You know the one about not judging a book by its cover. Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes bounced back from its unexpected round one defeat in Australia, to triumph in round two in China. A result that seems familiar, and for good reasons including that it’s Lewis’s win number five at this venue (as well as Merc’s fourth in a row here). So, a case of the empire striking back? On a certain level, yes. But to conclude only that would be an oversimplification.
The much anticipated Hamilton vs. Sebastian Vettel race battle didn’t materialise, due to a strategy call from Ferrari that didn’t work out. Another thing much anticipated – foul weather for race day – also didn’t altogether materialise but things were damp for the start. Equally though it was clear that dry weather tyres would need to be bolted on before very long.
Ferrari’s strategy flop
Vettel indeed chose to make his stop under a very early Virtual Safety Car, and it looked a master stroke as it meant that on the times once Lewis pitted – which surely would be shortly – the Ferrari would lead. But almost as soon as we could calculate that it swung back again. Antonio Giovinazzi rearranged his Sauber on a pit straight wall and as a result the safety car proper was brought out. This let Lewis pit and retain his lead. Worse for Seb four other cars were able to stay ahead after pitting as well. The day, already, was framed.
The German recovered to second in fine style, and showed pace in clear air which suggested he could well with a straightforward day have faced down Lewis and Merc just as in Australia. But Lewis in the circumstances had things well under control out front; by the time Seb got to second Lewis was 11 seconds up the road, and he managed matters from there to win with comfort.
F1’s mark of quality
Despite the result Ferrari will be encouraged by its China visit, as it confirmed that its 2017 title challenge is genuine; that its Australia victory in round one was not only explained by that venue’s many peculiarities. That likely is the weekend’s most important take-out.
The rest of us should be encouraged too – not just that our title battle to relish of Lewis vs. Seb and Merc vs. Ferrari has been confirmed, but also that following our post-Melbourne panic it looks like we’ll have fine racing more generally. In China’s race Max Verstappen on Daniel Ricciardo, Romain Grosjean on Jolyon Palmer, and – especially – Vettel on Ricciardo, were aggressive contested overtakes in the braking zone, and that will live on in memory. We didn’t get close to the total number of passes of last year’s race, but none of those lived on in the same way, given they likely were cruising past with the DRS open. F1 discovered in China that quality trumps quantity.
And whether it is its title battle, driving line up or, hopefully, its entertainment, the modern F1 appears, at last, to have no shortage of quality.