Danny Ricc Triumphant After Chaotic Chinese Grand Prix
Graham Read, Formula 1 Correspondent
With a customary display of logistical brilliance the entire Formula 1 paddock was relocated just days after the chequered flag had flown in Bahrain to Shanghai for this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix and following an incident-packed race it was Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, with his trademark smile almost as wide as his native Australia, who claimed the victory spoils, his first win since Azerbaijan last June.
With Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel having occupied the top step of the podium after the opening two races of the season the pressure was on Mercedes and Red Bull to deliver in China where the Shanghai International Circuit features a 200mph 1.2 kilometre back straight, the longest on the F1 calendar.
In the first practice session it was Lewis Hamilton who headed the timesheets for Mercedes ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkonen. Valtteri Bottas was third quickest for Mercedes, closely followed by Ricciardo and and his Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen.
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This trend was to continue during the subsequent qualifying hour as Vettel snatched his 52nd Formula 1 pole position from Räikkönen, with his final effort just 0.087s quicker. More significantly both Ferraris were half a second faster than the Mercedes cars, as Hamilton could only manage the fourth quickest time behind his team-mate Bottas.
The two by two theme in qualifying continued with the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Ricciardo claiming fifth and sixth places on the grid for the following day’s Grand Prix. The team had put in a supreme effort just to get Ricciardo’s car repaired and back out on track in time for qualifying after he had suffered a dramatic turbo failure near the end of the preceding final practice session.
Following the cool temperatures of the Saturday qualifying day it was significantly warmer on race day as the fans packed the main grandstands. When the red lights went out polesitter Vettel led the field into the opening righthander and Bottas swept past Räikkönen into second place, whilst a flying Verstappen quickly made up two positions past Hamilton and Räikkönen.
The Grand Prix quickly settled into an early pattern of Vettel leading comfortably from Bottas, Verstappen and Räikkönen before some of the leading drivers began to make their first pitstops. Red Bull brought in Verstappen and Ricciardo almost line astern, but slick pit work meant they were both soon back on track without any delays.
Mercedes then reacted by pitting Hamilton and Bottas a lap apart, with everyone switching to medium compound tyres. Meanwhile Ferrari kept its drivers out on the circuit until pitting the leading Vettel on lap 21. A combination of a flying Bottas and a slow 2.8s stop for Vettel meant the German headed back out just behind Bottas, having lost his previous advantage over the Finn.
Just a few tours later Bottas usurped Räikkönen for the lead and Vettel followed him through before the third placed Finn made his own pitstop, returning to the action down in sixth position.
Vettel pressed Bottas hard to regain the lead lost during his visit to the pits, but F1 was about to throw one of its famous curved balls as the two Torro Rosso cars clashed at the Hairpin. Pierre Gasly was rightly given a 10 second penalty for causing an avoidable accident when colliding with his team-mate Brendon Hartley, but the debris left scattered across the track forced the intervention of the Safety Car until it was cleared away.
At this stage some superbly quick thinking by the Red Bull team made them decide to adopt an aggressive strategy and pit both their drivers together again to switch to soft compound tyres. It was to prove to be a tactical masterstroke.
At the restart Bottas still led from Vettel, but Ricciardo was setting a scorching pace as he moved past Räikkönen to fifth. His team-mate Verstappen was equally quick as he closed on third placed Hamilton, but a close moment between the pair left the young Dutch racer heading off the circuit and dropping to fifth behind the other Red Bull.
There was no stopping Ricciardo though as he claimed third place from Hamilton at the Hairpin on lap 40 and Verstappen also got the better of the British driver. Subsequently Ricciardo easily passed Vettel for second place, dropping the championship leader to third.
Far worse was to follow for the Ferrari driver on the very next lap though as he was hit by Verstappen at the Hairpin, tipping them both into spins. Max earned himself a 10 second penalty for his behaviour and was quick to apologise to Sebastian after the race.
As the Grand Prix continued towards its conclusion Ricciardo delighted the Red Bull fans by slipping past Bottas into the lead with 11 laps remaining. Verstappen demoted Hamilton again as he reached the chequered flag in fourth position behind an ecstatic Ricciardo, Bottas and Räikkönen, but his penalty dropped him back to fifth in the final results.
Meanwhile Vettel, struggling for grip, finished a lowly eighth after both Hülkenberg and Alonso had found a way past in the closing stages. His main championship rival Hamilton had a lacklustre race, with his Mercedes boss admitting afterwards that Lewis was not currently “in the best place”. He did finish fourth though, cutting his deficit to Sebastian to nine points. At the same time Mercedes just edged ahead of Ferrari in the Constructors’ title fight.
So, we had an amazing Grand Prix in China, helped by some excellent strategic work by the Red Bull team and admittedly some driving errors by Gasly and Verstappen which impacted on others. Formula 1 does still badly need the introduction of a budget cap and a fairer distribution of prize money, but at least we had a feast of ontrack action and overtaking in Shanghai which the fans loved.
There is now time for the F1 circus to regroup back at their home bases before heading to Azerbaijan for this year’s next Grand Prix in two weeks’ time. After the most unpredictable start to an F1 season for many years the action around the streets of Baku should be well worth watching.
2018 Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix
1 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) 1hr35m36.380s
2 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +8.894s
3 Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari) +9.637s
4 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +16.985s
5 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +20.436s
6 Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) +21.052s
7 Fernando Alonso (McLaren) +30.639s
8 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +35.286s
9 Carlos Sainz (Renault) +35.763s
10 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +39.594s
11 Esteban Ocon (Force India) +44.050s
12 Sergio Perez (Force India) +44.725s
13 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) +49.373s
14 Lance Stroll (Williams) +55.490s
15 Sergey Sirotkin (Williams) +58.241s
16 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) +1m2.604s
17 Romain Grosjean (Haas) +1m5.296s
18 Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) +1m6.330s
19 Charles Leclerc (Sauber) +1m22.575s
20 Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso) Retired
2018 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship (after 3 of 21 Grand Prix)
1 Sebastian Vettel 54
2 Lewis Hamilton 45
3 Valtteri Bottas 40
2018 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship (after 3 of 21 Grand Prix)
1 Mercedes 85
2 Ferrari 84
3 Red Bull 55
Danny Ricc Triumphant After Chaotic Chinese Grand Prix, 16th April 2018, 8:55 AM