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Ricciardo (out) breaks Mercedes and Ferrari hearts in China

NEWS STORY
15/04/2018

If yesterday was pivotal in terms of the world championship, today could be positively seismic.

The last time Ferrari strung three wins together was early 2008, when Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa actually won four races in a row, though the title eventually went to a certain L Hamilton following a thrilling Brazilian Grand Prix.

Though Australia involved a lot of luck and errant software, and Bahrain was more about management in terms of tyres and pressure, thus far this weekend Ferrari has demonstrated that we are likely looking at a new order, as finally, after four years of domination, Mercedes prepares to lose its crown.

Of course, Ferrari gave its German rivals cause for concern last year, but then it all began to fall apart, thanks in part to human frailty and the Italian team's penchant for shooting itself in the foot. Will Ferrari finally get it together again this year, and can it maintain it?

Today's race is going to be about strategy. Though conditions are much better than the previous two days, in terms of tyres - especially at the start of the race - the die is already cast.

Ferrari and Mercedes are both starting on the harder soft (!) tyres, which though slower are far more durable. Red Bull, and the remainder of the ten drivers that made it to Q3, will start on the ultrasofts, which while faster are only good enough for half a dozen or so laps before they begin to fall off... no pun intended in terms of the recent spate of unsafe releases.

With Ferrari clearly having the 'grunt advantage', it will be about the two Ferraris making great starts and working together, one driver riding shotgun for the other. Mercedes, and in particular Lewis Hamilton, has to spoil the party.

With pole never likely and the 'best of the rest' out of touch, it's unclear why Red Bull opted for the strategy that it has, surely both drivers would have been better off starting on the softs. Then again, the Austrian team has enough on its mind, what with engine reliability and Verstappen's 'over enthusiasm'.

As if this wasn't enough - and we are trying our very best not to go all 'build up the hyperbole' here - there is the ever entertaining and ever changing battle for supremacy in the midfield.

While Kimi Raikkonen has started all three races 2nd, Nico Hulkenberg has been either 7th or 8th, and can therefore be expected to be looking for another decent points haul - or as decent as it can be when the first six places are essentially reserved - but the German will be under pressure from a revived Force India, Haas perhaps even McLaren and Toro Rosso, not to mention a Renault teammate who, thus far, has been regularly outshone.

Having bagged a couple of points, courtesy of Marcus Ericsson, in Bahrain, Sauber is struggling here, while Williams looks set for another afternoon of pain.

While the weather looks settled, the cold and cloud of previous days finally giving way to sunshine, along with strategy, another big factor today will be getting through the first lap unscathed. Over the years we've witnessed a number of incidents, especially at the infamous opening T1, T2, T3 complex, and with an eye to Singapore 2017, let's hope Vettel and Raikkonen don't throw it all away before it has hardly begun.

In terms of strategy, according to Pirelli - and they should know - the quickest strategy is a two-stopper. Two stints on ultrasofts of 16 laps each, then mediums for 24 laps. Alternatively, two stints on ultrasoft of 17 laps each, then soft for 22 laps.

However, a one-stopper is possible also. Starting on softs for 21 laps, then change to mediums for 35 laps. Alternatively, start on ultrasoft for 18 laps, then change to mediums for 38 laps.

Another aspect to consider, in terms of tyres, is that the Ferrari pair both have 1 new set of softs available and one set of used, whereas the Mercedes only have two used sets apiece. On the other hand the Mercedes duo is alone - of the big six - in having one new set of ultras.

Of course, new rubber, and free tyre choice, will play into those starting just outside the top ten, including Magnussen, Ocon and Alonso.

In reaction to yesterday's drubbing, Damon Hill referred to Mercedes defeat as the 'fall of an empire', which is a little bit over the top even when considering that in his TV pundit role he has to allow for a certain degree of drama. However, surely it was inevitable that sooner or later the old guard would have to give way to the new... even if it's a surprise to see Ferrari finally raising its game.

Then again, there is much going on behind the scenes, not least the ongoing discussions with the sport's new owners and a number of driver contracts about to run out, not least Hamilton's. So perhaps we are witnessing the end of one reign and the beginning of another. It is the way of things.

As the pitlane opens and the cars head out to the grid, the air temperature is 18 degrees C, while the track temperature is 38 degrees. After two days of temperatures barely reaching double digits, in many ways the teams face a whole new challenge today, having had no running here is such conditions.

On his way to the grid Hamilton calls for a "three hole" adjustment to his wing. He pits to have the change made and then heads back out.

As they prepare to head off on the warm-up lap, Hamilton is querying the amount his wing was changed compared to his teammate. The Briton is also concerned that his left-rear will struggle. His suggestion that he'll "be surprised if it's a one-stop", intended for whom exactly, his team or Ferrari?

All are on softs bar Verstappen, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Perez, Sainz, Grosjean and Hartley who are on ultras, while Gasly is on mediums.

They're away.

Great start by Vettel, who moves across to cover his teammate, with Bottas also quick to get away. Bottas is around the outside of Raikkonen in T1 with Hamilton also almost alongside the Ferrari. However, in T2 the Briton is on the outside allowing Verstappen to come through on the inside. Just behind, Ricciardo has the inside line on Hulkenberg.

Through T3, having missed out on Hamilton, Ricciardo is three abreast with the Renault pair on the inside. Further back, Alonso and Perez touch forcing the Mexican wide and losing a heap of positions in the process.

Verstappen and Raikkonen continue to scrap but the ultras on the Red Bull are clearly an advantage

Verstappen is delighted at his great start. "See you ******* later son," he shouts, though Raikkonen doesn't hear him. He is subsequently told to calm down by his crew.

At the end of lap 1, it's: Vettel, Bottas, Verstappen, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Sainz, Grosjean and Magnussen. Perez has slipped back to 14th.

After two laps, Vettel leads Bottas by 2.5s with Verstappen a further 1.3s behind. Gasly has dropped to 19th on his mediums.

As the two Renault hold station, Alonso is all over the rear of Magnussen... two drivers who won't put up with any nonsense. As Alonso appears to fall back slightly, Magnussen closes on his Haas teammate.

Running together, Stroll and Perez close on 12th placed Ocon, as Gasly shadows Leclerc and Ericsson harries Hartley.

Told to "let Kevin by before T14", Grosjean obeys the command with his usual diplomacy. His response involves a lot of asterisks. Of course, the two were involved in some silliness last week in Bahrain. "It's only lap 6," as Grosjean points out.

The Frenchman is now under pressure from Alonso, while Vandoorne passes Sirotkin for 15th. Alonso has a look at T14 but is unable to make it stick.

In seventh, Hulkenberg has slipped to 8s behind Ricciardo.

Concerned at having lost a place at the start, Hamilton apologises. He is told to keep his head down. He is currently 1.3s down on Raikkonen and 1.9 ahead of Ricciardo.

At the end of lap 10, Hartley is the first driver to pit, the Toro Rosso driver switching to mediums.

Next time around Ocon stops, the Frenchman sticking with softs.

Alonso is all over Grosjean as Ocon goes quickest in S2 on his new softs.

Sainz and Perez both pit at the end of lap 12, the Spaniard switching to mediums.

Hulkenberg pits and like his teammate he opts for the medium rubber.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Shanghai, here.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Pavlo, 17/04/2018 11:08

"I like how everyone got what they deserved:
Vettel pushed his teammate on the start, so had no protection against Bottas' undercut. Having 1-2 Ferrari would have easily won it.
Bottas had a boring drive, did nothing special to win, so didn't win. Lewis just had a bad day, and Mercedes didn't deserve the victory.
Kimi knows he is a second driver in the team, so tried to save Vettel's race. Then he pushed hard and really deserved podium.
Red Bull really worked hard and made all perfect. Well deserved victory for them and Daniel who was capable to take it. Max just punished himself."

Rating: Positive (1)     Rate comment: Positive | NegativeReport this comment

2. Posted by Paul C, 16/04/2018 22:00 (moderated by an Adminstrator, 16/04/2018 22:03)

"Thanks for the concise article. The digital gremlins eliminated my race coverage, but your narrative made up for watching the patchy rendition of the broadcast as carried by ESPN2 as an afterthought in the USA. Mr Casey needs to talk with ESPN's management, more people will be watching Indy Car in the USA than F1 by the end of this season. "

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3. Posted by ESTM PRFT, 16/04/2018 19:00

"Daniel's stupendous win inspired me to learn more about the Honey Badger, which in turn has inspired me to write:

Kimi is a world champion - Honey Badger don't care
Sea Bass is a four time world champion - Honey Badger don't care
Princess Hammie is a four time world champion - Honey Badger don't care
Valerie wishes he was a world champion - Honey Badger don't give a shit
Minimus thinks he's the team number one - Honey Badger really don't give a shit

Honey Badger is the Badass of that bunch!"

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4. Posted by Frank H, 15/04/2018 13:01

"He ain't a rookie no more. Gasly and Max did the same late move, and both failed the same way. At least Gasly is a rookie.

If he doesn't stop crashing into people he'll just be another Maldonado.

Without the crash, he would probably have won I think, instead he let his worst competitor win(who have the same material), and he's now at a 19point deficit to his teammate (15pt more than before the race started)"

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5. Posted by Chris Roper, 15/04/2018 11:32 (moderated by an Adminstrator, 16/04/2018 22:03)

"Well done Ricciardo and Red Bull, you deserve your spot In the Lime Light.
Great team effort this weekend and Max "Chaos" Verstappen lived up to his name and added to the spectacle."

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6. Posted by nonickname, 15/04/2018 10:57

"Love Max's score, scared the what evers out of people who have won 8 world championships this year, witut Kimi and Fernando."

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7. Posted by Greg, 15/04/2018 9:34

"Great drive by daniel, great outbreaking. Max could learn a thing or 2. Patience is a viture and the race is long"

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8. Posted by ESTM PRFT, 15/04/2018 9:18

"Congratulations to Daniel for a fantastic drive!"

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