We reached a milestone this weekend with F1’s 1000th race. Ferrari started in China as favourites, but they were always lacking a bit of pace against Mercedes. We get the impression the Scuderia threw everything at Q3 on Saturday, but they still came up short with Mercedes securing a front row lockout. Valtteri Bottas did well to take pole against his team mate. The Finn is fighting for his seat and this won’t have done his prospects for 2020 any harm at all.
So, onto Sunday and at Lights Out it was a dash between the two Mercedes to the first corner. Lewis Hamilton got there first after a wheel spin from Bottas. A white line just in front of the pole box is being cited as the possible cause, with Valtteri saying afterwards: “I guess I was a bit unlucky with that… Now if I could do it again, on the formation lap I would just light up the rear tyres and make black lines on it…. I thought maybe with warm tyres it’s going to be OK, but it wasn’t. That’s life.” A white line seems like a strange thing to lose a Grand Prix over, but those are the fine margins that drivers are dealing with.
Someone else on the wrong side of the margins was Danill Kvyat. We said after Melbourne what a good race he drove but ‘The Torpedo’ reverted to type in Shanghai and collided with not one but two McLaren’s on the first lap. It was clumsy and earned the Toro Rosso man a drive through penalty, at the same time effectively ending Lando Norris’ race and seriously compromising Carlos Sainz. Kyvat said afterwards he felt the penalty was “quite harsh”, we don’t agree.
Once everything had settled down again it was obvious the two Mercedes were starting to pull clear of the field. Ferrari went into early panic mode, with the team ordering Charles Leclerc to let Sebastian Vettel past. Leclerc questioned the decision at the time, saying: “But I’m pulling away,” however he did as he was told. The problem was that having been given third spot Vettel failed to make any inroads and made an unforced error, locking his wheels, to further frustrate his team mate. There will be friction bubbling under the surface at Ferrari after this weekend…
After the race Nico Rosberg suggested that Ferrari’s aerodynamics could be the biggest problem, saying: “Mercedes are big, big favourites at the moment. They’re just looking so strong… Ferrari have pitched their car in the wrong place aerodynamically. They have way too little drag and just not enough downforce in the corners. That’s where they’re losing a lot of time.”
It will be all hands-on deck at Maranello to readdress this balance. A glimmer of hope for Scuderia fans is that Azerbaijan is next up. Baku City Circuit is the second longest on the calendar, with huge straights. If Ferrari can take advantage of their straight-line speed anywhere, it’s there.
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