Chinese Grand Prix 2014

Qualifying

It’s the 3rd of 4 wet qualifying sessions, and once again Hamilton shows his class in the slippery conditions. He had a ridiculous 6 tenths on Ricciardo for Q3, which landed him pole with barely a sweat. On the other hand, Rosberg was a chasm behind. 1.2s is a huge gap, and he was under huge pressure to match his team-mate; he then promptly messed up his final flying lap with a big spin just before the finish line, and is thus P4.

Ricciardo out-qualifies Vettel again, for a 3-1 edge to him. Despite having posted less points than Vettel, the general performances show that Ricciardo is matching and beating his illustrious teammate on a regular basis. The question now is can the two Red Bulls, so good in the wet thanks to their aerodynamics and chassis but lacking on engine power, keep a rampaging Rosberg behind them if it’s dry tomorrow as forecast?

Alonso, in his typical bullish manner, dragged his horrid Ferrari over the line in 5th. Other top 10 qualifiers include Massa and Bottas; Williams seem to have fixed their rear grip issues and enabled them to qualify higher in the wet. Bad news for Lotus at the start as Maldonado has issues and couldn’t enter qualifying, but Grosjean made it into Q3 for the first time this season, which is fantastic for them.

I believe Hulkenberg and Jean-Eric Vergne make up the last of the top 10 runners; good for them. Their teammates didn’t fare so well, particularly Perez; he saw the red lights at Q2 and decided to slow down when he had actually made the cut-off time for one last flying lap. Hulkenberg had posted a P2 time in Q1, so there is pace there to be exploited. Not enough for anything more than Q3, but just enough to squeak in.

McLaren continue their slump as both cars didn’t make Q3, and Raikkonen didn’t make it either. During the qualifying session, Hulkenberg’s engineer told him that the rain had gotten heavier, and that slowed Raikkonen and Button. Given they were a tenth and 2 tenths off Hulkenberg’s Q2 time, that would surely have given Raikkonen a shot at Q3.

Beyond them, there really wasn’t much to this qualifying. The backmarkers filled up the back of the grid and Sauber seem unable to replicate last season’s results.

My predictions? The race, if dry, is going to end up an epic battle between the RB10s and Rosberg, with Hamilton flying away into the distance. We’ll see.

Race

Well, it wasn’t a classic like Bahrain, but as a Hamilton fan, it’s a great race to watch. He pulled away cleanly at the start, and no one could catch him afterwards. The only moment of worry was when he went off track as his tyres died, but he was already 10s ahead by then and could afford a quick trip off the tarmac. His lead at the end over Rosberg was a whopping 18s.

Rosberg had a horrid start, overtaken by Massa and Alonso, and had a big bump with Bottas. But he made his way through the field with his (superior) car, all the while with no telemetry and having to report his fuel use back to the pits. He complained about it being annoying, and that’s understandable. But it was a good race in the end for him, even if his lead over Hamilton was cut to 4 points (even though that lead is due to Hamilton’s mechanical failure at Melbourne more than driving ability).

Alonso drove a huge, huge race for Ferrari for the last spot on the podium, jumping into 3rd and despite having a big bump with Massa who cut across too quickly, managed to hang on and kept 3rd place most of the way. He was initially behind Vettel, then later he was in 2nd until Rosberg finally overtook him. He managed to match Ricciardo’s pace all the way through the last stint bar the last few laps, and kept just ahead for Ferrari’s first podium of the season.

Ricciardo and Vettel, ooh boy. Vettel was told to let Ricciardo through for the 2nd race in a row. Vettel asks about Ricciardo’s tyres, and when he knew they had the same tyres, Vettel refused to let him through. Only when he was told that Ricciardo was on a 2-stopper did he finally yield to Ricciardo. Then he got switched to a 2-stopper as well, and even got overtaken by Kobayashi in a Caterham, and promptly vented his frustrations.

In the end, he came in a huge distance behind Ricciardo despite being in the same strategy. It’s clear he’s struggling in a car that isn’t as quick as his championship-winning ones. It’s been said that he developed his driving around the blown diffuser that Red Bull had perfected over the years, which gave him the edge over Webber, a traditional driver. Now, without the blown diffuser and that rear downforce, he just can’t keep up with Ricciardo who is speculated to be more used to driving around problems due to his recent experience with Toro Rosso.

Who knows? It just gives ammo for those who think that Vettel is only a 4-time world champion because of his dominant car. I’m a bit in that camp in the sense that he’s probably a great driver, but he’s not as fast as Hamilton and not as good an overall driver as Alonso. But we’re going to see a lot more of Vettel being frustrated, and it’ll be good to see him prove that he can drive around a bad car, and that he is a great driver who deserves those championships.

Behind them was Hulkenberg with another good race, managing to keep Bottas behind him right up to the end. Force India have been doing a solid job behind the frontrunners, and as the best Mercedes-engined team (after Mercedes themselves of course), they can take pride in that. Williams…well, didn’t fulfil that promise from testing, but they probably aren’t that quick in all honesty. Massa had his contact with Alonso, then had a horrible pit stop where the rear tyres were swapped mistakenly and cost him any chance of chasing down the frontrunners.

Behind Bottas was Raikkonen, who just can’t get that Ferrari going. He apparently had a bad Friday and so couldn’t set up the car the way he wanted to, but looking at how Alonso muscles his Ferrari around, he must be feeling a bit disappointed in himself. Frankly, I think the Ferrari is nowhere near 3rd, but is not really an 8th place car either. So improvements to be made there; Raikkonen getting schooled by Alonso so far.

Perez was quite far back at the start, but managed 9th ahead of Kvyat, who scored yet another point and upstaging Vergne. Button and Magnussen in 11th and 13th respectively; worst of the Mercedes customer teams, and really nowhere at this stage. All that promise during testing, and that (eventual) podium finishes in Melbourne have turned into a nightmarish mid-table scrap for the multiple-championship winning team. The sight of Perez overtaking his former teammate, and then Hamilton lapping Button must be really galling.

Maldonado kept his nose out of trouble and managed 14th after starting at the back, and poor Grosjean was doing so well in 8th until 4th gear died, and then the rest of the gearbox started to go and he had to retire. But it’s a day of positives for Lotus, as their car has some pace despite ongoing reliability issues. Gutierrez came home in 15th, and Sutil had to retire with some engine trouble. Sauber have been struggling since the start of the season, and it’s not a surprise to see them only just in front of the backmarkers; just disappointing given their performances the end of last season.

Finally, Kobayashi pulled an overtake on Vettel in the middle of the race, then pulled one over Bianchi for 17th place. It’s great to see him back in F1; he’s such a feisty racer, and I remember him at Suzuka as he charged his way up to a home podium.

It’s pretty clear that Red Bull’s domination has only just given way to Mercedes’ domination, but the rest of the teams are closing the gap quicker than they had during the days of Red Bull’s domination, so we could see closer racing as the season goes on. But I’m not an impartial fan, so I’m going to root for Mercedes. Hypocritical of me, I know, given how I didn’t like Red Bull’s domination, but it’s really just my dislike of Vettel and his somewhat immature actions at times. I like Webber, so Vettel being an arse to him really got to me.

Now then, onward to Barcelona!

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