After the thrills of Bahrain it’s fair to say that the 2014 edition of the Chinese Grand Prix wasn’t a stunner. But the net result was the same – an emphatic victory for Mercedes with their rivals left scrounging to collect the scraps.
For Lewis Hamilton the word ‘controlled’ comes to mind. Two weeks ago in Bahrain the Brit had to place his car perfectly in order to repel the advances of Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg. In China, Hamilton claimed his third pole position of the year – oddly, all in the wet – before romping away at the start, never to be seen again.
There was a minor error - he ran wide down into turn six before his first stop - but 2014 could be the year when Hamilton finally delivers his long overdue second world title.
Behind him again was Rosberg, although the German’s race was far from plain sailing. After mucking up, twice, in qualifying, Rosberg made a poor start from fourth place on the grid and was hemmed in when Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso made contact. The slowing Massa caused Rosberg to take evasive action, which left the Mercedes racer in the way of Valtteri Bottas, who was tipped sideways by Rosberg. All involved continued without serious harm, although Rosberg and Bottas both lost positions.
Rosberg made his way through on Massa and Force India’s Nico Hülkenberg, before jumping Daniel Ricciardo in the pits and easing through on Sebastian Vettel and Alonso on track. Rosberg lost telemetry throughout the race – which resulting in him being annoyed at having to reel of figures to his team – but nonetheless followed Hamilton home, albeit 18 seconds in arrears to his team-mate.
Alonso dragged his Prancing (or perhaps that should be limping) Horse by the scruff of its neck and raced within the podium positions for the duration. He tried an audacious move on Vettel on the opening lap but settled into a rhythm for the first stint. He jumped that particular German through the first round of stops but had nothing in the tank to stop another one (Rosberg) from steaming through later in the race.
Behind Alonso during the closing stages were the Red Bull duo but it was not the reigning champion leading the charge. Ricciardo slipped back at the start but rapidly gained on Vettel, prompting Red Bull to request Vettel’s co-operation for the second successive race weekend. Vettel refused to obey orders and curtly informed his team that it was ‘tough luck’ that Ricciardo was behind. But their positions remained static for just one further lap as Vettel ran deep at the first corner, permitting Ricciardo to take the place. Vettel claimed afterwards that he allowed Ricciardo through once he realised the full strategic situation but it was an unconvincing assertion from a driver currently off his game.
Hülkenberg continued his consistent start to the season – for fans of palindromes he’s finished sixth, fifth, fifth and sixth – as he held off the advances of Bottas during the final stages of the race.
While Alonso dragged the maximum out of his car, team-mate Kimi Räikkönen struggled. The Finn missed the first session but even that doesn’t account for a 50 second deficit to the Spaniard. It was a poor weekend from a driver who must improve once the sport returns to Europe. If his helmet was fluorescent yellow and his name ‘Massa’, then there would be far greater criticism.
Sergio Pérez recovered from a lowly grid spot to finish in ninth while Daniil Kvyat impressed again as he rounded out the top 10.
Outside of the top 10 few drivers had good days (not that a point-less race is usually classified as an excellent outing).
Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen struggled with the front end of the MP4-29 and only made slight recoveries. Button completed a sweet move on Jean-Éric Vergne while Magnussen made a rubbish start and bemoaned a lack of downforce. Vergne split the duo but also had his woes.
14th place went to Pastor Maldonado who mercifully completed 56 laps without hitting anyone or anything, while behind him was the luckless Massa. The Brazilian was set for a good result until a tyre mix up at his first stop left him tumbling down the order.
Sauber’s miserable season continued as Esteban Gutiérrez managed only 16th while Kamui Kobayashi was the first of the backmarkers. Or so he thought. Cue one of the most bizarre incidents in a few years.
Officials had been a bit hap-hazard with the flags throughout the race – second placed Alonso was regularly shown blue flags – but the chequered flag was erroneously shown to race leader Hamilton at the end of lap 55.
Hamilton, understandably a little perplexed at this, radioed his team, who naturally told him to press on for another tour. As he completed the 56th lap, the flag flew again and Hamilton celebrated with the usual fist-pumping while his delirious mechanics hung off the pit wall.
But the official race classification listed the race result as having been called at the end of the 54th lap. Article 43.2 of the sporting regulations state that ‘Should for any reason the end-of-race signal be given before the leading car completes the scheduled number of laps, or the prescribed time has been completed, the race will be deemed to have finished when the leading car last crossed the line before the signal was give’.
Therefore, laps 55 and 56 did not technically take place. This was not a problem for many drivers, as only one position changed hands across the last two laps. Kobayashi had been hunting down Jules Bianchi and made the move with a brilliant switch back under braking for the hairpin.
But what you saw did not count and Bianchi, having been in front on lap 54, claimed the position, ahead of Kobayashi, Mr. Consistent – who goes by the name of Max Chilton – and Marcus Ericsson.
Only two drivers failed to complete the truncated race distance. Adrian Sutil’s Sauber was slightly less terrible than it had been in Bahrain but the engine developed a problem on the formation lap and he duly retired. The impressive Romain Grosjean was on course for points until his Lotus E22 suffered a gearbox problem. Nonetheless, considering the complexity of the enormous technical changes, mechanics and engineers both at the track and back at the factories must be applauded for the reliability of 2014-spec cars. If you’d have said back at the first test that only two cars would retire at the fourth event, you’d have been laughed out of town.
But while 20 cars finished, the two Silver Arrows once again were the class of the field. Rosberg retains a narrow advantage over Hamilton, but the Brit is in imperious form after claiming the first hat-trick of his Formula 1 career. Roll on the European season.
|2||6||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes||54||+18.0 secs||4||18|
|3||14||Fernando Alonso||Ferrari||54||+23.6 secs||5||15|
|4||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing-Renault||54||+27.1 secs||2||12|
|5||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||54||+47.8 secs||3||10|
|6||27||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||54||+54.3 secs||8||8|
|7||77||Valtteri Bottas||Williams-Mercedes||54||+55.7 secs||7||6|
|8||7||Kimi Räikkönen||Ferrari||54||+76.3 secs||11||4|
|9||11||Sergio Perez||Force India-Mercedes||54||+82.6 secs||16||2|
|10||26||Daniil Kvyat||STR-Renault||53||+1 Lap||13||1|
|11||22||Jenson Button||McLaren-Mercedes||53||+1 Lap||12|
|12||25||Jean-Eric Vergne||STR-Renault||53||+1 Lap||9|
|13||20||Kevin Magnussen||McLaren-Mercedes||53||+1 Lap||15|
|14||13||Pastor Maldonado||Lotus-Renault||53||+1 Lap||22|
|15||19||Felipe Massa||Williams-Mercedes||53||+1 Lap||6|
|16||21||Esteban Gutierrez||Sauber-Ferrari||53||+1 Lap||17|
|17||17||Jules Bianchi||Marussia-Ferrari||53||+1 Lap||19|
|18||10||Kamui Kobayashi||Caterham-Renault||53||+1 Lap||18|
|19||4||Max Chilton||Marussia-Ferrari||52||+2 Laps||21|
|20||9||Marcus Ericsson||Caterham-Renault||52||+2 Laps||20|