Mercedes’ Rosberg scores hat trick in China; Vettel recovers from first lap collision to take P2 for Ferrari, Kvyat P3 for resurgent Red Bull
When people say Formula 1 is a boring form of motor racing it’s probably best to ask if they’ve seen an F1 race in the last three years. The Chinese Grand Prix’s opening lap once again put the lie to such ignorant bloviating, as collisions amongst several contenders scrambled the running order and made the 56-lap contest a desperate struggle for survival much less points. In the end, pole-sitter Nico Rosberg avoided the melee at the start and ran a flawless race, winning by a whopping 37.7 seconds over the damaged field. It was his third straight victory for Mercedes to open the season and his remarkable sixth straight win dating back to last year. That puts the previously much maligned German in the elite company of Sebastian Vettel, Alberto Ascari & Michael Schumacher as the only F1 drivers to achieve such an impressive win streak. It also continued a perfect points haul for Rosberg in 2016, consolidating his early season lead in the quest for his first ever Drivers’ Championship.
Better yet for Rosberg, his arch nemesis and teammate Lewis Hamilton had a nearly disastrous weekend. The reigning champion was not only relegated to the rear of the field due to mechanical issues in qualifying but also saw the team’s decision to start him from the back of the grid rather than the pit lane backfire spectacularly. Hamilton got caught up with the dreaded backmarker scramble and lost his front wing to a collision with Sauber’s Felipe Nasr down into Turn 1. That required a desperate rethink by Hamilton’s strategists to get him back in the points, which eventually led to a mind numbing five pit stops for tires and repairs. In the end, however, Hamilton pulled off an epic drive in a badly damaged Siver Arrows to come home P7, a valuable points haul a long season when a lesser driver may well have settled for early retirement and nothing at all.
Ferrari’s quixotic 2016 continued with good results that still could have been much better. Teammates Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen collided at the start when Red bull’s Daniil Kvyat tried to make an overtaking move inside of Vettel into Turn 1, forcing the two Prancing Horses into each other. Vettel’s car was damaged less so than Raikonnen’s but both Ferraris required premature pit stops for repairs. With determination and excellent strategy after that unfortunate incident, Vettel was able to will himself to an amazing P2, while Raikkonen drove a gritty race of his own for P5. Vettel was contrite towards Raikkonen for his part in the shunt after the race but spared no words of contempt for Kvayt in the podium green room for the Russian’s perceived recklessness.
Despite Vettel’s harsh condemnation of his aggressive driving at the start, Red Bull’s Kvyat unapologetically claimed his opportunistic P3. His teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, who showed impressive pace all weekend, was hobbled by an early puncture after running over debris which hamstrung the Aussie’s overall ambitions of taking the fight to Ferrari. Ricciardo still managed to finish P4 and the combined results showed that the improved Red Bull chassis has the pace to challenge for the podium once again after an off year in 2015.
Williams had an OK result with Felipe Massa taking P6 and Valtteri Bottas coming home P10. But they have got to be concerned about their rivals’ steady improvement to start the year, which appears to be pushing them backwards in the results. In fact, the ostensibly inferior Toro Rossos of Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz split the Williams team with a solid P8 and P9 respectively.
All in all it was crazy contest, with Ferrari showing championship challenging pace and Red Bull making remarkable strides to put themselves back into serious contention. But it looks like once again they’ll all be chasing Mercedes for the Championship. Only this year the racing gods seem to smiling on Rosberg rather than Hamilton.
Top 10 finishers from China:
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Complete race results available via Formula1.com.
The next race weekend is in two weeks, April 29 – May 1 from Sochi, Russia. Hope to see you then!