exciting finale as the Red Bull duo of Verstappen and Ricciardo were allowed to fight right to the chequered flag for the final podium position alongside Hamilton and Vettel and it was victory for Holland over Australia in that intra-team battle.
Räikkönen and Bottas completed the top six, with decent points also earned by Carlos Sainz and Kevin Magnussen for their Toro Rosso and Haas teams respectively. Completing the points scorers were the two Force India cars – well done again Team Pink! In contrast it was another difficult weekend for the McLaren team whose drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne were forced to retire.
So, Vettel and Hamilton have equal points at the top of the the Drivers’ Championship and Mercedes is just a single point ahead of Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship as F1 moves on to Bahrain next weekend for the third Grand Prix of the year.
2017 Chinese Grand Prix Results
1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1hr37m36.160s 25 points
2 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +6.250s 18 points
3 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +45.192s 15 points
4 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) +46.035s 12 points
5 Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari). +48.076s 10 points
6 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +48.808s 8 points
7 Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso) +1m12.893s 6 points
8 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) lapped 4 points
9 Sergio Perez (Force India) lapped 2 points
10 Esteban Ocon (Force India) lapped 1 point
11 Romain Grosjean (Haas) lapped
12 Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) lapped
13 Jolyon Palmer (Renault) lapped
14 Felipe Massa (Williams) lapped
15 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) lapped
16 Fernando Alonso (McLaren) retired
17 Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) retired
18 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) retired
19 Antonio Giovinazzi (Sauber) retired
20 Lance Stroll (Williams) retired
2017 F1 Drivers’ Championship (after 2 of 20 rounds)
1 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 43 points
2 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 43 points
3 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 25 points
2017 F1 Constructors’ Championship (after 2 of 20 rounds)
1 Mercedes 66 points
2 Ferrari 65 points
3 Red Bull 37 points