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Chinese GP 2015

APRIL 13, 2015

Race Report - Race Control

Lewis Hamilton, Chinese GP 2015
© Active Pictures

 

BY DAN KNUTSON IN SHANGHAI

The Chinese Grand Prix was all about race control.

Lewis Hamilton controlled the race in his Mercedes, starting from the pole and leading all but three of the 56 laps on his way to his second victory of the season and his fourth in China.

His teammate Nico Rosberg thought Hamilton was too much in control and not being a team player. Rosberg blamed Hamilton of forcing him (Rosberg) back into the path of the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen who were running in third and fourth places.

Rosberg asked the team to tell Hamilton to speed up. If Rosberg moved to within two seconds of Hamilton his tires started to go off because he was in dirty air and had to use the tires rather than aerodynamics for grip.

"I wasn't controlling his race," Hamilton said. "I was controlling my own race. We thought it would be a lot closer and we knew the Ferraris were very, very good with their long run pace and also looking after their tires. So, today the real goal was to manage the tires. And, as I said, my goal was to look after my car. I had no real threat from Nico through the whole race."

Rosberg wasn't pleased to hear Hamilton's views during the post race press conference.

"It's just now interesting to hear from you, Lewis, that you were just thinking about yourself with the pace in front, and necessarily that was compromising my race," he said. "Driving slower than was maybe necessary at the beginning of stints meant that Sebastian (Vettel) was very close to me and that opened up the opportunity for Sebastian (Vettel) to try that early pit stop to try and jump me.

"And then I had to cover him. So, first of all it was unnecessarily close with Sebastian as a result, and also it cost me a lot of race time as a result because I had to cover him and then my tires died at the end of the race because my stint was just so much longer. So I'm unhappy about that, of course."

Hamilton was not concerned.

"It's not my job to look after Nico's race," he said. "My job's to manage the car and bring the car home as healthy and as fast as possible - and that's what I did. I didn't do anything intentionally to slow any of the cars up. I just was focusing on myself. If Nico wanted to get by he could have tried but he didn't."

It was only after the post race Mercedes debrief that the drivers learned the full story, and after that their simmering tensions died down.

The option soft compound Pirelli tires had not lasted many laps during practice, but their durability increased as the track got rubbered in. Mercedes originally planned to have its drivers do the opening stint of the race on the option tire and then do two stints on the harder prime compound. But then the engineers decided to put the option tires on the cars when the drivers came in for their first pit stop.

Hamilton was surprised when he saw which tires were on his car, and he slowed down to make them last as long as possible.

Team boss Toto Wolff said there was no animosity between the drivers.

"It was good for Nico to complain," he said, "and it was good for Lewis to slow down. Lewis was the car in the lead; he was in control of the pace. We put the option on, the driver realizes he has the option on, doesn't know what is going on behind him, and controls his pace because he needs to make the option last longer than expected.

"And he was controlling that pace; from his point of view it is completely understandable.

"Nico, on the other side, was really running into trouble because he was bunched up behind Lewis, couldn't go any nearer, so he asked for a two second gap to Lewis to at least protect the tires a little bit, which he did. And on the same time, Sebastian was increasing the pace behind him.

"So it is understandable from both of them."

And when it comes to both of them, Hamilton had the edge on Rosberg all weekend. Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen were able to keep the Mercedes cars in sight, but did not have the speed to catch Hamilton.

"We were a bit closer probably on the softer compound of tires," Vettel said after finishing third, "and we were able to put some pressure on them. We tried to put more pressure by stopping fairly early for the last set of tires, but I think on the harder tires they were just that bit too quick, so they were able to pull away. From there onwards we tried to control the race and bring the podium back home, which is a great success for us."

Raikkonen led one lap during the pit stop sequences. Rosberg led the other two.

The race was a team-by-team affair, with Mercedes - Hamilton and Rosberg, Ferrari - Vettel and Raikkonen, and Williams - Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas running in the order for most of the 56 laps. Lotus drivers Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado filled seventh and eighth places until the latter had a spin.

Raikkonen was closing in on Vettel in the final laps.

"Considering that my position (sixth) on the starting grid today was not ideal, fourth place is a good result," Raikkonen said. "My start was okay, I had quite a good jump off the line, and at the first corner I decided to go inside and at the end of the corner I was in the right place and managed to take the Williams under braking - my car is really good at that - and managed to pass them.

"The car was quite good today; the first set of tires was a bit tricky, but I think it was the same for everybody, and then the next two sets were ok. Towards the end of the race I was catching up, I knew I had the speed and I thought I still had good tires. I could still have had a chance to try and fight for podium but the safety car came in and we know we cannot change that."

With just four laps remaining in the race, Max Verstappen, who had been running eighth in his Toro Rosso, stopped on the pit straight with drive train woes. That brought out the safety car midway through lap 53. The marshals could not get the Toro Rosso off the track quickly, and thus the safety car was out for the final four laps of the race.

The safety car pulled into the pits at the end of the last lap, but the rules state that the drivers cannot overtake in those several hundred yards to the finish line. So Hamilton, Rosberg, Vettel, Raikkonen, Massa and Bottas took the top six places.

"I managed to get the most out of the car," Massa said. "The team performed very well but we just don't have the raw speed to catch the cars in front. I will work on my start as that is really the only thing that went wrong for us."

Bottas had a lonely race.

"I struggled for race pace throughout, but as a team we got the best result we could have achieved. I would have liked to have kept Kimi (Raikkonen) behind for longer after getting in front of him at the start, but he made a good move on me to retake the position. There is quite a bit of work to do to catch the cars ahead, but it's only race three, so there is plenty of time."

Grosjean seventh place brought the first points of the season to Lotus.

"It wasn't an easy circuit for us," he said, "with a lot of front limited corners that we don't particularly like, but we had a strong start, and most of the stints were good too. We've made a good job improving the car race after race and it's great to finally score points."

Team Sauber earned points as well with Felipe Nasr in eighth and Marcus Ericcson tenth.

"My race was quite tough with a lot of fights all through it," Ericsson said. "I hoped our race pace would have been a bit stronger. I was struggling a bit to get the front tires to work properly, so I could not maintain the pace the way I wanted to. Nevertheless, there were some great fights out there."

One of those fights was with Daniel Ricciardo who finished ninth in the Red Bull.

"We got into anti-stall on the start, which hasn't happened before," said Ricciardo who went from seventh to 17th at the start. "It's frustrating, that shaped the race and in the traffic we struggled to get by. At least some positives are that we learned a few areas where we need to improve and the smart guys in the team can find a solution. I had a little battle with (teammate) Daniil (Kvyat), I don't know if I was optimistic in trying to get past, we were on different race strategies but we'll sort it out in the debrief. We underachieved today."

While it the processional race went on at the front, McLaren drivers Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso battled with Maldonado for 13th place.

It ended when Button knocked Maldonado off the track.

"I thought there was room on the inside," said Button who got a five-second penalty for what he did. "A collision is something you never want to see happen. It was just a misjudgment."

Maldonado was not too upset.

"It was a fantastic battle with Jenson," he said, "and we were passing each other very cleanly; a good, fun, exciting battle. Unfortunately, it looks like he got his braking point wrong and went into the back of me. This can easily happen when you're fighting for position, braking off-line and using DRS, so it's just one of those things."

Out in front, Hamilton, who had controlled the race from the start, could not control the finish because the safety car was in control.

"The safety car at the end wasn't helpful, I guess for anyone, because it's kind of an anti-climax when you have a good race like that," he said. "But naturally, as long as no-one was injured and all the cars got back safely that's what matters."

Now it is on to Bahrain where Rosberg and the Ferrari drivers have their work cut out for them trying to wrest control away from Hamilton.