I apologize for the delay in reviewing yesterday's Grand Prix, but I have a good reason: I wasted today returning home from lovely Monza, where the season-opening of my favorite Blancpain GT Series was held this weekend. I will definitely tell you about what happened there in the near future, but for now - SHANGHAI!
The 1000th Grand Prix became indicative in many ways. It seems that nothing extraordinary happened on it, but episode to episode, and the picture at the finish line turned out to be almost prophetic: each of the pilots and each of the teams showed themselves from the most characteristic side, showing what they are capable of in reality. But not in every case this can be boasted …
How quickly the situation is changing: it seems that Ferrari just completely dominated the tests in Barcelona, showed excellent speed in Bahrain - and this is the third Grand Prix of the new season, and for the third time Scuderia is wasting all his wealth to no avail - on mistakes, miscalculations and meaningless team tactics. Having lost the first two races by pure chance, they lost the third already because the Mercedes, which was lagging behind in speed and power, is catching up with giant leaps - while Ferrari wastes seconds in a useless change of positions.
Over the past two years, at least two super-talented newcomers have come to Formula 1: Charles Leclair and George Russell. Formula 2 winner Russell rushed to sign a contract with Williams - and it is possible that ahead of him can expect a very generous offer from Mercedes, otherwise there was no point in ruining his career in a team that lags behind his own version of last year. But Russell now has no other options for the development of events. Leclair came to Ferrari after a year at Alfa Romeo, and he just has options, but so far he continues to maintain the status of a team player, fulfill the wishes of the management and play team tactics. How long will it last? Hardly. Most likely, Vettel has the right to make the last mistake - and after that it will already be possible to retire. It seems that Seb understands this very well, otherwise he would not have told the media aboutthat this season could be the last for him, and then the happy family man will return to his family and will be engaged in the restoration of furniture, which he told Hamilton with such enthusiasm in one of the New Year's videos.
Pirelli brought three of their middle squads to China, which were also used at the Australian Grand Prix: C2, C3 and C4. The asphalt at the Shanghai Autodrome is not very abrasive, but the main problem is the high wear on the front wheels and the inability to warm up the tires enough to get them to work at maximum. Pirelli offered several tire tactics, including one and two pit stops and using two of the toughest lineups. And if last year both options were approximately equally effective, then in this one we can say that Elbon, Riccardo, Perez and Raikkonen managed to maintain their high positions at the finish only due to the fact that they were driving with one pit stop: it was so tight and serious fight for places in the middle of the peloton.
Alexander Albon. It is unlikely that I will now say something new, but it is never too late to praise. Albon is a great fellow who has managed to show amazing composure and fortitude this weekend. After an extremely serious accident on Saturday practice, when he completely crashed his car at the exit from the last turn and, of course, could not participate in the qualification, the young Thai started from the pitlane, managed to win back ten positions during the race and finish in the Top 10, showing stable and competent race. It seems that it is he, and not Daniil Kvyat, who may be a contender for the place of Pierre Gasly in Red Bull.
Danya … A sore subject. After the race, several videos were published from different cameras, which captured the moment of the incident. An unequivocal opinion about who is to blame has not developed and, most likely, will not work out. It seems that the first contact with Carlos Sainz occurred through mutual fault: both cars dangerously close, for a moment turned out to be uncontrollable and collided. Sainz was behind Kvyat, hitting him in the left rear of the car and thus provoking a further collision with Lando Norris. In such a situation, the judges would be more correct to recognize this as a racing incident and either not punish anyone - or punish both. But the judges judged otherwise.
After the race, Daniel went to a meeting in the judges' room and after that told reporters that the judges agreed that the punishment was too harsh, but now there is nothing to be done. Kvyat refused to give any further details, explaining that the conversation took place behind closed doors and was not intended for prying ears.
One way or another, the collision and the subsequent punishment in the form of driving along the pitlane ruined his race. The tactics of the team with a late pit stop made even worse, and the late pit stops at this Grand Prix turned out to be a completely unfortunate decision. Then Kvyat had problems with the front wing - and, as a result, another pit stop on the 32nd lap. So his final retirement on the 42nd lap was a kind of salvation.
As for Gasly, for the third Grand Prix in a row he has been losing to his partner. This time, the qualification was indicative, in which he lost a huge 0.8 seconds to Max Verstappen, while in the other teams that showed qualifying takes, the difference was hundredths, or even thousandths of a second. This time, by the way, the starting grid turned out to be surprisingly well played for pairs between the five teams that became Top 5 at the end of last season. This demonstrated not only the alignment of forces in the Chinese race, but also the general level of technical training, when no one from this list conceded their positions to an opponent.
By the way, if we talk about the leaders, then in this race they did not give many reasons for conversation - unlike the rest of the peloton, but this happened only because both Mercedes were at an unattainable height for the rest. An excellent team qualification, an excellent team start and an excellent team finish - and again two Silver Arrows hit the target clearly: for the third race in a row they won the winning double, and if in Bahrain the victory was the result of Hamilton's exceptional luck, then in Shanghai everything was done exactly and flawless. Lewis started clean, took the lead and finished first, while Mercedes had a perfect double pit stop and were the best in everything. Pole position holder Valtteri Bottas loses the start to his partner - as the Finn would later say in a post-finish interview,the car slipped slightly on the white line, giving Hamilton an advantage at the start.
What about Ferrari? It is sad to write about this, but another Grand Prix has become a confirmation of the problems that the team has. At the end of last season, there was hope that Mattia Binotto, who was called the "evil genius of Ferrari", would be able to correct the strategic and tactical oversights of Arrivabene, and as a result, the start of the new season proves the opposite: all the steps taken by the new team leader directly in the races lead only to new and new failures.
In one of his interviews before the start of the 1000th Grand Prix, Binotto said that if Leclair is more convincing in the race than Vettel, the team is ready to hand over the leadership to him. "But other things being equal," Binotto said, "we will be working for Vettel, a four-time world champion who has more experience in playing."
And what is happening in Shanghai?
In qualifying on the last fast lap, Charles Leclair makes a small mistake and is only 0.017 seconds behind Vettel. Charles turns out to be a very ambitious driver - however, this is nothing new. After the finish, he scolds himself for a mistake and promises to improve in the race.
Immediately at the start, he wins back the position of Vettel and starts pursuing two Mercedes, however, he lacks the pace - as he later explains, the start of the race turned out to be very hectic. On the tenth lap, Mercedes came off more and more, and in the pits Ferrari began to get nervous. Charles receives the order to let Vettel forward. No arguments that he can keep pace and catch up with Mercedes do not help, he is once again strongly advised to give the position to his partner. Was Vettel faster at that moment? At least it looked like that, but the fact is that Vettel used DRS, and Leclair did not. Charles obeys the order - and what happens next? Already on this one exchange Ferrari lose about five seconds. Moreover, during the time that Vettel was driving behind Leclerc, his tires were quite degraded. Vettel overtakes Leclerc,but after that he can do nothing. Moreover, twice it blocks the wheels in braking and further spoils the tires. Now the gap from the nearest Mercedes Bottas is ten seconds, and the gap is widening.
Leclair, seeing what is happening, asks to give him one more chance, but the boxes at first refuse, and then say that they are discussing this possibility. Meanwhile, Leclair, in order not to finally kill the rubber in case the pits change their minds, lets Vettel go one and a half seconds ahead.
And then another RED tactical mistake happens. Carried away by the pursuit of Mercedes, they completely forget about Max Verstappen. Leclair's late pit stop (as well as Kvyat's late pit stop) is triggered against the pilot. Leclair returns to the track after the Dutchman. He is now fifth. And then Gasli takes away the best lap from Vettel - and now there are minus three points on the stage.
For Ferrari, it probably doesn't matter, Leclair finished fourth or fifth. Most likely, for Leclair as a whole, too, since he knows how to see the situation as a whole and understands that in this case he has become a victim of a team struggle. Not a very justifiable sacrifice. But for Leclair, the team is still more important than his personal victories. But this situation suggests, in general, that Ferrari with the new leadership is not yet able to act as a single mechanism, and their tactical and strategic decisions are far from grace and, most importantly, result.
After the race, Mattia Binotto said that he understands Leclair's feelings and considers him right to be upset, because it was a very upsetting moment for him. “We just tried to use all means in the fight against Mercedes, for us the team confrontation was more important than personal. It was the start of the race, but it was a strategically important moment. It is quite possible that next time the situation will turn in Leclair's favor. "
Charles Leclair, on the other hand, refused to give any comments until he talks with the team and understands what really happened. And after the conversation, he told the media that he was completely satisfied with the explanations:
“When you are inside the cockpit, you don't see the whole situation. So I accepted it, did what was required of me, and then focused on my own race. Am I happy with the explanations? Yes. Completely".
At the end of the Chinese Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel climbed to the third step of the podium, but can this result be called successful for Ferrari? Alas, this is their next failure. The difference between the two teams is already 57 points, Vettel and Leclerc are in fourth and fifth places in the individual classification (after China they swapped places), they are separated from Mercedes by a very fast Max Verstappen, and Vettel needs to score 31 points to catch up with Hamilton. Of course, now it is only the third Grand Prix, and everything can change … But the trend is very unpleasant.
As for Red Bull, they unconditionally take third place in the team competition, but so far they can only hope for one of their pilot. By the way, here is the team that takes into account all the little things and nuances! On lap 54, she makes a "free" pit stop for Pierre Gasly - he is seriously ahead of the seventh Daniel Riccardo, changes the Frenchman into new tires and sends him on a fast lap - on fresh tires and with empty tanks, and earns an extra point for the team … Max Verstappen has a great race, but his talent alone is not enough to regularly come to the podiums, and the fact that Red Bull has problems this season is becoming more obvious with every Grand Prix. After Bahrain, Christian Horner admitted that they missed the settings there. What will he tell you about the results of Shanghai? And another thing: where did that Verstappen go,which we were waiting with such horror and delight every Grand Prix? Is it going to be just as … boring?
As for Riccardo and Renault, it was one of the most successful races for them in recent years, despite the final retirement of Hulkenberg due to problems with the power plant: for the first time in a long time, both of their cars made it to the third qualification segment. It was also a good race for Riccardo. Firstly, he was finally able to retrain Niko, and secondly, he managed to score the first points and catch up with Hulkenberg in this: now both Renault drivers have six points in reserve.
Kimi Raikkonen also had a very good race. He showed very good speed for almost the entire distance and made several beautiful overtakes. Finishing in ninth place in China is an excellent result for Alfa Romeo. True, after the race, Kimi complained about the insufficient temperature of the tires and the inability to properly warm them up, which, in his opinion, affected the result. However, Antonio Giovinazzi was not so lucky this time. At first he became somewhat of a victim of the team's decision during qualifying when he suffered the same technical malfunction as Leclerc in the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Ferrari, after the previous race, found out why Leclair's car lost power in the last laps - the reason for this was problems with the injector of one of the engine cylinders. Similar problems were observed on Giovinazzi's car, as the engine supplier warned Alfa Romeo, but they did not take any action. In qualifying it happened again, and the Italian was unable to show the time. As a result, he was forced to start last, but his misadventures did not end there either. During a pit stop, a jack got stuck under his car, and he lost more time. As a result - the 15th result, that is, the last before Williams.
There is not much to tell about Williams. In qualifying, they started from an unusually high penultimate row - but only thanks to the fact that Giovinazzi and Albon started without time. Moreover, the time of both Williams in qualifying was even worse compared to their own last year, than even in Melbourne or Bahrain. At the finish, they closed the protocol, while George Russell with two pit stops was still faster than Robert Kubica with one.
For Mclaren, this race was extremely unsuccessful. And it's not even the incident with Daniil Kvyat, it's just that their indicators are starting to gradually decline - and last year the same thing happened. In qualifying, they managed to get to the second segment, but there they turned out to be the worst and dropped out of the further struggle. In the last laps of the race, they issued a retirement at Norris - so they will be able to replace his gearbox without penalty.
What about Haas? They had traditionally good qualification, closing the third segment with both cars. The race was not so successful: Grosjean - 11th, Magnussen - 13th. Sergio Perez finished eighth, while Lance Stroll was 16th in qualifying and 12th in the race. Despite Perez's eulogies, Stroll is not yet able to show high results and is seriously inferior to his teammate.
The next Grand Prix will be held in Baku on the last weekend of April, and I promise you a live report from there! …