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Rain may have played less of a factor than we’d expected, but there’s no denying the Chinese Grand Prix delivered on all accounts.
After a lukewarm start to the season in Melbourne, Shanghai was a much-needed barnburner. An epic Verstappen comeback, a slew of hard-fought passes, some last-lap drama between the Red Bulls, and even Fernando Alonso cracking a (virtual) smile – there’s certainly plenty to talk about.
Let’s start first with the winner, Lewis Hamilton. The man may not be able to dress casually to save his life, but there’s no denying his quality behind the wheel.
The third Grand Chelem of his career was a virtuoso performance, no better exemplified than by a two-lap sequence between himself and Sebastian Vettel on laps 43 and 44. His Ferrari on softs, Vettel set a 1:35.670 fastest lap that Hamilton immediately lowered by .292s on the slower soft tyre – how he pulled that out of his arse I’ll never know, but it illustrates how on it he was.
That said, Ferrari fans have to be encouraged considering Vettel had to make his way back from P5 to second, and still only finished 6.250s off the lead. At least on race pace, Mercedes and Ferrari seem neck-and-neck, and the prancing horse might even be in front.
However while it was a good day for Hamilton and Vettel, the same can’t be said for their teammates. Neither Valtteri Bottas nor Kimi Raikkonen have found the same pace as their teammates, and are quickly being relegated to number two status. Knowing the Finns, I’m sure they’ll be torn up about it.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t give props to Max Verstappen who once again showed his balls, even if there’s no hair on them yet. He’s clearly at home in the wet (a trademark of the two drivers who owned the past two decades) and deserved his podium with some on the limit defending.
Although as an Aussie (and because this site’s editor is sure to give me cr@p about it) allow me to defend Daniel Ricciardo by pointing out that Verstappen’s pass on the Aussie was probably aided by the sort of aggressive setup starting P17 affords you, and Ricciardo was definitely quicker in the latter stages. And no, I’m not bitter. Why do you ask?
Outside the big names, two other “winners” were Kevin Magnussen – getting his first points in a very racey Haas, and Pascal Wehrlein – not bad considering he didn’t even race. Ferrari may have to pay Sauber to take their engines if Antonio Giovinazzi has another weekend like this one.
Also amusing to see Valtteri Bottas’ race engineer Tony Ross call him “Nico” on team radio, considering the guy’s a robot who had to be instructed to cheer for his former charge, I’m guessing they forgot to update his software.
All-in-all, China was Formula 1 at its best. Sure, not every race is going to be quite that exciting, but maybe all the doom-and-gloom in the preseason was overblown. Will they back it up in Bahrain? Thankfully, we won’t have to wait long to find out.