Nico Rosberg won Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix in dominant fashion, as his title rivals once again hit trouble. Lewis Hamilton, Rosberg’s team-mate and the current world champion, found himself starting from the back of the grid after a power unit failure in qualifying prevented him from setting a time. Instead, Rosberg was joined on the front of the grid by Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull. The Ferrari pair of Raikkonen and Vettel lined up behind them on the second row. When the lights went out it was Ricciardo that had the better get away and was ahead of Rosberg by the first corner. Once again a Mercedes had lost its pole advantage immediately from the start. Behind Rosberg and Ricciardo, a series of events took place that would define the race. As the cars made their way around the long first turn, Vettel left the door open enough for Daniil Kvyat to come steaming through on the inside. Vettel anticipated a collision with the young Russian, and took avoiding action. At the same time the other Ferrari of Raikkonen, on Vettel’s outside, was correcting its line to straighten up for the exit of the turn. The end result was the two prancing horses failing to clear the first hurdle. Vettel smashed into his team mate and Raikkonen bounced off the circuit with his front wing shattered. Vettel also had a damaged front wing but was able to continue at speed. The ensuing chaos bunched up the pack, and as Raikkonen attempted to re-join the track Felipe Nasr darted out of the Finn’s path, and straight over the front wing of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. Hamilton’s wing was also smashed and became trapped under the world champion’s car, damaging its floor and massively compromising Hamilton’s chance of finishing on the podium. Both Raikkonen and Hamilton pitted for fresh rubber and new noses, but were well behind the pack.
Out in front Rosberg was keeping pace with Daniel Ricciardo, patiently waiting for his strategic advantage in starting on the more durable soft tyres over Ricciardo’s fragile supersofts to bear fruit. He did not have long to wait. Coming down the back straight Daniel Ricciardo’s left rear tyre disintegrated along with the Australian’s hope of victory. The Red Bull limped back to the pits as Rosberg streaked off into the race lead, never to be troubled. The carcass of the ruptured tyre, along with the debris left on track by the first lap melee, necessitated an appearance of the safety car. This brought life back into the race for Hamilton, Ricciardo and Raikkonen, who now closed up behind slower cars. When the race resumed the three began making their way through the field. A few places ahead of them, Vettel had a new wing and opted for a set of supersofts. He made short work of those in front of him, passing ten cars in half as many laps. His tumultuous race was not yet done of drama, and Vettel had a clumsy moment when he touched Bottas while trying an optimistic overtake at turn six and once again found himself with a damaged front wing. It did not seem to blunt Vettel’s pace, and the next lap he made a bold move on Fernando Alonso at the end of the back straight.
Hamilton overtook Raikkonen and began his journey up the pack, with Raikkonen not far behind. The Briton ran as high as fifth, but failed to make his way past the Williams of Felipe Massa. This allowed both Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo, on fresher tyres, to pass Hamilton on their way to fifth and fourth respectively. The ‘Honey Badger’ Ricciardo had a storming drive to fourth, making the medium compound tyres work beautifully and making several fantastic overtaking moves. He must rue the tyre failure which surely cost him a podium. Instead, he was to look on as Daniil Kvyat stood on the third step for Red Bull.
After the race, in the driver’s cool down room Vettel and Kvyat had a heated discussion regarding their first lap incident. Vettel maintained that were it not for his avoiding action, the pair would surely have collided as Kvyat was carrying too much speed to make the corner safely. A frustrated Vettel was quick to point out that his accident with Raikkonen was the direct result of Kvyat’s impetuous behaviour. Kvyat defended himself explaining that he saw a gap and went for it. “That’s racing” he stated. When Vettel suggested that they would have collided had both stayed on their original trajectories they would have crashed, Kvyat replied “then move”.
Rosberg had long ago left such drama behind him as he cruised to another trouble free win, his sixth in a row and continuing his perfect start to the 2016 season. He now has a 36 point lead in the Driver’s Championship over his team mate, but with 18 races left on the longest season ever in F1, there are surely many twists and turns yet to come.
F1 now heads to Sochi for the Russian Grand Prix.