Chinese Grand Prix – The End of the Beginning

Every picture tells a story…
If truth be told the Chinese Grand Prix doesn’t remotely deserve a Churchillian quote (given its insipid nature a Nick Clegg quote – if indeed there is such a thing as a memorable Cleggy quote – would be far more appropriate). However, this race does mark the end of the first tranche of long-haul races in random timezones at generally less than inspiring tracks. We are now entering the European Phase of the Calendar (with the honourable exception of the marvellous Circuit de Gilles-Villeneuve in Canada). Coming up we have a glorious run of races starting in two weeks at Barcelona, followed by Monaco, Canada, Austria, Silverstone, Hockenheim, Hungary, Spa and Monza. And who knows one of the races may astound us all totally and be won by someone who doesn’t drive for Mercedes.

Jochen Rindt at Monaco (just to wet the appetite for the upcoming European leg)

Is it too early in the season to rehash the old Red Bull line (those were the days hey Christian?) and talk in fond terms of Anyone But Mercedes? Last weekend’s race in Shanghai marked a hat-trick of wins for Lewis Hamilton (his first hat-trick of wins ever in F1) in yet another peerless drive. It is fair to say that the often angst-ridden and fragile, but undeniably extremely gifted, Lewis Hamilton, is in a happy place these days. He still trails Rosberg by 4 points in the championship but has all the momentum right now.

Maybe Lewis has been hanging with Pharrell some more again
Previously at Monaco

But oddly it was Nico Rosberg’s second place finish that most underlined the dominance of Mercedes – after a relatively disastrous qualifying (overdriving in the wet resulting in 4thplace on the grid), messing up the start after banging cars with Valtteri Bottas, losing his telemetry for the entire race and having to manually feed back fuel info to the team all race long, he still managed to finish 2nd. It is testament to Nico’s fighting spirit and his awesome car that he still finished ahead of all the other teams.

The Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton – in a class of its own at the Chinese Grand Prix
Lets pause for a moment then to all hail the Mercedes W05. I thought it would be good but I didn’t think it would be this good. It is dominating in a way never seen before in F1 (but admittedly early doors and all that). It has taken every single pole position, every fastest lap and every race win. The last team to win the first four races of the season was somewhat surprisingly (given Red Bull’s recent years of back to back titles) the Renault in 2005 but the previous year, Michael Schumacher made it 5 wins in the first five races for Ferrari (Schuey went on to finish that season with an incredible 13 wins – there’s something for Lewis and Nico to aim for!).

Schumacher wins the Spanish GP to make it 5 wins out of 5 races in 2004

But most jaw-droppingly of all, the Mercedes W05 has led EVERY SINGLE LAP of all the races so far this season. Not since the Williams FW14 back in 1992 (when Mansell won the first five races of the season) has a team led every single lap of the first 4 races. Only one other team has achieved this feat in F1 history – no prizes for guessing it was the iconic MP4-4 with possibly the greatest team line-up in history in Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. Between them, they won 15 out of 16 races in the 1988 season. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg could well repeat that feat barring mechanical failure, driver error or a notable performance improvement by one of the other teams. Given Adrian Newey is the resident Emeritus Professor of Genius Upgrades in F1 it is just possible that the Red Bull might yet spoil the party. A little.

You want teammate wars? The current crop have nothing on Senna and Prost. The original and the best.
After the do-not-adjust-your-sets craziness of Bahrain, the Chinese GP didn’t really capture the imagination in the same way. But it did see a very welcome return to form for Alonso and Ferrari who took their first podium of the season after a tumultuous week that saw the departure of Domenicali (as predicted in the Murray Walker sponsored blog of doom last time out). Perhaps talk of Ferrari’s demise is greatly exaggerated but yet again you feel Alonso is extracting great results despite (not because of) the car. It took until lap 42 for Rosberg to pass him, as we knew he inevitably would, for second place.

The other major talking point (aside from the amateurish screw-up to wave the chequered flag one lap early!) was the use of team orders at Red Bull (in episode #263 of the riveting Red Bull Team Orders soap opera). Once again in favour of Daniel Ricciardo who is having a very, very impressive start to his Red Bull career and totally making me eat my words. Vettel’s initial response on being told to let his team-mate through was a curt “tough luck”. I am looking forward to Vettel spectacularly throwing his toys out of the pram sometime soon. Ricciardo is wiping the floor with him in qualifying and on race day. It must be killing him.

The Red Bulls – each other’s biggest rival this season

Yet again McLaren had an awful weekend. Since the high of Melbourne (with two podium places), it has been rapidly downhill ever since. Button and Magnussen limped home in 11thand 13th respectively. Apparently they have an ‘interesting upgrade’ planned for the next race in Spain. By interesting lets hope they mean good.
And finally, spare a thought for poor old Kamui Kobayashi. He isn’t having the best of seasons. Then he comes to Shanghai, battles all race and passes Bianchi’s Marussia on the final lap (lap 56) only for the daft F1 rulebook to decide (after the whole chequered flag debacle) that the classified race results should be backdated to the end of the 54th lap. Life can be a bitch sometimes.
For me, an interesting dimension of the season is which team-mate battle will move onto a DEFCON 2 footing first. The intense rivalry at Mercedes between Hamilton and Rosberg is fascinating as there is so much at stake (ie. a championship that is there for the taking for Mercedes). Or there is the unexpected usurping of F1’s all-conquering champion, Vettel, by the smiling assassin that is everyone’s favourite second driver (or indeed first favourite driver!) Daniel Ricciardo. But I am keeping a very close eye on goings-on at Ferrari especially now it is reliving its dysfunctional glory days of sacking team managers! Kimi Raikkonen is having a dismal time on his return to the team and his response to the hammering he is getting in the media was classic Kimi:
“I don’t know why you always come up with motivation. If I didn’t have motivation I wouldn’t be here. It’s f*** all to do with this.”

Kimi, Kimi, Kimi what has happened?

So here in summary are the results from the Chinese Grand Prix of 2014: 

1.     Hamilton
2.     Rosberg
3.     Alonso
4.     Ricciardo
5.     Vettel
6.     Hulkenberg
7.     Bottas
8.     Raikkonen

Driver of the Day – it has to be the one on the right
For me personally, my driver of the day was Fernando Alonso. Simply faultless all weekend and somehow in an underwhelming Ferrari he is 3rd in the drivers standings. Next up it is Fernando’s home race which has had 7 different winners in the last 7 years. But ominously neither of those include Messrs Hamilton and Rosberg. 


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