Formula 1’s 1000th GP Celebration marketing was intense, hyping up the dullest race of the season so far which was saved by the usual suspects tripping themselves up.
Q1 of the Chinese GP saw two cars not starting, Alexander Albon’s Toro Rosso due to heavy damage sustained during a crash in the final Free Practice session coming out of the last corner, where he lost control of the car after getting on the grass on exit. The crash resulted in a chassis replacement for the driver, leading to a pitlane start. Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo suffered electrical issues, meaning he couldn’t start the session. The electrical issues stemmed from not taking the new updated Control Electronics offered by engine supplier Ferrari, which was brought out after Charles Leclerc suffered a cylinder failure whilst leading Bahrain. The result of not starting means that Giovinazzi would start the race plum last on the grid in 19th position.
These two cars, which are both Q3 contenders of the midfield, not being able to qualify was a godsend for some of the midfield, giving a few runners an extra chance to boost their grid position. The usual victims of Formula 1 suffered a quick fate, with the Williams of George Russell and Robert Kubica finishing 17th and 18th respectively. The 16th slot of Q1 was filled by Lance Stroll of Racing Point who made his seventh consecutive appearance in Q1 since the 2018 season, but being one of the better race starters on the grid, he isn’t shy of making some enemies on the first lap.
Q2 marked a disappointing performance for the McLaren team, who have had a strong start to the season compared to the woes of last years car which had inherent issues with its chassis that could not be effectively fixed within the season, where Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris qualified 14th and 15th respectively.
Kimi Raikkonen of Alfa Romeo was next to go, qualifying in 13th which ended his 53 race run of Q3 appearances, rolling over since his time at the Scuderia. Sergio Perez found himself at the bitter end of the Q2 axe where he qualified 12th, with Daniil Kvyat finishing 11th only 1 tenth off of Romain Grosjean in 10th.
Both Haas cars made an appearance in Q3 but deciding not to run in the session to save the tyres, Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean were sat a comfortable 9th and 10th respectively on the grid. Renault made a good first appearance into Q3 for the year, getting both cars into Q3 with Daniel Ricciardo leading Nico Hulkenberg by 0.004 to qualify in 7th and 8th place. In a nice neat order, we next had the two red bulls of Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly qualifying in 5th and 6th place. Worryingly for Gasly, he failed to out-qualify his teammate despite setting his time on the quicker soft tyres, nearly 9 tenths behind his teammate on the mediums.
To continue the F1-Rainbow, we had the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc lining up 3rd and 4th on the grid, with only 0.02 seconds separating the pair. In a continued show of good form, Valtteri Bottas out qualified 5-time champ teammate Lewis Hamilton by again a very small margin, something in the region of a 0.02 gap between the pair, to achieve his first pole position of the season, the silver arrows maintaining their strong form for the season.
The start of the race saw the most action, with a great start from Lewis Hamilton as he overtook pole-sitter and teammate Valtteri Bottas for the first time, gaining the lead into the first corner with Leclerc picking off his teammate in a similar fashion. A few corners later we saw Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat get some oversteer on exit, bunnyhopping his car over towards Carlos Sainz’s McLaren, which then sent Lando Norris’s car airborne, severely damaging the floor of the Britons car.
Daniil Kvyat would receive one of the harshest penalties available for this incident, receiving a Drive-through penalty from race control, a penalty I feel quite harsh given it was caused by some slight oversteer and was a racing incident; this punishment may have been given out due to Kvyat’s previous reputation as “The Torpedo”, a nickname given to him by Sebastian Vettel after the 2016 Russian Grand Prix where the two had a first lap collision. Alexander Albon would begin his charge of glory from the pitlane, making a good start and catching up to the back of the field quickly.
FERRARI TEAM ORDERS
Whilst the Silver Arrows increased their lead over the rest of the field, with the midfield staying quiet for the time being with Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris quietly sitting at the back of the grid after their incident with Daniil Kvyat, there was some drama at the red team. Charles Leclerc had nabbed the position over Sebastian Vettel at the start of the race, but both cars were running a similar pace, with Sebastian Vettel feeling he could go faster.
Leclerc was told he had a few more laps to go quicker and increase his pace, but as Leclerc felt he was pulling away from Sebastian the team decided to do the ol’ switcheroo known as the “Let Sebastian past”, not rare for the prancing horse to pull off. This seemed quite controversial to a lot of people who felt that Leclerc had earned the position on lap 1, despite their equal pace. Vettel pulled away from his teammate, but at quite a slow, undramatic pace which kept them both within arms reach of each other and unfortunately not much closer to catching Valtteri Bottas.
More woes for Renault as Nico Hulkenberg retires with a mechanical failure, slowly chugging into the pits into the disappointing, but loving arms of his mechanics. Down at the infamous Chinese Hairpin, a throwback to last years race begun to unfold as Max Verstappen had a lunge down the inside of Sebastian Vettel into the hairpin, a move which cost both of them a few places after they collided last year. Verstappen had the advantage on the exit but couldn’t make it stick as he had outbraked himself, being pushed wide and onto the grass by Sebastian Vettel in a brilliant display of racing between the two.
The midfield was alive at this part of the race, after a pretty slow and uneventful top 4 leading up to the later laps. Kimi Raikkonen made some good moves on the Haas of Kevin Magnussen, overtaking him for 10th place and one championship point into the hairpin, before moving on a few laps later to pip the Haas of Romain Grosjean as well, nestling himself into 9th place with a nice 2 championship points under his belt.
The Toro Rosso of Alexander Albon was flying, fighting his way from the pitlane up into 12th place after a series of overtakes and an aggressive strategy suggested by team principal Franz Tost, trying to get the Thai driver to go all out to recover some points after the disappointing qualifying.
THE CLOSING LAPS
On lap 37 Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff made the risky call to double-stack the pitstop, pitting both Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas at the same time to prevent an undercut from Charles Leclerc, who had been on a long-run strategy after switching with Sebastian Vettel, and also an undercut from Vettel on Valtteri Bottas. By pitting both drivers they could stop these eventualities, but only if they got it right. They nailed it. In a beautiful pit stop showing the efficiency and rhythm of Formula One, both cars came in one-by-one and pitted for a new set of tyres, with Valtteri Bottas not having to wait any longer than he would if he had come in normally thanks to the speed limit of 60km/h on the Shanghai circuit pit lane.
Lewis Hamilton came out once again in the lead of the race ahead of Charles Leclerc, who was quickly caught by Bottas on fresh rubber after Leclerc’s unusual strategy, akin to the Raikkonen era of Ferrari where they would leave him out to dry on whatever tyres he had at the last pit stop. Alexander Albon continued his charge, sneaking into 10th place after the pit stops to secure himself a championship point, his second points scoring finish in F1 out of 3 races so far, showing strong form for Toro Rosso. Sergio Perez made his way from 12th on the grid to 8th place, behind Daniel Ricciardo who maintained his grid position to score his first points since joining the French team, and his first race finish of the season. Unfortunately not all was good for the midfield, as Daniil Kvyat retired his Toro Rosso after his first lap incident with both the McLarens and Lando Norris retired a few laps before the end of the Grand Prix after the damage he sustained in the same incident.
The race would see Mercedes secure their third 1-2 finish of the season, with Lewis Hamilton leading teammate Valtteri Bottas, and Sebastian Vettel bringing up the rear of the podium in 3rd place. Max Verstappen scored an impressive 4th place after the unusual, and ineffective strategy Charles Leclerc was left on by Ferrari which seemed to sacrifice his race, a 5th place being the best he could manage. Pierre Gasly finally scored points his car is capable of in 6th place, with Daniel Ricciardo in 7th, Sergio Perez in 8th, Kimi Raikkonen in 9th and Alexander Albon in 10th. Pierre Gasly managed to nab the fastest lap by 1 tenth from Sebastian Vettel, stealing himself an extra point in the championship due to his top 10 finish.
The rather uneventful and over-hyped F1 1000th GP was saved by the midfield and the amazing performances of Kimi Raikkonen and Alexander Albon, who in only his third F1 race scored points from the pitlane after a disaster crash, rightfully earning the title of the driver of the day. Unfortunately, not much of the midfield was shown on the broadcast, due to some unusual and shoddy camerawork and poor direction of the cameras. A lot of our race watching experience was following the shambles at Ferrari as the cars went round and round on unusual strategies and discussing team orders. Let’s hope that F1 show some more of the midfield, and help them out with some more airtime.