What happened at the Chinese Grand Prix?

Who flew and who fell in China, as Max Verstappen stormed through from the back to the Shanghai podium.


Lewis Hamilton: qualified 1st, finished 1st. Valtteri Bottas: qualified 3rd, finished 6th.

After being beaten fair and square by Ferrari in Australia, Hamilton responded in the most emphatic style possible for the sport’s benchmark team of the past three years in China, winning from pole and leading every lap while setting the fastest lap of the race, a rare grand slam. A recovering Vettel came at him hard in the latter stages, but Hamilton’s response with 12 laps to go – setting the fastest lap of the race to extend his lead to over eight seconds – meant that it was game over for the Prancing Horse. Hamilton’s podium was his 106th in F1, equalling Alain Prost for the most ever, and his sixth straight pole position dating back to last season meant another milestone won’t be too far away …

Teammate Bottas looked set to join the three-time world champion on the podium after the early stages, but a clumsy spin behind the safety car before the race re-started on lap eight following Antonio Giovinazzi’s accident in the Sauber dropped the Finn to 12th, and he spent the rest of the afternoon fighting a rearguard action, finishing a frustrating three seconds from third place. “A stupid mistake of mine,” he fumed afterwards.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo: qualified 5th, finished 4th. Max Verstappen: qualified 19th, finished 3rd.

“Like a video game” was Verstappen’s description of his mesmerising opening lap; after an engine misfire destroyed his qualifying on Saturday, the Dutch teenager gained three places on the grid for post-qualifying penalties for three rivals, and then sensationally passed nine cars on lap one to make a podium a possibility. A lap 11 lunge past teammate Ricciardo at his preferred passing spot of Turn 6 was impressive, but he had to deal with the resurgent Australian in the closing laps, just holding on to third to ensure a Red Bull driver appeared on an F1 podium at the 100th different race.

Ricciardo at least got his 2017 points tally off the mark after his disastrous home GP, but wouldn’t have been best pleased with the manners put on him by his teammate, nor the understeer he battled for most of the 56 laps. A podium for Red Bull was a welcome relief after a depressing deficit in Australia, but Verstappen’s margin to Hamilton – 45 seconds – showed there’s a lot of work still to do despite the Dutchman’s heroics.

Sebastian Vettel: qualified 2nd, finished 2nd. Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 4th, finished 5th.

It was the sliding doors moment of Sunday’s race; Vettel, out of sequence after stopping for new tyres when the race was neutralised under the virtual safety car on lap one, found himself at the back of a train of cars for 12 laps, Ricciardo leading Raikkonen, who never threatened to pass, and the Finn holding up his German stablemate. Vettel eventually found his way by on lap 30, but we’ll never know how much closer he could have been than the 6.2-second margin to Hamilton at the finish had Ferrari moved Raikkonen aside. Still, with one win apiece in the opening two races and being level in the championship gives Vettel plenty of optimism that this could finally be the year he and Hamilton have a genuine title fight. If he was happy, Raikkonen was less so – the Finn ranted over the radio for most of the race about everything from engine torque delivery to tyre wear, and in hindsight, Ferrari could have done with pitting him for his final stop earlier than lap 39. On fresher rubber, he closed to within three seconds of the duelling Red Bulls on the final lap, but ended up marooned in fifth.

Force India
Sergio Perez: qualified 8th, finished 9th. Esteban Ocon: qualified 20th, finished 10th.

The three teams to score points in both races so far? Mercedes, Ferrari and (yes) Force India, as last year’s fourth-best team shone through the Shanghai gloom. Ocon finished 10th for the second race in a row, a strong recovery after being caught out by the timing of Giovinazzi’s qualifying accident and qualifying dead last. Perez clattered into Stroll’s Williams on lap one and was cleared of any wrongdoing, and while the Mexican didn’t have the pace to keep Magnussen’s Haas at bay with eight laps left, a double points-finish perked up the pink team.

Felipe Massa: qualified 6th, finished 14th. Lance Stroll: qualified 10th, did not finish.

The only good thing about the Chinese Grand Prix for Williams? It’s end, and that the next race in Bahrain is only a week away. The wet and cold weather on Sunday saw an unwanted return of Williams’ Achilles heel of last year, with no tyre grip seeing Massa finish a lap down and second-last after a strong qualifying. Stroll’s race lasted all of 10 corners before he was punted by Perez.

Fernando Alonso: qualified 13th, did not finish. Stoffel Vandoorne: qualified 16th, did not finish.

As McLaren continue to flounder, Alonso’s radio communications from the cockpit to his team become ever-more entertaining; the Spaniard said he drove like “an animal” in qualifying to make it to 13th, and he was running inside the points until a driveshaft problem sidelined him on lap 35. Vandoorne made it only as far as lap 18 before he had to park up with a fuel problem. McLaren’s lack of straight-line punch from its Honda engines – the car was routinely 20km/h slower than anything else down Shanghai’s monstrous 1km back straight – was painfully obvious.

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat: qualified 9th, did not finish. Carlos Sainz: qualified 11th, finished 7th.

Sainz figured he had nothing to lose by being the only driver to start the race on slick tyres as the damp track dried; he lost plenty on the opening laps with a wheelspin-ridden getaway and a spin at Turn 4, but the race came back to the Spaniard as he finished in the points again, and was the last driver not to be lapped by race-winner Hamilton. Returning to the scene of his most recent F1 podium finish last year, Kvyat had a tougher time, and ran around in the back-end of the top 10 before stopping when a mechanical failure saw him sidelined on lap 19.

Romain Grosjean: qualified 17th, finished 11th. Kevin Magnussen: qualified 12th, finished 8th.

Grosjean’s weekend started to unravel in Q1 on Saturday when he spun at the final corner, and then he was penalised five grid positions after qualifying for not slowing sufficiently under double waved yellow flags after Giovinazzi’s crash at the same turn, not that he was in agreement with the sanction …

The Frenchman finished tantalisingly close to the points in 11th, but Magnussen was the much happier Haas driver after finishing eighth for his first points since Singapore last year for Renault, a well-deserved reward for a convincing drive.

Jolyon Palmer: qualified 18th, finished 13th. Nico Hulkenberg: qualified 7th, finished 12th.

Palmer asked his team to check his car after a lacklustre Australian Grand Prix; should the driver be under the microscope too, especially after teammate Hulkenberg qualified seventh? Like Grosjean, Palmer fell foul of the stewards after the Giovinazzi crash and started from the back, and spun after an early pit stop to condemn himself to an afternoon of blue flags and frustration at the back of the field. Hulkenberg was brilliant in qualifying, but went from hero to zero in the race when he copped two penalties worth a total of 15 seconds, one for overtaking under the virtual safety car, and another for passing when the safety car was on track.

Marcus Ericsson: qualified 14th, finished 14th. Antonio Giovinazzi: qualified 15th, did not finish.

After showing so much promise in Australia, Giovinazzi’s second weekend as a stand-in for the injured Pascal Wehrlein was an expensive one for the small Swiss team, smashing one car against the outside wall at the final corner on Saturday, and wrecking another against the inside wall at the same turn the following day.

Ericsson made fewer headlines than his teammate, but finished last on Sunday to take some of the shine off Sauber’s Saturday, where it placed two cars in Q2 in qualifying for the first time since the corresponding race in China 12 months ago.


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