Hamilton Dominates In China
Graham Read, Formula 1 Correspondent
The first ever Formula 1 world championship Grand Prix was held at our very own Silverstone track back on 13 May 1950 and almost 69 years later the 1000th event has just taken place at the Shanghai International Circuit in China. After Ferrari’s outstanding young Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc had shone at the previous race in Bahrain and been very unlucky not to take a first ever F1 victory, on this occasion Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton was utterly dominant as he cruised to the victory spoils.
Four time world champion Sebastian Vettel had come in for some excessive criticism after spinning whilst battling with fellow multiple titleholder Hamilton in Bahrain and the German was in no mood to hang around in the opening free practice session in China as he topped the timesheets in his Ferrari, outpacing Hamilton’s Mercedes by 0.207 seconds. Leclerc and Red Bull’s Dutch charger Max Verstappen completed the leading quartet.
For the Chinese Grand Prix weekend the Mercedes team was forced to run a revised, shorter front wing endplate after receiving a technical directive from the sport’s governing body, the FIA, asking the outfit to amend their previous design to ensure it meets this year’s new regulations.
It certainly didn’t slow them in Friday’s second practice period though as Valtteri Bottas went fastest, albeit a mere 27 thousandths of a second clear of Vettel, followed by Verstappen and Hamilton. Leclerc’s running was limited to just 13 laps as he was called back into his Ferrari pit garage for cooling checks and he ended up seventh quickest. Come Saturday morning’s third and final practice session Bottas again outpaced Vettel, with Leclerc third fastest ahead of Hamilton.
23 year old British/Thai F1 rookie Alex Albon carried too much speed into the final corner as practice was about to conclude, helping himself to too much AstroTurf on the exit and crashing heavily, badly damaging his Toro Rosso and bringing out the red flags. Fortunately Albon was fine and only his pride and his car suffered, but the off did mean he would have to miss the following qualifying hour when he would probably have featured well. He apologised to the team whilst still in the car and later added “I’m angry and disappointed with myself as I was a little bit too greedy for FP3”.
As the crucial qualifying hour progressed it was increasingly clear that Formula 1’s two top teams, Mercedes and Ferrari, appeared to be in a class of their own and pretty evenly matched. Ultimately Bottas outperformed team-mate Hamilton to claim pole position, with Vettel and Leclerc making the second row on the grid for the following day’s race an all red affair and the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Pierre Gasly set to line up just behind them.
The likeable Australian Daniel Ricciardo has had a difficult start to life at Renault after choosing to leave Red Bull, but at least he qualified in seventh position just ahead of his German team-mate Nico Hülkenberg, leaving the Haas duo of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean to round out the top ten starters.
The weather was cooler on race day, but when the red lights went out at the beginning of the Grand Prix the action was red hot as second placed Hamilton made a perfect start and quickly passed Bottas as they sprinted towards the first corner. Vettel almost made too good a getaway as he ended up boxed in behind Bottas and Leclerc nipped past into third position.
Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat may not find himself on McLaren’s Christmas card list at he end of the year as on the opening lap and in quick succession he collided with their drivers Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris, sending the latter airborne and forcing both orange cars to head down the pit lane for premature first stops. A brief Virtual Safety Car period followed to allow debris to be cleared from the circuit.
As the race settled into a pattern the two Mercedes cars started to extend their lead out front as Vettel pursued his third placed Ferrari team-mate and on lap 10 Leclerc was told over the radio to go faster or Vettel would be allowed past, something which happened just one tour later at Turn 1.
However Vettel seemed unable to significantly reduce the gap to the front pair and Leclerc started to show frustration about having been demoted to fourth place by team orders. Soon the frontrunners were all making their first pitstops to switch from medium to hard specification tyres, with Vettel and Verstappen entertaining the crowds with some close but clean fighting from which the former emerged still ahead. To compound Leclerc’s woes he lost out to Verstappen after the first round of pitstops, rejoining the race in fifth position.
When third placed Vettel made his second and last stop on lap 36, changing back to a set of quicker but less durable medium tyres than the hards, Mercedes immediately reacted and brought their cars in together, executing a perfectly timed “double stack” switch to mediums too.
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With all the action in Shanghai concluded, it was time for the teams to pack up and make the long journey home before preparing to make a much shorter trip to the next Grand Prix, which will be held around the streets of Baku in Azerbaijan in just two weeks’ time. Mercedes will arrive there buoyed by their dominant 1-2 finish in China, whereas Ferrari will know they are on the back foot and need to improve.
2019 Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix
1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1hr32m6.350s
2 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +6.552s
3 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +13.744s
4 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +27.627s
5 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +31.276s
6 Pierre Gasly (Red Bull) +1m29.307s
7 Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) Lapped
8 Sergio Perez (Racing Point) Lapped
9 Kimi Räikkönen (Alfa Romeo) Lapped
10 Alexander Albon (Toro Rosso) Lapped
11 Romain Grosjean (Haas) Lapped
12 Lance Stroll (Racing Point) Lapped
13 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) Lapped
14 Carlos Sainz (McLaren) Lapped
15 Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) Lapped
16 George Russell (Williams) Lapped
17 Robert Kubica (Williams) Lapped
18 Lando Norris (McLaren) Retired
19 Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) Retired
20 Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) Retired
2019 Formula 1 Drivers Championship (after 3 rounds of 21)
1 Lewis Hamilton 68
2 Valtteri Bottas 62
3 Max Verstappen 39
2019 Formula 1 Constructors Championship (after 3 rounds of 21)
1 Mercedes 130
2 Ferrari 73
3 Red Bull 52
Hamilton Dominates In China, 14th April 2019, 12:07 PM