Chinese Grand Prix- That Pass Tho
It almost didn't happen. The smog is such a problem in Shanghai that it almost canceled the whole event as Friday practice sessions were cancelled leaving in doubt the entire weekend. The reason was that the smog was so thick that the medical helicopter (mandatory under F1 rules) would not be able to fly in the event of an emergency. Formula 1 officials were able to mitigate the issue by having the medical facilities to which the helicopter would fly, if needed, moved closer to the track so that the distance could be managed quickly with 4 wheel transportation. Yes, even with all of the technology and millions of dollars needed to make a F1 weekend happen, smog almost brought it down.
Thankfully, the race did occur. In the second race of the season we again saw something different that confirmed that this is indeed going to be a very different season. Whereas, in the last two years, drivers got a few good laps out of the tires and then had to back-off for most of the race, this season's rules changes allow the drivers to push harder, and for longer throughout the race. DRS doesn't work the same as before, pushing most of the passing into the DRS zones, but rather is working as it should be, allowing drivers to get close but still forcing the drivers to do the hard work.
After qualifying was over, it appeared that viewers might be treated to more of the same (2016 redux) as Lewis Hamilton would take the pole, and the race would probably take the typical familiar route as Hamilton would probably speed off in the distance leaving everyone else to fight for scraps. It would be so much more. From the opening, 19-year-old Max Verstappen would pass nine cars on the opening lap, hiding any weakness that may exist in the Red Bull. Ferrari would make an early pit, right before a virtual safety car, putting Vettel Vettel back in 5th place in what looked like another blown Ferrari strategy call. This turned out to provide the excitement as Vettel would need to clear his team mate and two Red Bulls to claim his second place finish.
Vettel made a move on Ricciardo on lap 22 that, we hope, sets the tone for this season (pucker factor 9). That is, if you want the spot on track, you will have to take it. For several laps Vettel appeared to plot and plan his attack, likely to come at Turn 6. In a master class Vettel on lap 22 would make his move going around the outside of turn 6 and once leaving the corner banging wheels with Ricciardo. It was the the pass that F1 fans have waited so long for.
Hamilton went go to take the win, his third straight at the Chinese Grand Prix. To keep his lead he had to push near the end to match the blistering lap times put down by Vettel.
Alonso- Fernando Alonso continues every race weekend to drag his McLaren through the field to push its performance well beyond what it's capable of. The McLaren-Honda is a disaster of engineering proving that it takes more than a blank check to build a winning car. It's an around 20kph off the top speed of other cars, meaning that it's nothing more than a mobile speed bump. Somehow Alonso gets his car in the points, or pretty close, even taking time to tell his team over the radio "Im faster in the corners." He was as high as eighth on Sunday before the car gave up, unable to match Alonso's demands.
Verstappen- As mentioned before, he passed almost half the field on the first lap. He chased down Hamilton while in second place, putting real pressure on the current champion. Only later would he defend so hard against Vettel that he locked up a front tire leaving an opening for Vettel to take advantage and second spot. In the post race podium interview he stated, "I think I passed nine cars on my first lap. It felt a little bit like a video game for me"
Ferrari v Mercedes or Vettel v Hamilton- The F1 press has been quick to applaud the exciting battle between Mercedes and Ferrari so far this season. It is nice to see that a team other than the silver arrows can mount a real challenge and force Mercedes to make choices in the race not to head off a hypothetical, but because Ferrari is a real threat. Is it really between two teams? Bottas with Mercedes and Raikkonen with Ferrari are not the tip of the spear for their respective teams, but seem to be in the role of solid #2's. They will be around to collect points here and there but the real battle is between the two drivers that have won the last seven world championships.