Lewis Hamilton returned to usual form, dominating the Chinese Grand Prix for his 106th career podium, tying him second all-time with Alain Prost.
This continues Mercedes’ superb form at the Shanghai circuit as they always have at least one top-five each visit – even during development between 2010 and 2013 (Nico Rosberg third (’10), fifth (’11), first (’12, ‘16); Hamilton third (’13), first (’14, ’15, ‘17)).
Hamilton’s fifth career Chinese win means he is the first driver since Michael Schumacher (1992-2006) to win a race in 11 straight seasons.
He completes a ‘grand slam’ – claiming pole position, race win and fastest lap after leading every lap – for just the third time in his career. It is his 11th hat-trick of pole, win and fastest time, putting him second all-time with Jim Clark and 11 behind Michael Schumacher’s record.
The race win was potentially key for Hamilton ahead of his expected championship battle with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel as he has never become champion after failing to win one of the opening two rounds of a season.
DRS Use Changes
This round was seen by many as a true test of drivers still being able to overtake with the new car design.
In the past, you tend to press the DRS button and go straight past drivers and take positions. This time, you opened the flap while behind somebody, and plan where you could attack. DRS has been transformed as a preparation tool to gear drivers up for an overtake.
The only time that DRS gifted drivers the opportunity to pass was when faster cars came up against slower opposition, such as Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas having to go by McLaren’s Fernando Alonso in his recovery from an early spin down the long straightaway between turns 13 and 14.
Not many overtakes happened compared to 2016’s event, but they were worth waiting for.
Verstappen’s Eventful Race
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen once again produced a talented performance in mixed conditions to finish third after starting 16th.
In Brazil last year he produced superb driving to stand on the podium, and he again performed well in damp conditions.
He then fought with teammate Daniel Ricciardo as they moved into the top three, and managed to keep Ricciardo behind late on again. His defense was similar to the victory in Spain last year, again showcasing the youngster’s skill.
The only thing that took away from his performance slightly was frustration over team radio in the heat of the moment near race’s end. Haas’ Romain Grosjean was a couple of seconds in front of him, with the Dutchman convinced Grosjean should have been shown blue flags to move out of the way.
Ferrari Strategy Error?
Not for the first time in recent history, fans were left debating Ferrari’s tire strategy.
Second-placed Vettel was unlucky to fall behind Ricciardo and Verstappen and teammate Kimi Raikkonen after pitting under a virtual safety car period before the full safety car came out when Antonio Giovinazzi crashed.
However, Raikkonen’s second stop for another set of super-softs came at an awful time on lap 40 of 56, meaning that he was not near Red Bulls’ pair as they fought at the end. They missed an opportunity to claim another podium as he finished 2.884 seconds behind Verstappen and 2.041s behind Ricciardo (48.076s off the lead). His day could have also got worse as he was just 0.732s behind Bottas.
One of the most emotional radio calls came from the Finn, saying “I have no front end and there’s only 20 laps to go.”
Raikkonen admitted that the race could have finished differently had he taken another strategy.
“It was not a very strong race, the car felt good with fresh tires, but we seemed to lose the front very quickly and I was struggling; in a place like this that’s very tricky and gives a lot of lap time away,” he said. “I feel that, even with that, we should have had a better result: maybe we could have changed the tires a bit earlier, but it’s always easy to speak after the race.”
The Championship Battle
After one win each, Vettel and Hamilton are equal on 43 points in the Drivers’ Championship and Mercedes lead Ferrari by just one marker (66 to 65) in the Constructors’ – the smallest lead a team has ever held in this era. It is also the first time that two drivers have been tied in points after two rounds for 20 years (Jacques Villeneuve and David Coulthard in 1997).
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