God, I love it when it rains. There is absolutely nothing quite as excellent as watching a Fomrula One race with variable conditions due to rain. Strategy changes, drivers excel, drivers flounder, nothing seems to stay the same.
The Chinese Grand Prix was not a strategic win, like Australia was, but it was thrilling nonetheless. But we can we take away from the race.
Australia wasn’t a fluke for Ferrari. They have a fundamentally good car, as proven by Sebastian Vettel placing his red machine on the front row and being able to keep it tight with eventual race winner, Lewis Hamilton, when he needed to. But it is looking like they simply do not have the power down the straights like the Mercedes does. That could change when Ferrari brings their next engine upgrade (no word as to when they will), but for the foreseeable future, it may still be silver at the front.
Hamilton will likely be able to win yet again this weekend in Bahrain, the track having similar high power requirements to China and that may be disheartening to the Tfosi, but don’t give up just yet. The Mercedes isn’t perfect. While it may have been Bottas that suffered a spin, severely compromising his race, Hamilton too is still vulnerable. Don’t forget that the race in China was much cooler than the race in Australia. We did not hear any calls from Hamilton complaining about the tire wear over radio, so it very well may be that the Mercedes tires work better in cooler conditions. Depending on how hot it will get at night, this may play into Hamilton’s hands in Bahrain, but what happens when summer kicks up and we see increased temperatures in Spain, Monaco, and Silverstone? It is something to keep an eye on for sure.
F1’s Rookie Class
It was a weekend to forget for the grid’s two rookies, Lance Stroll and Antonio Giovinazzi. Giovinazzi, filling in for the mysteriously still injured Pascal Wehrlein, spun and hit the wall on Q1 only to repeat the same mistake in the race itself. It is disappointing for the young Italian, and he has no one to blame but himself. Many were high on Giovinazzi after Australia, but let us not forget that he finished the race in last place. He finished, yes, but he finished in last place. Now, China, and specifically the main straight in China, has caught out more than just Giovinazzi, Wehrlein suffered a very similar accident last year, but this is a wreck that is solely on his shoulders. He spun with no contact with another car, under virtual safety car. The only thing that comes close, that I can think of is the Roberto Guerrero spin during the pace laps of the 1992 Indianapolis 500. Everyone has a bad day, but this one might hurt his chances at keeping a seat in years to come.
The other rookie on the grid, Lance Stroll, once again found himself racking up a DNF. The cause for his crash and subsequent retirement, contact with Sergio Perez, can be chalked up to a ‘racing incident.’ But, for me, the blame still lies with Stroll. While yes, Turn 10 is not your typical overtaking zone, Perez, as he often does, made it work. He was alongside Stroll. He did not dive in, terrifyingly sudden, at the last minute. He ran alongside the young Canadian through Turn 9 and into Turn 10. Stroll gave him room as the two came through Turn 9, but ihnexiblicabally cut the corner hard into Turn 10. It was an aggressive move by Perez, yes, but he was alongside Stroll, and as a result should have been given a line. Stroll, however, gave him none and as a result put himself in the gravel trap.
Kimi is one of the best parts of the F1 grid, for comedy reasons alone, but his racecraft as of late has been anything less than stellar. Despite his teammate’s several DNF’s, Raikkonen still finished behind the German in points. He was outqualified 11-10, and overall showed none of his ice cold brilliant that endeared him to fans during his first stint in Formula One. Now, I’m not about to speculate about what is happening to Kimi, but either he or the team need to fix it and fix it fast. Ferrari have a fast car. They do. They may not be able to win every race, as I said above, but given Bottas’s struggles as of late, they have a chance to really challenge Mercedes for the constructors championship if they are able to get both of their drivers onto the podium. But the only way they will be able to do that is if Raikkonen is able to bring his game back up. He may now be too old at 37 to win another Driver’s Championship, but he needs to be at his best. And right now he is not.
Every time I watch the young Dutchman I am simultaneously impressed and infuriated. I am impressed by his natural brilliance in the car, his ability to get the most out of a clearly underpowered Red Bull, and the sheer size of his balls. I’m also infuriated because Verstappen is only 19 and watching some one that young do so well makes me question the decisions I’ve made in my life.
Regardless, China was yet another Verstappen masterclass on wet weather driving. His first lap alone should be watched by anyone with a desire to learn how to drive in the wet. He just seems to know where the grip is and goes to that point of the track. It is a truly superhuman ability and one that continues to help him rack up the points. Verstappen is truly a world class driver and it is not a question of if he wins a world championship, but when. You watch him and it’s like watching shades of Senna or Schumacher in their heyday.
Who Says You Can’t Overtake
The mass criticism after Australia’s parade of a race will hopefully be quelled by what we saw in China. Yes, there was no battle for P1, unfortunately, but what we saw from the rest of the field was spectacular. For lap after lap we saw a Ferrari follow a Ferrari follow a Red Bull until finally, Sebastian Vettel put the moves on both his teamate and young Max Verstappen in spectacular fashion. We saw a great duel between both Red Bulls as Daniel Ricciardo chase down and ultimately not be able to seal the deal against his younger teammate. We saw cars diving down the inside of each other all race long. But what was most impressive wasn’t the fact that the cars were actually able to follow in relatively close succesion to one another, but it was the tenacity and exciting nature of the overtakes themselves. In years past, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing passes be made after the DRS zone. They were simple, one car opens the flap, dives to one side, and moves past the year. In this Grand Prix, however, we saw cars having to challenge where they normally wouldn’t, going wheel to wheel through the sweeper section, trying to see if something could work down into the hairpin of Turn 6. They were exciting moves and it was edge of your seat racing. It was good raicng. And racing that I hope will continue as the year goes along.
Other Random Thoughts
- It was a gutsy move for Sainz to start on the slick tires. He suffered greatly for it on the first lap, but was saved by the deployment of the Virtual and then actual Safety Car following Stroll and Giovinazzi’s wrecks. As he always seems to do, he put in a clean, solid race that netted him points. He has been in excellent form as of late and is putting together a nice resume that will make him very alluring to teams higher up the grid come silly season.
- After a solid result for Massa in the Williams, the team fell back to earth on a track that they should have excelled on. The Mercedes engines powering the Williams should have placed the team higher than 14th, but they did not. This is going to be a rough year for Williams with neither Stroll nor Massa looking hyper competitive.
- Force India once again looked strong with a double points finish. As the season goes on, one of the best fights will be for 4th place in constructors. Right now, and I don’t really see this changing, it looks like it will come down to Toro Rosso v Force India. My money’s on the Toro Rosso, but don’t discount the boys in pink.