Chinese GP - Sunday - Race Report
Unless you were Lewis Hamilton driving the mighty Mercedes it was tough luck for anybody trying to win the Chinese Grand Prix.
Starting on the pole for the 34th time in his F1 career, Hamilton blasted into the lead he would never relinquish. At times he was a second a lap faster than any other driver as he went on to win for the third consecutive time - for the first time in his F1 career - well clear of his teammate Nico Rosberg.
"The team has done an amazing job and all the hard work both here and at the factory is really paying off at the moment," Hamilton said. "This car is just unbelievable; in the final laps, I was pushing a little bit more to keep up the tire temperatures and it just felt great to drive. I'm so, so happy today.
"We had to make a lot of changes after P2 in terms of the set-up of the car but after it rained on Saturday, we didn't know exactly how it would go today. There was a lot of hard work done, sitting down with the engineers so that we didn't guess anything and just made the right steps in anticipation for today."
Rosberg's tough luck started in practice and qualifying with mechanical and electronic problems and continued in the race. He started fourth, dropped to sixth, and eventually worked his way up to second.
"That was not a perfect weekend for me," said Rosberg who maintains a four point lead in the championship over Hamilton. "Too many things went wrong, beginning with a technical problem and a less than perfect job from me in qualifying.
"Today I didn't have any telemetry, so there was no communication from the car to the pits. My engineers couldn't see what was going on in my car and therefore they couldn't set up my clutch for the start. The clutch was completely on the wrong place, which is why I had a really bad start. I had some contact with (Valterri) Bottas in Turn 1 and I thought that was it. Luckily my car wasn't damaged and in the following laps the pace in the car seemed good, which meant I was able to climb some positions. To finish second in the end, on a weekend of damage limitation, is great."
If there was one driver out there anywhere near as happy as Hamilton it was Fernando Alonso. Just a couple of weeks earlier he and Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen had struggled home to ninth and 10th places in the Bahrain Grand Prix. In China, with some valuable upgrades for the car, he qualified fifth, jumped up to third on the first lap, and went on to give Ferrari its first podium of the season.
"After a difficult start to the season, this podium is a confidence boost for the whole team, providing extra motivation for all those who are doing their best to close the gap to the front," he said.
Alonso dedicated the podium to Stefano Domenicali who had just resigned from his job as team principal.
"Everything we do up to July will also be the result of his efforts," Alonso said. "We have definitely made a step forward, because compared to two weeks ago, we have partly closed the gap to the leaders, but we are well aware there's still a long way to go and we have to keep our feet on the ground.
"In general, this has been a good weekend for me, as everything went well right from Friday, although the rain made qualifying more complicated than expected. I was on the limit all race long and I really don't think I could have done any more. This is quite a unique track of its kind and now we must make the most of the long break before the next race to prepare as well as possible for whatever situation arises."
While there wasn't any excitement and drama over who would win the race, the Red Bull team provided some controversy and conversation points.
Daniel Ricciardo had qualified his Red Bull second while his teammate Sebastian Vettel lined up third. Starting on the slippery side of the track was a bad thing for Ricciardo as he got wheel spin and that allowed both Vettel and Alonso to get by him. Then on lap four Rosberg overtook Ricciardo as well.
Ricciardo was quicker than Vettel, however, and around about lap 23 he was also on fresher tires. The Red Bull ordered Vettel to let Ricciardo pass. Vettel's retort over the radio: "Tough luck!" Vettel vigorously defended his position.
"With Seb, we were racing and you always want to hold on to your position," Ricciardo said, "but the team radioed and he let me through. I did what I could after each stop and we improved the car;
Team boss Christian Horner said: "Sebastian made a great start, but then appeared to go through the tires quicker than Daniel and, after the second stop, it was apparent Seb's degradation was particularly worse than Daniel, so we looked at switching him to a three-stop and therefore released Daniel who was very much focused on a two-stop at that point."
Vettel let Ricciardo by in Turn 1 at the start of lap 26.
"I moved over for Daniel once I knew that we were on different strategies," Vettel said. "When I was first asked, I didn't understand as we were on the same tire, unlike in Bahrain, so I double checked. When the team said we were on a different strategy, I moved over and then, as the race went on, I saw more and more that I didn't have the pace. There was no point in holding Dan back."
In the closing stages of the race Ricciardo closed in on Alonso who was in third place behind the Mercedes duo. But the Ferrari driver was just out of reach.
"I was doing all I could to catch Alonso," Ricciardo said, "and I think we got to within a couple of seconds of him as we went over the line. It's going well with the team, I feel comfortable here and I did the best I could today. I really want that podium and we're getting close!"
So Ricciardo and Vettel finished fourth and fifth. Nico Rosberg drove a solid race to take sixth place while his Force India teammate Sergio Perez took ninth.
"It was actually a pretty straightforward race for me after we got in front of Felipe Massa," Hulkenberg said. "I had to manage my tires, my pace and avoid mistakes, and it only got tricky at the end when Valterri Bottas was getting a bit closer. We have beaten all other customer Mercedes cars, which are our main competition at the moment, but we have also seen some other teams up their game so we will need to keep pushing."
Bottas survived a hit with Rosberg at the start and brought his Williams home seventh.
"It was a good race for me despite some hard contact at the start which cost me a few positions," Bottas said. "I also had to drive the whole race without telemetry which isn't the easiest thing to do. We made progress over the whole weekend which is good. It's great to make steps forward and we are looking to do the same in Spain in a three weeks' time."
His teammate Felipe Massa had tough luck.
"I had another great start today and we were fighting at the top," said Massa who ended up 15th. "I felt some contact with Fernando (Alonso) but luckily the car wasn't damaged so I could carry on. There was a mistake at the first pitstop and that effectively lost me the race as I came back out on track in last position. It is a frustrating situation and something we need to work on to make sure that it doesn't happen again."
Kimi Raikkonen was an unhappy man as he finished eighth.
"This has been a really difficult weekend," he said. "Right from Friday morning, I suffered with problems that we didn't manage to solve completely and today in the race, I couldn't get the result I wanted. The start was good, I made up two places but then I couldn't make up any more ground, as I just didn't have the pace, nor much grip at the front or the back.
"In the final stint on new tires, the car handled better, but then, as the tires degraded the situation got complicated again. I think the difficulties I encountered here stem from a combination of various factors, from my driving style combined with the low temperatures and the characteristics of the track."
Scoring points for the third time in four races, rookie Daniil Kvyat rounded out the top 10 in his Toro Rosso.
"It felt great today and I'm very happy with my performance," he said. "I had a good start and I managed to make up some positions during the first lap. Our pace was very strong today and I enjoyed the fight with Jenson (Button) pretty much throughout the race. We did a good job with the tire management, so we were able to stay out longer. Even though it all went very well today, I think there's still a lot more to come from the car."
McLaren certainly wasn't happy with the performance of its cars as Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen struggled home to 11th and 13th.
"It felt like a long race, because there wasn't much I could do out there," Magnussen said. "Our car lacks downforce; that's its main problem. The way it's set up, and how it feels, has always been positive; it's just low on grip, that's all. So, clearly, we need to work as hard as we can to create that missing downforce."
Next on the schedule is the Spanish Grand Prix where the Mercedes cars and drivers will need to suffer some tough luck if anybody has a remote chance of beating them.