Chinese GP: team by team analysis

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F1 Grand Prix, GP China, Shanghai International Ciruitcn

New track record, spectacular overtaking manoeuvres, differing strategies. The 2017 Chinese GP left no one bored. We conduct a team by team analysis how the protagonists tackled the sometimes difficult conditions of the Shanghai International Circuit.

Mercedes Race: 1st for Lewis Hamilton, 6th for Valtteri Bottas
The team’s fastest lap: 1:35.378
The team’s fastest qualifying lap: 1:31.678

Mercedes arrived in China with the aim to fight back after it lost out to Ferrari a fortnight ago in the season-opening Australian GP. The Anglo-German team secured the pole position and the win with Lewis, but its second driver Valtteri Bottas endured a rather troublesome race aifter he span around during the Safety Car period while desperately heating up his tyres. Mercedes’ best qualifying lap was 0,186 faster than Ferrari’s one. That difference in the race was 0,045 between the two teams. Ferrari seemed to have the upper hand in the twisty first sector both in the qualifying and the race, Mercedes was slightly faster in the middle part of the track and had around two tenths advantage in the last sector with the never-ending back straight. The team was helped by the cool, damp conditions which meant tyre wear was not an issue. The Shanghai International Circuit mounts a real challenge to the front tyres. If they are not up to temperatures or they are worn, drivers are forced to hesitate with the throttle and therefore give up valuable time in the long corners. Mercedes seemed to cope very well with that sensitivity over the course of the weekend. However, in certain conditions, the rear of the car was nervous and was on the ragged edge compared to the very stable rear end of rival Ferrari.

Team’s view on the race in short

Lewis Hamilton: “My pole lap put me in a great position and then the start was just fantastic. I’m really happy with my starts right now so I want to keep that up! During the race I needed to keep my composure in some really tricky conditions out there. In those final 20 laps Seb and I were just pounding around as fast as we could, exchanging fastest lap times, that’s what racing is all about.

Valtteri Bottas: “I’m very disappointed with today. I made a good start but it didn’t go so well from there. Yes, we lost some time in the pit stop but it was nothing compared to what we lost with my mistake. I was trying everything I could to get temperature in the tyres behind the Safety Car but went too aggressive and lost control of the car. It was entirely my fault. I’m leaving for Bahrain tonight and I’m glad the next race comes soon.

Ferrari Race: 2nd for Sebastian Vettel, 5th for Kimi Räikkönen
The team’s fastest lap: 1:35.423
The team’s fastest qualifying lap: 1:31.864

Scuderia Ferrari started the second race of the 2017 season with high pressure on its shoulders. The team showed a never-expected turnaround with its new car in winter testing which was then confirmed with Sebastian Vettel’s commanding triumph in the season-opening Australian GP. The team was strong from the word go on Saturday morning practice session. Vettel went on to claim the second spot on the grid with just over a tenth behind pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton. His getaway from the grid was not the best like his start in Australia which indicates Ferrari might have lost its superior starts of last season after FIA tightened the software rules regarding the clutch system. With an unfortunate safety car, Vettel was stuck in traffic and was around 12 seconds behind Hamilton when the pair completed their last pit stop. The German finished the race 6.250 adrift the Briton by gaining on the triple world champion in the opening laps of the second stint.

Kimi Räikkönen described the speed of his car as “not bad”, but complained about balance issues. The Finn was content with the car on fresh tyres, but suffered from heavy understeer as the stints went on. The Finn has been fighting with an understeery nature of the SF70-H since the Barcelona testing which is a bad sign as he usually prefers a car which is “pointy”. It is a complete opposite to last year when Räikkönen usually found easy to set his car up for every condition. The shift in aerodynamic balance or the shift in grip level thanks to the much wider front and rear tyres could be the reason for the struggles of the 2007 champion. He also confirmed the problems relating engine settings he complained about on the radio during the race. Räikkönen said there is huge potential in the car to unlock, but he still need more time to fine-tune its setup. According to him, the situation was more promising than in Melbourne, but the lack of running on Friday meant his group of engineers could not work on that.

Team’s view on the race in short

Sebastian Vettel: “We can be happy with today’s results. The race was a lot of fun, very entertaining. I think that pace-wise we were a match today, sometimes he was faster, sometimes I was: if we can fight with Mercedes also in Bahrain that will be again good news. We can still improve.”

Kimi Räikkönen: “It was not a very strong race, the car felt good with fresh tires, but we seemed to lose the front very quickly and I was struggling; in a place like this that’s very tricky and gives a lot of laptime away. This result is far from ideal but this is what we have got today.

Red Bull Race: 3rd for Max Verstappen, 5th for Daniel Ricciardo
The team’s fastest lap: 1:36.722
The team’s fastest qualifying lap: 1:33.033

Red Bull capitalized on the difficult weather conditions of the Chinese GP in a bid to compensate the current pure pace deficit to its rivals Mercedes and Ferrari. Daniel Ricciardo started the race from the fifth position while his team-mate Max Verstappen saw the green lights on the 16th spot after engine mapping woes in the qualifying session. The young Dutchman fought his way up on the first lap by gaining nine position in the first minutes of the race. With an early safety car, Verstappen found himself in contention for the podium. He fought a fierce battle with his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo in different phases of the race. The Australian had balance issues early on when he battled with understeer, but he then came alive in the latter stages of the race when he had the upper hand over Verstappen. The Perth-born almost surmounted to Hasselt-born, but Max resisted the scathing assaults from his team-mate. Red Bull left China with a huge grin on its face, but it acknowledged that work has to be done to mount a real challenge against Ferrari and Mercedes on dry track.

Team’s view on the race in short

Max Verstappen:“It was a very good first lap, I passed nine cars I think which is very positive. I think on pure pace in the dry we are still a bit slow for a podium but all things considered today we definitely MAXED it out.”

Daniel Ricciardo: “I have mixed emotions, it’s obviously disappointing to miss out on the podium as it was so close today but as a team it’s a good result to finish third and fourth. As a team we should be pleased with the result and we learnt a lot today but we still have some work to do to close the gap to Mercedes and Ferrari.”

Toro Rosso Race: 7th for Carlos Sainz, DNF for Daniil Kvyat
The team’s fastest lap: 1:37.398
The team’s fastest qualifying lap: 1:33.719

In the qualifying for the Chinese GP, Toro Rosso confirmed its position among the fierce midfield pack. The STR12 which is labelled as the best-looking car, was 1,9 seconds adrift the pole time and within three tenths of the fierce trio of rivals Williams, Renault and Force India. Daniil Kvyat started the race from the 9th position while Carlos Saint from the 11th. On Sunday, things went the other way. The Russian suffered with issues regarding tyre temperatures on the ‘ice-cold’, damp track when the temperatures of the track surface were around 14 Celsius degrees. In the end, he had to retire from the race with a hydraulic problem. Carlos Sainz collected six points with his seventh position. The Spaniard was the only driver to start the race on slick tyres which was his very own decision. The car’s race pace was pleasantly promising and better than its qualifying pace in relative terms to its three closest rivals.

Team’s view on the race in short

Carlos Sainz: “WOW! What a race, I just don’t have words to describe it! On the grid I said I wanted to start the race on slick tyres and everyone thought I was completely mad! It was just an incredible race, I felt so comfortable in the car today and to finally cross the line in P7 is a great result – I’d like to thank the team for the whole weekend, we can all be very happy!”

Daniil Kvyat: “What a shame, we had a hydraulic failure which still needs to be investigated and therefore had to stop the car. Just before that, we were struggling a bit on the Soft tyre and it was a bit hard to keep them up to temperature. We have the pace and I look forward to next week’s race weekend in Bahrain where we will come back stronger!”

Haas-Ferrari Race: 8th for Kevin Magnussen, 11th for Romain Grosjean
The team’s fastest lap: 1:37.528
The team’s fastest qualifying lap: 1:34.164

The Haas Team endured a rather frustrating weekend with one side of the garage while the other one left China with delight. Romain Grosjean had a torrid qualifying session. Firstly, he span on his first hot lap, then his second one was destroyed by the crashing Antonio Giovinazzi. The Frenchman, then, had to swallow a penalty for allegedly not slowing down sufficiently. He has been long on the rampage because of it and he even posted a telemetry shot which shows that he did indeed slow down 50m earlier then before. In the race, he lost valuable time when Giovinazzi crashed out again in front of him, but he was delighted with the speed of his Haas-Ferrari. Magnussen had a solid race after a slowish getaway. The Dane hailed the strategists of his team for choosing the supersoft compound after the intermediates.
Team’s view on the race in short

Kevin Magnussen: “The car’s been good today. I was able to look after the front tires, which I think was key, along with working with the team to get the car in the right window. It’s so much more fun when you’re fighting in the points. I’m happy for the team and we’re looking forward to the coming races.”

Romain Grosjean: “We saw the checkered flag and the lap times were looking decent. I think we had more, but it’s time to look forward to the next race and, hopefully, it’s going to get better.””

Force India Race: 9th for Sergio Perez, 10th for Esteban Ocon
The team’s fastest lap: 1:36.531
The team’s fastest qualifying lap: 1:33.706

Force India’s Bob Fernley hailed his drivers before the race for being in a good form. Vijay Mallya’s Sahara Force India Team showed a strong performance during the Chinese GP with a reward of three championship points. In a race which Sergio Perez called entertaining, the Indian-Anglo squad had to withstand pressure of different nature. Ocon lost time on lap two when he drove into the pits, but the team was not prepared for him, so he had to drive out of the pit without receiving new tyres. He estimated that the incident cost him at least 15 seconds. The team’s Mexican driver Sergio Perez had a slow getaway after the lights went from red to green and had an unfortunate contact with Williams’ Lance Stroll. The Guadalajara-born could continue, but he got a puncture. The team had a strong race pace, and was neck-on-neck with its fierce rivals Williams, Toro Rosso and Renault in qualifying as only two tenths of a second separated these four squads.

Team’s view on the race in short

Sergio Perez: “It feels great to come away from an entertaining race with some more points. I think we finished where we deserved in terms of car pace. It’s another great result for the whole team and our twelfth consecutive race in the points, which is a special achievement.”

Esteban Ocon: “Finishing the race in the top ten is a good recovery, but I still feel I could have been a couple of places higher up. The car felt quite good today and finishing in tenth shows we can make a good improvement on Sundays. Next week we race in Bahrain and, unlike Melbourne and Shanghai, it’s a track I know well and where I’ve had success in the past. I got pole in GP3 in 2015”

Renault Race: 12th for Nico Hülkenberg, 13th for Jolyon Palmer
The team’s fastest lap: 1:38.015
The team’ highest top-speed:
The team’s fastest qualifying lap: 1:33.580
Team’s view on the race in short

Nico Hülkenberg: “We took a risk right at the end of the first lap and came in for slicks as the track was really dry everywhere apart from the main straight. As I exited the box though, Stroll crashed and the Virtual Safety Car came out, and in damp conditions if you can’t push, you lose all the tyre temperature. I lost all grip; it was like driving on ice and I spun a few times… From there it just went wrong, the VSC pretty much ruined our strategy and so the race. It’s a shame because I think it could have worked out very nicely for us today.”

Jolyon Palmer: “It was a difficult race. We made the right call to pit at the end of the formation lap but I hit a wet patch when racing a Toro Rosso, then the tyres lost temperature under the Virtual Safety Car, so it was a very difficult first stint. On the plus side, the car ran reliably and I have a race distance under my belt now. Now we reset and head to Bahrain with the objective of a much better weekend.”

Williams Race: 14th for Felipe Massa, DNF for Lance Stroll
The team’s fastest lap: 1:36.511
The team’s fastest qualifying lap: 1:33.507

Massa set a very competitive lap at the end which was even faster than Red Bull’s fastest race laps, but that came after a very late pit stop with only seven laps to go.

Team’s view on the race in short

Felipe Massa: "I’m really disappointed today as everything went wrong for us. I had too much wheelspin at the start, and then behind the safety car we had five slow laps on the dry tyres, so they were completely cold. I wasn’t able to drive in the proper way because it felt like I was driving on ice. That was the worst part; we lost so much time and so many positions. Then we tried to risk stopping before the others to see if we could pass people and keep up the pace, but I couldn’t. We need to carry on trying to do what we did in the first race in Australia and qualifying here. Now we will look forward and concentrate on Bahrain."

Lance Stroll: "I was hit from the rear at Turn 10 and that was the end of my race. I was in front, knew the corner was mine and had to turn in eventually. It was just unfortunate as that was my race over. I got hit and then the car was broken, most likely with a puncture and damaged suspension. While today was difficult, we have some positives to take out of this weekend, as the qualifying was good even if the race was not what we wanted. But it is still early days and there are a lot more opportunities. I am now looking forward to Bahrain next weekend and that is what I am concentrating on now."

Sauber Race: 15th for Marcus Ericsson, DNF for Antonio Giovinazzi
The team’s fastest lap: 1:39.732
The team’s fastest qualifying lap: 1:34.892

Sauber’s mechanics experienced how to rebuild the team’s 2017 machinery in a very short space of time. Ferrari’s third driver Antonio Giovinazzi who stepped in again to replace the team’s race driver Pascal Wehrlein, crashed his Sauber in the qualifying session. The young Italian’s pace would have allowed him to take part in Q2 which shows his promising speed, but the lack of running in Australia and on Friday in China meant, he got hardly any running before the curtains were rung up. In the race, the former GP2 frontrunner crashed again heavily, but escaped unscathed from that. Marcus Ericcson complained about the low track and air temperatures which made it hard to put the tyres into their ideal operating window. In Q2 of the qualifying session, Sauber was 2,8 seconds slower than the best time of that qualifying segment which puts the team at the bottom of the field regarding the pure pace.

Wehrlein is understood to have suffered injuries to his vertebrae due to the high compression experienced during his crash in the Race of Champions in Miami. Since the doctors forbade him to train in the first weeks after the accident, he is still lagging behind with his training programme. The German is expected to complete his first race for the Swiss team in the Bahrain GP, but at latest at the Russian GP.

Team’s view on the race in short

Marcus Ericsson: “I had a good start as well as a decent first lap. During the virtual safety car phase we were changing to soft tyres, even though we knew that the track was partly dry as well as still wet. The conditions were tricky as well as the asphalt temperatures being relatively low, which made it difficult to get the tyres to work. Overall, I struggled with the tyres during the whole race – I never really got them into the right working window.”

Antonio Giovinazzi: “First of all, I want to apologize again to the team. They did a great job to get the car ready for the race. It was a shame that I crashed again today. A learning lesson – I just want to forget this weekend quickly.”

McLaren-Honda Race: DNF for Fernando Alonso, DNF for Stoffel Vandoorne
The team’s fastest lap: 1:39.496
The team’s fastest qualifying lap: 1:34.372

The team approached the weekend with utter pessimism. It thought the never-ending back straight of the Shanghai International Circuit would hamper its chances in the second race of the season. Fernando Alonso, however, went on to claim the 13th position 0.282 seconds adrift the bar of getting into Q3. The Spaniard got off well on the damp circuit and clung to the seventh position for a while before retiring with an crankshaft issue. The double-world champion hailed his drive as incredible and pins hopes on the unexpected form the team showed during the first two races. He thinks technical issues are the natural consequence of the lack of running during the pre-season testing. The team’s young talent Stoffel Vandoorne also showed a good launch at the start, but he was forced to retire with a potential fuel problem.

Team’s view on the race in short

Fernando Alonso: “Today we proved once more how hungry we are to get a good result, but unfortunately we’re still not strong enough to finish the races. The lack of winter testing means we’re paying a big price now, but hopefully we can improve quickly.”

Stoffel Vandoorne: ”It’s a shame we couldn’t get to the finish today – the potential was there and the car felt quite competitive in the corners compared to the cars I was racing against. I felt the power drop and I could feel immediately we had very low power. It’s not ideal, and obviously I would have liked to go to the end.”