Formula One Open Wheel

What We Learned from Chinese Grand Prix 2017

The Big Picture:  The Chinese Grand Prix ran for a 14th time with no contract extension  announced – yet. This will be another challenge facing Liberty Media. The race promoters have publicly stated that the event loses money.

The Event: The 3.328 mile Hermann Tilke designed track was built on a swamp. As a result, parts of the track have started to sink. This event started out with much success, drawing a crowd of over 250,000 spectators in 2004 in its first year. Since then, attendance has continued to sink along with the track.

In Our Last Episode: Ferrari came roaring into the season in Melbourne with Sebastian Vettel victorious ahead of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

Qualifying: Lewis Hamilton pulled all the stops to take his 63rd pole over Sebastian Vettel.

Start: All drivers except Carlos Sainz elected for intermediate tires in the damp conditions.  Hamilton’s start was picture perfect while the Ferraris appeared to get away much more slowly.

Race: There were really two races taking place on the same track at once. The first was Hamilton’s nearly flawless drive  to win his 54th F1 contest. The second was everything  behind him.  There was the scramble to change from inters by Lap 2 to slicks, as conditions dried very quickly with 21 Formula One cars.Then Vettel, who ended up in sixth at one point, had to battle back to the front, as Max Verstappen held off his teammate Daniel Ricciardo. But mostly it was  Hamilton who while challenged at times by Vettel and Verstappen, won by 6.2 seconds.

Best Team: Red Bull Racing whose cars finished third and fourth. Ferrari left Raikkonen out too long before his final pit stop costing him a podium while Valterri Bottas’ spin did the same for him.

What We Will Remember: Race winner Lewis Hamilton’s Grand Slam (pole, fastest lap, race win, leading all laps), the third of his career. Simply brilliant.

Quote of the Weekend: “My pole lap put me in a great position and then the start was just fantastic. I’m really happy with my starts right now so I want to keep that up! During the race I needed to keep my composure in some really tricky conditions out there. After the pit stop under the Safety Car the speed was low and the tyres were very cold, so it would have been very easy to make a mistake, so I’m just grateful that I didn’t. In those final 20 laps Seb and I were just pounding around as fast as we could, exchanging fastest lap times, that’s what racing is all about. In the future there will be times when we don’t have a Safety Car and we won’t have that gap. I’m excited for that. It’s very close and there were times when it was hard to match Sebastian. It has been a fantastic weekend and I’m so grateful for the effort the team has put in for us to be where we are today. It’s very overwhelming when you have a weekend like this, because I’m just a single link in the chain and there are hundreds of people who are involved to put me up here on the top step. Big congratulations to everyone, especially those back home, I hope they’re celebrating and feeling the spirit and the fight.” Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton

Runnerup Quote of the Weekend: “That was a very special race. When I woke up this morning I never expected to be on the podium. It was a very good first lap, I passed nine cars I think which is very positive. The conditions really helped me get past the cars as quick as I could, that was important as I knew it would only dry up and get tougher to pass. I always enjoy driving in the wet so I made the most of the fun conditions early on. I think in the first eleven laps I got up to seventh place which set me up for a strong finish. We were a bit unsure of how the balance of the car would be towards the end of the race as I didn’t run much yesterday in Qualifying and the temperature is a lot lower today. We had quite a bit of understeer but just about managed to hold on to third place. These balance issues combined with being within two seconds of another car in the closing stages of the race made it really hard to drive, there were blue flags out but I still couldn’t get past, this needs looking into. The battle with Daniel at the end was hard as my car was not fun to defend in. I’m glad we hung on and obviously it was a great race to watch and for the team. I think on pure pace in the dry we are still a bit slow for a podium but all things considered today we definitely MAXED it out.” Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen

Schedule: Bahrain is one week away, on Easter Sunday.

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By Lisa Davidson

Lisa Davidson is a graduate of the University of Arizona and spent her corporate career as a Controller. She is a lifelong writer who has been covering open wheel racing since 2000 and is the author of historical articles and co-author of one book She and her husband, photographer Jeff Davidson, have two daughters and make their home in Murrieta, CA.