2015 Chinese Grand Prix: Race Analysis

Ferrari Fall Short As Hamilton Romps Home

13 points now stands as the margin between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel at the top of the standings, after the Brit notched up his second victory of the campaign. Nico Rosberg followed him home to ensure a Mercedes 1-2 finish, with Vettel taking home the smallest trophy of the day but making it the same trio of drivers on the podium for the third consecutive occasion. Ultimately, Hamilton’s only concern during the race was preserving the condition of his tyres, with Mercedes able to match Ferrari’s strategy unlike two weeks ago. However, in managing the pace of his second stint, Lewis is alleged to have compromised Nico Rosberg’s race, by backing his teammate into the clutches of third placed Vettel. Yet with the team clinching an eventually comfortable 1-2 finish, the substance behind Rosberg’s grievances is certainly a pub debate topic for the up-coming week.

Pacing Himself

Being light on the tyres was evident in the SF15-T throughout today’s race and despite finishing P3 and P4, Ferrari have somewhat confirmed the credentials that they displayed in Malaysia. Mercedes have had the faster package all weekend and as such, James Vowles and the rest of their strategy team made an excellent decision to mirror Ferrari’s moves during the race. However, these two factors meant that Mercedes had to manage their tyres more than the Scuderia in order to reach the required stint length, particularly in the middle stint, where leader Hamilton and his rear-gunner Rosberg took the less durable soft tyre.

The factor which has annoyed Rosberg was the amount by which Hamilton backed off in the middle stint. His front-running pace meant that the peloton of Ferrari’s were able to close the gap to the two significantly, thereby placing more heat on Rosberg’s shoulders. It was certainly not ideal, as it opened up an opportunity for Ferrari to perform the undercut. Ultimately, the situation was managed well by the team when crunch time arrived and Rosberg managed to keep the red cars in his mirrors, but Hamilton undoubtedly put his team under pressure.

To this degree, Rosberg has reason to feel aggrieved, as do the team. Tensions at Brackley will have been significantly higher had the undercut attempt paid off for Ferrari. The fact that no damage was done will protect Hamilton to some extent.

Before Hamilton’s army of fans click the red X at the top right corner of this page, they should read on. While I do believe that Hamilton jeopardised the team’s result to an extent, I do not blame him for his actions. As the leader, it is his prerogative to drive to whatever pace he decides and after being told to manage the tyres, he clearly opted for a slower pace. It meant that he had a surplus of rubber left for a final two laps of the second stint which effectively sealed the win for his side of the garage. From Hamilton’s perspective, the tactics of the middle stint were perfect and ultimately, a driver has to focus on optimising his own race first, before lending a hand to a teammate. If Lewis had compromised his own race by pushing too hard during the middle stint, the we would be accusing him of throwing the victory away.

The Adventures of Maldonado

Regular readers of the blog will know that contrary to most writers, I am a defender of Pastor Maldonado. During the first stint, it looked as though my claims would be evidenced by an excellent haul of points in China. However, the Venezuelan faced a mixture of unforced errors and unfortunate incidents which curtailed his chances and eventually, curtailed his race altogether.

As such, today marked his third retirement of the season, which sees him rooted to the bottom of the championship, after both Manor drivers made it to the chequered flag. Regardless, today was full of positive signs for both Lotus and Pastor himself, as the car had pace to better even the Williams duo and in the end, Romain Grosjean was unfortunate to not finish higher than P7. Meanwhile, Maldonado’s battle with Jenson Button proved that many of his critics are misplaced to suggest that he cannot race cleanly.

It’s All In The Launch

Ricciardo’s poor launch today left him with plenty of work to do and after an unnecessary battle with teammate Daniil Kvyat and several attempts to pass Marcus Ericsson, salvaging a P9 was about the best that Red Bull could hope for.

Just to finish the race seemed to be an achievement, given that both Kvyat and Verstappen retired with mechanical issues and Carlos Sainz’s race was impacted by gearbox gremlins. Renault power was certainly not the order of the day and with both Ricciardo on a third engine, (soon to be joined seemingly by Kvyat), the forecast is dire for Red Bull and Renault and today demonstrated that there is plenty of work to be done on both performance and reliability – but we knew that anyway.

Conclusions

Driver of the Day

Max Verstappen

For the second race running, the 17 year-old is my driver of the day. Once again, he drove with maturity and performed three late-braking maneuvers using his own unique style. He has a fantastic feel for the brakes and even when applying steering in the braking zone, he can stay in control seamlessly. It is as though more experienced drivers could take some advice from the youngster.

Overtake of the Day

VERSTAPPEN vs Ericsson

The most impressive of Max’s three headline moves was against the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson at the Turn 4 hairpin. The Dutchman was almost a week behind the Swede heading into the braking zone, yet somehow carried significantly more speed into the corner, whilst preventing what would have been a disastrous lock-up. It was a textbook late-braking maneuver. Ericsson also deserves some credit for spotting the Toro Rosso and taking the necessary avoiding action.

Team of the Weekend

Manor Marussia

The fairy-tale story continues for Manor as for the first time in 2015, both cars made it onto the grid and also managed to reach the finish. Pace will come later – for now, we simply need to appreciate the incredible work that everyone at the outfit is doing to get the two cars onto the track and keeping reliability issues to a minimum.

Race Result

1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 0.714
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 2.988
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 3.835
5 Felipe Massa Williams 8.544
6 Valtteri Bottas Williams 9.885
7 Romain Grosjean Lotus 19.008
8 Felipe Nasr Sauber 22.625
9 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 32.117
10 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1 Lap
11 Sergio Perez Force India 1 Lap
12 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1 Lap
13 Jenson Button McLaren 1 Lap
14 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1 Lap
15 Will Stevens Manor 2 Laps
16 Roberto Merhi Manor 2 Laps

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