F1 Chinese Grand Prix: The Song Remains the Same

f1-2015-china-hamilton-victoryThe old adage is two’s company and three’s a crowd. I’m wondering if the podium is getting a little crowded for Mercedes’ liking. Sure, the Mercedes team came through with another 1-2 finish with Lewis Hamilton again winning the race. However, Sebastian Vettel came home third for his third-straight podium with Ferrari.

Normally, that would be the most tidbit of info to titillate the Formula One press but there was so much fun to be had this weekend in Shanghai.

First, as always, we begin with a race recap. And, seemingly as always, the race started with Lewis Hamilton on pole for the third-straight race. He led away from the lights with Nico Rosberg and Vettel in his mirrors. The real fun was from Kimi Raikkonen who started sixth and quickly picked off both Williams to make his way to 4th.

The race wasn’t without some controversy. During the second stint, Rosberg complained quite a bit that teammate Hamilton was deliberately backing him up into the clutches of Vettel. In the first stint, Rosberg kept a decent sized gap to his teammate claiming that closing the gap ruined his front tyres. In the second stint, he radioed the team to speed Hamilton up so he didn’t run so close as to ruin his tyres but not so far back that he would fall into the clutches of the Ferraris.

I’d like to have a little sympathy for Nico but he is a racing driver. If he doesn’t want to race either the car in front or the car behind, he’s probably in the wrong profession. He gets put into a given situation and has to make the best of it. Unfortunately for F1 fans, Lewis heeded the call to improve his pace to help his teammate and in doing so denied us a Lewis/Nico battle or a Nico/Seb battle.

f1-2015-china-verstappenThe real fun of the race was watching Max Verstappen. The young Dutchman put on an overtaking clinic. While we can question his age, experience and credentials, there’s no questioning that the kid will be very good. He made three absolutely stellar passes on Marcus Ericsson, Felipe Nasr and Sergio Perez by outbraking them into the hairpins and making it look easy each time.

Verstappen was on course to finish the day in 8th until his gearbox seized up on Lap 54 which resulted in a Safety Car being deployed to end the race. Well, it was hoped that it wouldn’t end the race but the marshals couldn’t remove Verstappen’s car without pushing it into the wall which delayed its removal and ended the race under Safety Car.

f1-2015-china-podiumThe win makes it 35 for the career of Lewis Hamilton. He’s also the only driver in the top two in each race this year. Nico Rosberg’s second was his third podium of the year and leaves him the only of the podium finishers without a win this season. And Sebastian Vettel rounded out the podium which means that the same three drivers have finished on the podium in each of this year’s three races.

Kimi Raikkonen finished fourth for the second consecutive race. The Williams team battle swapped places from the last race with Massa leading Bottas home this time in 5th and 6th respectively. Romain Grosjean finally came home with some points in 7th. Felipe Nasr showed that there’s still some pace in that Sauber with an 8th. Daniel Ricciardo was the lone Renault in the points in 9th. And Marcus Ericsson rounded out the points in 10th.

This week in Crashtor Maldonado watch…

f1-2015-china-maldonado-buttonOh boy, did he have an exciting weekend. In Practice 3, he went off the track at the pit lane entry. On the plus side, this year, they paved the stretch of land between the entry road and the armco so he was able to recover. Last year, he put it in the wall and ended his practice prematurely. This year, it was just a bit embarrassing.

The race wasn’t quite as good. Maldonado pulled the same trick by botching pit entry by outbraking himself and running long. He needed rescuing from the marshals who thought that they would have the easiest job at the circuit with a spectacular view. Instead, they had to back Pastor up so he could pit. After the race, Maldonado claimed that there was a problem with the car since the brakes locked too quickly.

And then there was the late incident with Button. Now, that was Button’s fault for making a late dive to an opening that wasn’t there but the fact that he keeps getting involved in this doesn’t reflect well on him.

There’s a reason why everyone calls him Crashtor. Even if he’s not at fault for a particular collision, though it seems as though he’s more often at fault than not, he’s the one that ends up in the positions that result in those crashes. At a certain point, people stop seeing these as coincidences. I’m surprised the FIA even gave him the benefit of the doubt with Button. There’s a reason no one else did.

An interesting little note popped up on Reddit after this weekend’s Grand Prix. The Manor Marussia team has been conspicuous by their absence on the world feed.

f1-2015-china-stevens-marussiaIt’s not much of a secret that Bernie wanted Manor deemed to have not made an appearance at the Australian Grand Prix where they appeared in the paddock but not on-track. If Manor was deemed to have not appeared, that would have been their third missed race under this Concorde Agreement which would have allowed Bernie to give them the boot from the series.

What prompted this theory, aside from the fact that we never see or hear about Marussia, is the similar treatment given to Force India in 2012. The team pulled out of Free Practice 2 at Bahrain after the team’s mechanics were petrol bombed when leaving the circuit on the Thursday of the weekend. After that point, Force India didn’t get a lot of air-time on FOM broadcasts.

Granted, this can easily be explained away by saying that the Manors are seldom up to anything of interest so that would explain why they’re not on-screen. Still, without showing the Manor cars, any chance of a sponsor taking an interest in the team is quickly eroded. I want to say that during this race, David Coulthard said something to the effect of the FOM gives team data of how long the cars were on-screen to show to sponsors. That report won’t do Marussia any good if they aren’t on-screen.

It’s been a long time since we last had a safety car finish in Formula One. The last one that I can recall was the 2010 Monaco Grand Prix. I’m sure that I wrote about the stupidity of the procedure and rule as written but I think it bears some repeating despite the fact that no controversy occurred this time out.

The rule is Article 40.15 in this year’s Sporting Regulations that says:

“If the safety car is still deployed at the beginning of the last lap, or is deployed during the last lap, it will enter the pit lane at the end of the lap and the cars will take the chequered flag as normal without overtaking.”

f1-2015-china-safety-carI don’t understand why the FIA and Formula One have this requirement. I also regularly watch IndyCar and NASCAR and both of those series allow the Safety Car (or equivalent) to cross the line first in the event of the race ending under a full-course caution. The only problem with having the safety car cross the line first is that it doesn’t make for good footage for TV or trackside photographers.

To make matters more confusing is that when the Safety Car comes in, the green flag is deployed. Much like it did to Michael Schumacher back in 2010, green means go. Only under Formula One’s bizarre and complicated sporting regulations could green mean hold position until you cross the finish line.

There are two options for Formula One to fix this. First, they can leave the safety car out until the checkered flag and activate the green light atop the car to allow cars by once the race is completed. The alternative is to finish the race under caution without the safety car at the head of the field. Whether this is accomplished by keeping the track under local cautions in all marshal posts from the Safety Car line to the finish line or switching to the virtual safety car for the final portion of the lap, as long as it’s clear to everyone that there should be no passing, that’s what F1 should do.

f1-2014-bahrain-startThe next round of the 2015 Formula One World Championship is next weekend. It’s not quite the start of the European portion of the season but thanks to Bernie wanting night races, we have a night race that starts at a much more sane start time of 11:00 AM EDT. It’s the first of two Middle Eastern races and first of three night races at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

As you would expect, this one is likely going to go to Mercedes. Last year, we saw an epic post-Safety Car duel between Hamilton and Rosberg that the Brit won. After this weekend’s race, I wouldn’t expect either driver to really push the other but Nico has to set out to prove himself this season because he’s been thoroughly outclassed by his teammate all season.

The other question is if Ferrari can score a win in Bahrain. It seems as though heat favours the Ferraris but the night race in Bahrain will swing the weather back in Mercedes’ favour. One thing that’s long since been forgotten is that Ferrari used to have an advantage thanks to having data about the circuit’s tarmac that I believe came from team sponsor Shell. Granted, that data advantage is long since gone since F1 has been there 9 times but it’s a fun little fact that seems to have been confined to archives.


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