April 09, 2017

F1 Update!: China 2017

A low and gray sky with a not-insignificant breeze greeted the Thundering Herd as they individually left their pit stalls and rolled out to the grid.  Actually, more often than not they came back through the pit lane for multiple pre-race laps.  There was a good reason for this: it had been raining all morning, and the possibility of rain coming back couldn't be discounted, but at the moment the track was drying.  The decision was clear on tire choice... everybody was on Intermediate rain tires.  Well, almost everybody.  But how would the slick track affect the drivers up front, Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and Seb Vettel's Ferrari?  Would a new rainmaster rise up?  And what of Embryo Verstappen, starting 16th after car problems in quals?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of China!

*LIGHTS ON: While the Inters were the tire of choice, one man dared venture out on the super-soft dry weather tires... Toro Rosso's Carlos Sainz.  A pretty massive gamble, but one that came directly from the driver.  Meanwhile, up at the front of the grid, Seb Vettel had positioned his car somewhat off-center in his grid slot... and by "somewhat", we mean "half out."  He was doing this to be pointing in the right direction to challenge Hamilton right off the start, but the degree he was doing it was a clear rules violation.  The assembled members of F1U!'s editorial board were duly surprised when Charlie Whiting, the long-time race master for F1, let the race start without forcing Vettel to fix the problem.

*LIGHTS OUT
:  It didn't matter all that much, however.  Hamilton had a cracking start and held off both the Ferrari driver and his own teammate Valterri Bottas into Turn 1.  Behind them, Verstappen immediately began hacking his way through the field, ending up an amazing seventh after one lap.  Carlos Sainz, beginning the race on slicks, had a less-than-stellar start but quickly began to recover lost places as his tires showed their superiority over the Inters. 

*VSC, SC: Unfortunately Sainz never got to benefit from his gamble.  The Williams of Pleasant Stroll found himself buried in the kittylitter after a botched pass.  As it wasn't in an immediately dangerous location, Whiting called for a Virtual Safety Car.  This meant that everybody had to slow to a certain speed and, critically, hold position.  This let Lewis Hamilton keep his lead, and indeed, technically increase it when Vettel stopped for dry weather tires.  In a way, though, this meant that Vettel had the advantage: the Mercedes driver would have to change tires to slicks eventually, which would put the Ferrari in the catbird seat.  After all, Vettel changed his tires when everybody was rollin' slow.  Hamilton would have to do it when the race was green. The VSC lasted for a lap or so, then the field went back to racin'.  Until Sauber's Tony Snazzy managed to leave half his car scattered down the front straight after blasting the inside wall.  THAT brought out a real safety car, which gave Hamilton the break he needed to change to slicks.  He didn't even lose the lead while doing so.  Meanwhile, Carlos Sainz had to be wondering why the racing gods hated him.  His gamble deserved to work, and yet due to the failures of others, his advantage lasted a grand total of two racing laps.

*MIDDLE: Once the race resumed, Hamilton was in the lead and... Embryo Verstappen was in second place.  16th to 2nd in eight laps, not shabby.  However, the Red Bull driver could not keep up with the Mercedes.  Behind him, Smiley Ricciardo's Red Bull had Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and Vettel all over him rear wing.  The Finn was totally unable to effect a pass, and was complaining about his car to boot.  Meanwhile, Vettel was frantically trying to get around his teammate and having a singular lack of success.  This went on for at least 10 laps, while Hamilton opened his lead over Verstappen dramatically.  Eventually, Vettel got past his teammate.  A lap or two later, he blew past Ricciardo and began tracking down the other Red Bull driver.  This chase only last a few laps before Vettel destroyed the youngster.  The difference in pace between the Ferrari and the Red Bull was telling, and he quickly left him in the dust, but the damage had been done: Hamilton had a 10 second lead.  One is forced to wonder why Ferrari didn't tell Raikkonen to let his teammate past... we know they're not afraid to use Team Orders, after all... but it's hard to conclude anything but Ferrari threw away any chance to win the race during the time Vettel spent behind the Finn.

*END: As it turned out, that's exactly what happened.  Hamilton made his last stop for new tires after everybody else, never lost the lead, and cruised to a relatively easy win.  There is reason for optimism down the road, however.  While Hamilton did win handily, he wasn't able to open his lead on Vettel at all, and indeed he lost time here and there.  The Ferrari was actually faster than the Mercedes... but the race was lost during those laps where Vettel couldn't get past his teammate.  Meanwhile, the third step on the podium was claimed by none other than Embryo Verstappen.  From 16th to podium?  That's a useful drive, yep yep!  It's hard to think anything other than we'll be seeing a bunch of those three during the rest of the season.  Carlos Sainz's daring gamble earned him something of a booby prize: he finished seventh.  Points, at least.

*OH, ONE MORE THING...:  Hamilton got himself a Grand Slam today: pole position, fast lap of the race, led every lap, and race win.  That's his third, and only Vettel's four has more among active drivers.  Jim Clark had eight.

So that's it for China, next week we'll be in Bahrain!  See ya there.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 02:43 PM | Comments (4) | Add Comment
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1 I asked Will if he would be embarrassed if I posted here as his wife and said that Verstappen is my favorite. He said he didn't care, so let's find out if that's true. 
I thought this race was pretty exciting (minus the 1-2 outcome, which as you said was a foregone conclusion once Vettel finally got past Kimi; at that point, Vettel's tires were much fresher than Max's, and his car is faster, so he was obviously going to overtake Max, but he wouldn't be able to catch Hamilton). The dueling Red Bulls on the last few laps had me on the edge of my seat. There was some other good activity further down the standings (and Haas got points, yay).
(I just realized Verstappen is basically the same generation as our oldest. He really is an embryo.)
Thanks for these updates! I enjoy them. 

Posted by: Mrs. Will at April 10, 2017 11:02 AM (Bb7Ib)

2 Mrs Will, thank you for being here!  Hell, after reading your comment, do you want to do the writeup for Bahrain?

Posted by: Wonderduck at April 10, 2017 06:29 PM (UDOXQ)

3 If you want a Max Verstappen Update, sure :-) Seriously, I am new to F1 - that's why I really appreciate the context you give. (I started watching it halfway through last season when our youngest (who turns 1 next month!) had us up at unseasonable hours and it was the only thing on. I find it interesting from a professional standpoint (I am an electrical engineer who deals with minimizing size, weight, and power in extreme environments) and also in terms of the interpersonal drama - it cracks me up when the drivers say passive-aggressive things about each other.)
(And I like Max because he is the most entertaining on the track. His drive in Brazil last year put me in his corner. I will say, though, that he really needs to step up his game on the passive-aggressive comments aspect of the job.)

Posted by: Mrs. Will at April 10, 2017 07:07 PM (dw88k)

4 16th to podium, hot damn. That kid may be going places.

Posted by: GreyDuck at April 10, 2017 07:15 PM (rKFiU)

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