The Chinese Grand Prix provided a much better race than Australia, partially thanks to the damp conditions, the brilliance of Max Verstappen and the VSC and safety car periods during the opening laps.
Lewis Hamilton got off the line well to lead into turn 1, while Valteri Bottas challenged Sebastian Vettel for second place and Daniel Ricciardo challenged Kimi Raikkonen for fourth place, however, neither challenger managed to make the move stick and the top five remained unchanged. Max Verstappen made up half dozen places by turn 1, weaving through the grid like everyone else was standings still.
The real shake up happened during a period of virtual safety car and real safety car between laps 2 and 7. The VSC was activated to recover the beached car of Lance Stroll who was tagged by Sergio Perez, all drivers except Hamilton, Bottas, Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Verstappen stopped to change onto dry tires.
The safety car was deployed after Antonio Giovinazzi crashed seconds after the VSC ended. The five drivers that didn’t stop under the VSC used the safety car period to make their stops, which shuffled Vettel back to sixth. Verstappen had benefited and found himself in fourth place behind Raikkonen and Bottas was red-faced after spinning all on his own while following the safety car, dropping back to 12th place.
Verstappen made short work of Raikkonen to move up a spot to third, then two laps later overtake his team-mate, Ricciardo for second place. Raikkonen complained about ‘no torque’ but was still managing to hold off Vettel and maintaining the gap to Ricciardo. Vettel finally dove down the inside at turn 6 to move past Raikkonen on lap 20 and chased down and overtook Ricciardo for third place 2 laps later.
Ricciardo dropped back into the clutches of Raikkonen, however, the Finn could not make up enough ground on the long straight using DRS to make an overtake attempt on the Australian. In the meantime, Vettel was closing the gap on Verstappen by 0.5 to 1.1 seconds per lap and made the pass after Verstappen locked up and went wide allowing the Ferrari driver to slip down the inside for second place.
After the second round of stops, Vettel closed the gap to Hamilton to eight seconds, however, the Briton put the hammer down to maintain the gap, clearly, the Mercedes had performance in hand over the Ferrari. This was the end of the race for the win, however, Ricciardo chased down teammate Verstappen and made a last ditch overtaking attempt on the final lap, however, Verstappen moved in the braking zone to block Ricciardo, something I believe to be a breach of the rules unless that has changed in 2017?
The race winners teammate, Bottas recovered to sixth after his mistake behind the safety car on lap 7. To Bottas’ credit, after the race he put his hands up and took the blame, apologizing to his Mercedes team for the points dropped, a Mercedes 1 – 2 could have been possible if it wasn’t for his safety car spin.
Although I believe the Chinese GP to be a better race than the season opener, I do worry that Mercedes still have the advantage after Hamilton could immediately respond to Vettel closing the gap, Mercedes definitely have performance in hand over Ferrari based on today’s evidence. I sincerely hope I am wrong and Ferrari can truly take the race to Mercedes and challenge for the drivers and constructors titles.
Chinese Grand Prix 2017 Results
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:37:36.160
2. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +6.250
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +45.192
4. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) +46.035
5. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) +48.076
6. Valteri Bottas (Mercedes) +48.808
7. Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso) +72.893
8. Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +1 LAP
9. Sergio Perez (Force India) +1 LAP
10. Esteban Ocon (Force India) +1 LAP