Hamilton cruises to Shanghai win

09/04/2017
NEWS STORY

Last night saw the start of the latest excellent new 'Scandi drama' on BBC4.

One thing you get to notice after a while however is that the same actors keep appearing in different roles in the various productions.

Consequently the stubborn, unsmiling detective in last night's Department Q, was the ruthless, arrogant, crooked banker in series one of Follow the Money.

Likewise the helpful fisherman last night, was the good guy in Beck but the ruthless assassin in Follow the Money.

And wasn't Beck the killer (spoiler) in the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?

You get the picture.

And so it is with F1, for despite all the various changes it is always the usual suspects that appear in the post-qualifying press conference, having taken the first three places on the grid, who then appear in the post-race press conference having claimed the podium positions.

You get the picture.

Today might change that, but it has all to do with the weather gods as opposed to anything else.

As expected it is cold and wet, and it will remain that way for the next couple of hours.

This follows Friday's shenanigans when track running was severely compromised by the fact that the conditions meant the medical helicopter couldn't land in the designated hospital in Shanghai. This situation has now been resolved, which prompts the question why similar arrangements couldn't have been made before Friday.

Yesterday saw almost ideal conditions, and despite the knowledge that it would be wet today, drivers set their cars up for a dry qualifying in the hope of getting the best possible grid position.

So today, we have drivers who have not set their cars up for the conditions, and who had minimal - in some cases no - running on Friday.

To further spice things up, not only do we have the new rule whereby wet races will still start from the grid, but most drivers have had minimal - in some cases no - running on Pirelli's new wet tyres.

OK, there was a dedicated to wet testing in Barcelona, but this was on an artificially dampened track in sunshine which bore no resemblance to today. Furthermore, some drivers - yes, we mean you Lewis - were too ill to take part.

Consequently today we head into the great unknown.

While we would normally expect the usual suspects to excel in the conditions, the uncertainty over the wet tyres, particularly in terms of degradation, means that pretty much all bets are off.

One thing we can be sure off however, is that Max Verstappen, the hero of Interlagos last year, will be worth watching as he tries to move up through the field after qualifying 19th, though grid penalties for Palmer (yellow flag), Grosjean (same) and Giovinazzi (new gearbox) promote the Red Bull driver to 16th.

Having rained overnight and for much of the morning, it stopped raining an hour or so before the start of the race, but it remains damp, cold and blustery... like an English seaside down in summer, with the threat of further rain to follow.

Indeed, we could be in for a thriller today, and if it's anything like Brazil, or even last night's episode of Department Q we will not be complaining.

On the other hand, F1 has this ability - read tendency - to shoot itself in the foot, and one cannot help but wonder whether the move to a standing start - remember Spa 1998 - and the uncertainty over the new tyres, there's that niggling little feeling that the sport could get it wrong again today. After all, Friday was hardly a good advertisement.

Taking a moment out from the what ifs of today, it is worth pointing out something that Toto Wolff said yesterday after qualifying, when Valtteri Bottas lost out on the front row to Sebastian Vettel by just one-thousandth of a second.

The Austrian pointed out that despite all the rule changes, the months of work, the hundreds of millions of dollars, it all came down to one-thousandth of a second, which around this particular 5.451km (3.387 mile) track, comes down to 5.9 cm (just over 2 inches).

The pitlane opens and one by one the drivers head out.

Air temperature is 12 degrees C, while the track temperature is 15 degrees. It is not raining, just damp. An added problem will be the standing water that has gathered on the main straight underneath the two bridges that link the grandstand with the paddock.

Indeed, being damp as opposed to raining, it looks like the Safety Car won't be needed, so we'll get a 'normal' start.

While Inters look likely to be the order of the day, Stoffel Vandoorne says slicks might be possible.

From the 'you couldn't make it up department', FOM's new technical boss, Ross Brawn, admits he doesn't know what the new wet start procedure is.

As Race Control reveals that there is a 20% chance of rain, Felipe Massa disagrees with Vandoorne over slicks at the start, though he admits a switch is likely ten minutes into the race.

Ahead of the warm-up lap, all are on Inters bar Sainz who is on supersofts.

"With no previous information it's going to be a question of thinking on your feet and calculated improvisation," admits Pirelli. "Or simply being very brave."

On-board, there do appear to be very few wet patches. Vettel, agrees with Sainz' choice. "It has dried up quite a bit," he says.

As the grid forms, Palmer heads into the pits to switch to slicks.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Shanghai, here.

Ahead of the lights, Vettel is a couple of feet out of position, not ahead of his marker but to the side.

They're away. Good starts from the Mercedes pair but the Ferraris are slow. Nonetheless, Vettel is able to hold off Bottas in T1 but Raikkonen loses out to a determined Ricciardo. A good start from Hulkenberg, while Sainz appears to have paid the price for his slicks, the Spaniard running off wide.

Further around the lap, Stroll is punted off by Perez, the Williams heading off into the gravel with right-rear damage.

At the end of lap one, it's Hamilton, Vettel, Bottas, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Massa, Kvyat and Alonso.

Vettel is under investigation for being out of position on the grid.

Hulkenberg pits at the end of lap 1, while the VSC is deployed following Stroll's off.

Perez is told to pit as he has a potential front-right puncture following the clash with Stroll.

At the end of lap 2, Vettel, Kvyat, Alonso, Massa, Ocon and a whole load of other pit. Hamilton, Bottas, Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Verstappen stay out.

Despite being under the VSC, Palmer spins at T1.

The VSC is withdrawn at the end of lap 3, the leaders stay out.

"Are slicks the right call?" asks Hulkenberg. ""I'm losing all the temperature, no grip at all.

A big crash for Giovinazzi on the pit straight brings out the Safety Car. The Italian is fine but the front-right of the car is badly damaged.

As the Sauber is cleared from the track the field is directed though the pitlane however, a number, including the leaders, stop to change tyres.

Hamilton still leads and is now on softs, Ricciardo is second but doesn't pit, Raikkonen is third (softs), Verstappen (supers), Bottas (softs) and Vettel (softs).

Told to drink, Alonso replies that he has more than enough to concentrate on.

Next time around, Ricciardo stops to switch to supers as the field once again heads through the pitlane.

Down in sixth, Vettel is advised that there will be no further action taken for being out of position on the grid. The German lost out by pitting before the VSC, while Bottas has also lost positions during the stops.

The stewards are looking at the first lap incident involving Perez and Stroll.

Hamilton calls for the Safety Car to speed up. However, it will be withdrawn at the end of the lap (7).

As he tries to generate heat into his tyres, Bottas spins and drops to twelfth.

At the re-start Perez makes a great move on Massa but overcooks it and runs wide. He resumes the fight and subsequently re-passes the Williams and then the Toro Rosso of Kvyat for good measure.

As Verstappen nails Raikkonen, the Finn complains about his engine. "I don't know what is wrong with it," he wails. "there's zero torque."

As Vettel closes in on his teammate, Verstappen is setting a blistering pace in third.

Hamilton posts a new fastest lap (44.030) on lap 9 but this is soon beaten by Verstappen and then Sainz (42.693). The Spaniard is currently up to sixth.

Bottas is all over the back of Kvyat, while the Ferraris shadow the Red Bull duo.

Under pressure from his teammate, Raikkonen runs wide, allowing Vettel to close in even further.

Meanwhile, Verstappen passes his teammate to take second. "Nice job, Max," he is told. "Now, push up to Lewis."

Hulkenberg and Ericsson are under investigation for overtaking under the VSC. See, there is overtaking in 2017!

Lap 11 sees a new fastest lap from Verstappen (40.405) as he closes to within 1.64s of Hamilton.

Hamilton responds with a 39.358 as Raikkonen is all over Ricciardo, with Vettel right on the Finn's tail.

After 12 laps, it's: Hamilton, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Vettel, Sainz, Alonso, Perez, Magnussen and Bottas.

"Now the big question will be: can soft runners go to the end," says Pirelli.

As a reminder, Hamilton is on the softs, as are Raikkonen, Vettel, Alonso and Bottas.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Shanghai, here.

"I'm struggling with understeer," complains Ricciardo, the Australian doing a good job of spoiling Ferrari's afternoon as the gap to Hamilton widens to 8s

Lap 15 sees a new fastest lap from Hamilton (38.14) as Hulkenberg is handed a 5s time penalty for overtaking under the VSC.

While Ricciardo has issues, so too does Raikkonen. "What the hell is happening on the exit of Turn 12?" he complains. "I have no power unless I push the K1!"

Hulkenberg is now handed another 10s penalty, appears he overtook under the Safety Car and also the VSC. Bad lad.

Vandoorne is told he has a fuel problem and has to back off. He is currently 18th (of 18).

Talking of Safety Cars, Magnussen in under investigation for driving too slowly behind it.

As the gap to Hamilton widens to 3.3s, one has to wonder if the supersofts are past their best.

Game over for Vandoorne as his McLaren is pushed into its garage. He's the third retirement of the afternoon.

Down in ninth, Bottas posts a new fastest lap (39.117) as Sainz pulls off track and Vettel makes a late, late move on his Ferrari teammate. The German now sets about former teammate Ricciardo.

No further action in terms of Magnussen. Currently ninth, the Dane could be in for a points finish.

"I've got to get to the end of the race on this tyre right?" asks Hamilton. The subsequent response is in the affirmative.

Vettel makes his move, for a couple of corners he and Ricciardo are side by side, they brush wheels, but finally in T6 he's through. Brilliant stuff, and much appreciated by the fans in the stand and in the Ferrari garage.

As Hamilton posts a new fastest lap (37.560), after 22 laps, Vettel is 9.8s behind. Though there is the little matter of Verstappen that will need to be dealt with.

As Bottas closes in on Alonso, in clear air Vettel goes quickest (37.505), a full second quicker than Verstappen.

Down in tenth, Perez passes his Force India teammate.

Raikkonen is all over Ricciardo now, the Australian clearly struggling. However, the Finn doubts whether his tyres will go the distance. "Do we really think that the tyres will last to the end of the race?" he asks. "Because it doesn't feel like it."

Massa pits at the end of lap 25, rejoining in 15th. Elsewhere, Bottas passes Alonso for 7th. "Bottas has some car damage," reports the Spaniard in the process.

Kvyat becomes the fourth retirement of the afternoon.

Grosjean makes a great move on Palmer to take 13th, the Haas driver appearing to catch the Renault driver half-asleep.

"Tyres are starting to slide around a lot more," reports Hamilton.

Under intense pressure from Vettel, Verstappen locks-up in T1 and runs wide, the German is through. "You need to box," he is told seconds later.

Sainz pits for softs, rejoining in 8th.

So, as Vettel moves into second, 11.201s adrift of Hamilton, the race leader posts a new fastest lap (38.018). He subsequently posts a 37.484.

Verstappen pits at the end of lap 29, the Red Bull rejoining in 6th behind Bottas.

Lap 30 sees a new fastest lap from Sainz (37.398), with Verstappen posting 36.722 a lap later.

"My tyres don't feel great," warns Hamilton. Nonetheless, he posts a 36.711.

Indeed, despite Hamilton's issues, Vettel has dropped to 13.1s behind.

A brilliant move from Verstappen on Bottas in T6 sees the teenager take 5th, as teammate Ricciardo finally pits. As the Australian rejoins in 6th, Sainz comes out on top following a brief, cheeky battle with countryman Alonso.

Moments later, the McLaren driver slows, complaining of a fuel pressure problem.

At the end of lap 34, Vettel pits, the German rejoining in 3rd, ahead of Verstappen, 35.9s down on Hamilton.

Bottas pits at the end of lap 35, the Finn rejoining in 7th ahead of Perez.

Next time around teammate Hamilton pits as does Grosjean. The Briton rejoining still leading, 2.89s ahead of Raikkonen and 10.4s ahead of Vettel. Both Mercedes drivers sticking with softs.

Vettel posts a new fastest lap (36.393) but Bottas is about to go quicker. Indeed, the Mercedes driver bangs in a 36.177.

After 38 laps, it's: Hamilton, Raikkonen (+ 6), Vettel (+ 9.2), Verstappen (+ 15.2), Ricciardo (+ 20.1), Sainz (+ 31.7), Bottas (+ 40.5), Perez (+ 53.2), Ocon (+ 65.9) and Magnussen (+ 66.3).

Check out our Sunday gallery from Shanghai, here.

Raikkonen pits at the end of lap 39, the Finn having become increasingly frustrated. "So where are we going to finish?" he had previously asked. "Because I have no front end and there are still 20 laps to go!" The Finn switches to supersofts.

Magnussen makes short work of Ocon to take 9th.

Vettel ups his pace, posting a new fastest lap (35.423) as he closes to 8.1s of the race leader.

Raikkonen passes Sainz to take 5th, the Finn setting his sights on Ricciardo who is 14.1s up the road.

The Mercedes crew set about reassuring Hamilton, as Vettel continues to slowly reel the Briton in. "How's the gap come down from 12 to 8," he had asked.

As Bottas passes Sainz to take 6th, Hamilton posts a new fastest lap (35.378).

Great scrap between Massa and Ocon for tenth, the young pretender and the veteran. Courtesy of DRS and fresher tyres, the Force India driver finally nails the Williams in T1.

Ricciardo has closed in on his Red Bull teammate as sixth-placed Bottas is told to "keep pushing". In fact, the Mercedes crew accidentally refer to the Finn as "Nico".

Magnussen is right up the exhaust of Perez, as Raikkonen is told that third is still possible as the Red Bulls scrap and encounter blue flags.

A determined move from Magnussen sees the Haas driver claim 8th.

Grosjean makes it look so easy as he sweeps around the outside of Massa in T1 to take 11th.

At the end of lap 50, Perez pits, the Mexican switching to supers.

"Can Grosjean move out of the way please," calls Verstappen. "He's just sitting in front." However, the Frenchman hasn't even been blue-flagged, such is the gap between the two drivers.

"It's ridiculous, I'm losing grip," Verstappen complains, referring to Grosjean's dirty air, as Ricciardo closes in.

Meanwhile, with 3 laps remaining, Vettel is within 6.5s of Hamilton. The Briton responds by going quickest in S1.

Ricciardo is all over Verstappen, but the Dutch teenage appears to have it covered, though he continues to call for assistance with Grosjean. Slight signs of panic?

As the two Bulls battle, Raikkonen closes in with Bottas on the Ferrari's tail.

Ricciardo makes his move but on successive laps, in his eagerness, he locks-up, indeed, on the final lap he locks-up twice, such is his determination to pass the youngster.

Hamilton takes the flag, with Vettel claiming second, ahead of Verstappen, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Bottas, Sainz, Magnussen, Perez and Ocon.

Grosjean is eleventh, ahead of Hulkenberg, Palmer, Massa and Ericsson.

"Thank you so much guys," says Hamilton over the radio, "everyone, for all your efforts. We really worked hard for this, and we'll keep pushing."

"I enjoyed that one," says Vettel, "grazie tutti."

The podium ante-room witnesses the usual post-mortems, and replays, in Vettel's case complete with mime.

"Today was very difficult for us all, so difficult to know," admits Hamilton on the podium. "We all started on inters and it was very hard, trying to look after them was very tough."

"My start was okay, then I realised the inters had quite a lot of degradation and I was happy to take a risk," adds Vettel. "Then the safety car came and I lost a lot of positions."

"I had an enjoyable race, made a lot of moves," he adds. "I tried to close Lewis but every time I tried he responded. I think we were closely matched. And I even touched wheels with Ricciardo! I got my elbows out, he really squeezed me, but it was good fun!"

"I think on Lap 1 I passed nine cars," says Verstappen. "I was basically nursing the car to finish. I'm very happy on the podium, I didn't expect that starting 16th!"

"I think this is going to be one of the closest championships I've experienced," admits Hamilton. "I'm looking forward to it. It's that close a battle!"

And in just seven days they get to do it all again, though at least in Bahrain we don't have to worry about the weather.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Shanghai, here.

Article from Pitpass (http://www.pitpass.com):

Published: 09/04/2017
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