Maybe the 2018 Formula 1 season will not be as dull as we all expected. A mid-race safety car caused by the two Red Bull ‘B’ team drivers having a coming together at the turn 14 hairpin, conspiracy theorists ahoy, certainly spiced things up with a late call from the Red Bull pit wall that allowed both drivers to put on the yellow marked soft tire while their rivals stayed out on the white marked medium tires.
The start was a typical Sebastian Vettel affair, the German chopped across the front of his teammate, Kimi Raikkonen who started alongside him on the front row, that allowed Mercedes rival Valtteri Bottas to take advantage of the compromised Raikkonen to move into second place. Meanwhile, Max Verstappen in the Red Bull with a set of ultra-soft tires on, made an amazing start to move past Hamilton through turns 3 and 4 and got a run on Raikkonen down to the turn six hairpin to move up two places to third place.
Fast forward to lap 17, Red Bull stacked their drivers in the pits for a new set of the white marked medium tires, clearly, with a view of going to the end of the race. Lewis Hamilton, running in 5th place at the time, did the same on lap 18, likewise, Bottas followed suit on lap 19, looking for the undercut on Ferrari and it worked brilliantly. When Ferrari pitted Vettel on lap 20, for the same medium tires, the Mercedes of Bottas cruised on by as Vettel exited the pits to take the race lead away from the German.
It was even worse for Raikkonen, who Ferrari seemingly used to back Bottas into the clutches of Vettel. However, the Finn could not keep his compatriot behind on his Ferrari’s degraded tires. As soon as Bottas got past, Raikkonen immediately released Vettel to chase after Bottas while he pitted for tires at the end of the lap, which cost him two positions, falling behind both Hamilton and Ricciardo to sixth place.
On lap 31; Pierre Gasly made a late dive down the inside of the turn 14 hairpin and collided with his Toro Rosso teammate Brendan Hartley, leaving debris strewn across the track on the apex of the hairpin at the end of the back straight. After the race, it was explained that it was a miscommunication of what should have been an orchestrated change of position between teammates. This prompted the safety car to be deployed so marshalls could clear the debris from the track and gave Red Bull a significant advantage.
As the safety car was deployed, leaders Bottas and Vettel had passed the pit entrance, while Red Bull made the “box, box, box” call to both drivers, Verstappen had just cleared the pit box as Ricciardo came in, perfect syncronized pit stops from Red Bull. After the restart, Ricciardo wasted little time regaining fifth place from Raikkonen. A couple laps later, Ricciardo moved into fourth place as teammate, Verstappen challenged Hamilton for third place and the Briton ran Verstappen wide on the outside of turn 7.
One lap later, Ricciardo, the last of the late brakers, dived down the inside of Hamilton at the hairpin at the end of the back straight to take third place. The Red Bull show continued with Verstappen passing Hamilton for fourth as Ricciardo breezed past the Ferrari of Vettel on the back straight for second. Verstappen, then got greedy, trying to squeeze into an ever decreasing gap making contact with Vettel, sending both drivers into a spin, for which, the FIA later handed Verstappen a 10 second time penalty.
Ricciardo was not done, on lap 45, he made another massive dive down the inside of Bottas for the lead and made it stick, although it was close, it looked like Bottas was going to shut the door, but the Finn saw the Australian at the last minute and jinked away to give the Red Bull driver space. Verstappen did catch and pass Hamilton once more after his contact with Vettel, but because of the 10 second time penalty, Hamilton was promoted back to 4th place, with the Dutchman being classified in fifth place.
Ferrari’s Vettel eventually finished in eighth place, being overtaken by the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso in the closing stages as Vettel was clearly suffering from a lack of grip from his now 36 lap old tires and possible collision damage. Renault’s Carlos Sainz took the chequered flag in ninth place while HAAS’ Kevin Magnussen claimed the final point of the Chinese Grand Prix 2018.
From a personal perspective, this was an amazing race, we got to see some bonafide overtaking and my favorite driver won the race with an immense driving performance. Given that Danny Ric got out for the first qualifying session with only 3 minutes remaining on the clock after a turbo failure in practice 3 and scraped into qualifying 2, to win the race was an amazing feat from both, driver and team.
I’ve already heard conspiracy theories, about Red Bull collusion, between their A and B teams and even a suggestion, that race director, Charlie Whiting, waited for the leaders to pass the pit entrance to spice things up. Of course, I don’t believe this for one second, but if that was the intention, it worked brilliantly.
Chinese Grand Prix 2018 Results
|1. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) 1:35:36.380
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +8.894
3. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) +9.637
4. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +16.985
5. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +20.436
|6. Nico Hulkenberg (Renault) +21.052
7. Fernando Alonso (McLaren) +30.639
8. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +35.286
9. Carlos Sainz (Renault) +35.763
10. Kevin Magnussen (HAAS) +39.594