I think we’ve gone over this a few times on the blog but the easiest way to make an F1 race exciting is for there to be a little bit of chaos to shake up the order. Often, it’s changing weather conditions that do the trick. For the Chinese Grand Prix, it was a melee at the start that mixed up the field and forced racing to happen.
Of course, as usual, racing didn’t happen at the front of the field. Nico Rosberg didn’t lead the whole way but it wasn’t like he was strongly challenged for the win either as he scored his third win of the season and sixth-in-a-row going back to 2015.
The race started with Daniel Ricciardo taking the lead after a quick getaway from the lights. He began the race on super-soft tyres while Rosberg was on the softs. The added grip of Pirelli’s red-sidewall tyres allowed the Red Bull driver to convert his surprise front-row start into an early lead. It lasted four laps before the tyre disintegrated on the back-straight. This brought out a safety car but that wasn’t all that happened early on.
In that first turn, all hell broke loose. Trouble started when Daniil Kvyat dove up the inside of both Ferraris. Sebastian Vettel took evasive action in order to avoid Kvyat drifting up from the inside. At the same time, Kimi Raikkonen was turning down for Turn Two and the two Ferrari’s squeezed together. Raikkonen lost his front wing while Vettel damaged his left-front endplate. Behind them, separate collisions cost both Lewis Hamilton and Romain Grosjean to lose front wings. With the circuit littered with parts, a safety car was called on Lap 5.
Most cars dove into the pits under the safety car to repair damage or switch off the super-soft tyres. The likes of Rosberg who started on softs stayed out. That saw an unlikely Top Five that included the likes of Fernando Alonso, Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Gutierrez. Not surprisingly, none of those three finished in the points.
From there, it was academic for Rosberg. Further back, there was action as the frontrunning cars of Vettel, Hamilton, Ricciardo and Raikkonen scythed their way from the back of the field. Once again, Vettel had trouble with his front wing. His new left-front endplate suffered the same fate as his previous one, this time after a collision with Valtteri Bottas. There was enough pace in the Ferrari engine and enough downforce left on the chassis for Vettel to continue on despite the damage.
Rosberg’s win stretches his early season advantage to 36 points over teammate Hamilton. Yes, after three races, Nico has a one-race advantage over the grid. His three wins to start a season puts him in good company. No one else that has done that and not won the World Drivers’ Championship. Sebastian Vettel clawed back to finish second with Daniil Kvyat rounding out the podium. He got a stern talking to from four-time over the first turn incident.
Daniel Ricciardo had the drive of the day by coming from nearly last to 4th by the end of the race. The Red Bull might be lacking in straight line speed but they have speed in the corners. Kimi Raikkonen recovered from his first turn incident to finish 5th. Felipe Massa also didn’t stop under the safety car. He converted the track position into a 6th. Lewis Hamilton had a good recovery until bad pit strategy at the end relegated him to 7th. Max Verstappen lost out under safety car when he was stacked behind teammate Sainz. Mad Max beat his teammate to the line with the Toro Rossos finishing 8th and 9th, respectively. Valtteri Bottas rounded out the top ten.
One of the hot stories to emerge from the aftermath of this weekend’s race doesn’t have to do with the on-track action. German publication AMuS is reporting that the teams are maneuvering to have Bernie Ecclestone removed as F1 Supremo by the end of the season.
The failure of elimination qualifying and the non-starter that was the proposed two-lap aggregate knockout qualifying, battles over Jean Todt’s budget engine, Pirelli’s threats to leave without testing of 2017 tyres and uncertainty over the 2017 rules package have all been laid at Ecclestone’s feet. The constructors, led by Ferrari President Sergio Marchionne will hold a confidence vote on Bernie’s leadership and demand that F1 owners CVC replace them ahead of next season.
This is just one part of the bigger political battle being waged in F1. Last year, Force India and Sauber filed complaints with the EU Competition Commission stating how rules were decided and earnings divided was unfair. Suddenly, the EU intervening in favour of Force India and Sauber would play into Bernie’s hands because it would take money away from the big teams who wouldn’t be getting their bonuses on top of the prize pool and it could take rules deciding powers away from the teams and put it in the FIA’s and/or FOM’s hands.
While the joke is that Bernie has to die for someone new to come in to fix F1, maybe that isn’t the only solution. The problem is that would leave a power vacuum and no one connected with any team could takeover. The teams’ constant bickering and blocking of rules changes show they can’t be trusted to run the sport on their own. The only man who might be qualified for the job is Ross Brawn and I don’t know why he’d want to leave retirement for this thankless post.
Last round, we found out that Ferrari was dealing with a major turbo issue that was hampering performance. According to RTL, Ferrari have turned down their engine power to preserve them following the Bahrain GP that saw Vettel’s engine expire before the race started.
The target for engine upgrades related to the turbo was May and it looks like a fix could be ready in time for Sochi. Italy’s Gazzetta dello Sport reports that engine upgrades will be ready for the next round of the championship. It’s most likely upgrades to the turbo which will get them that lost half-second back. It’ll be interesting to see how this matches them up with the Mercedes.
In other news updates from Bahrain, Sauber might have a plan to save the team from closing. Monisha Kaltenborn wasn’t in Bahrain two weeks ago so that she could handle the team’s money issues in Switzerland. It looks like aid for the team may come from Italy.
Rumours have been circulating for several months now that FIAT wants Alfa Romeo back in Formula One to operate as a Ferrari junior team. Scuttlebutt over the last couple of weeks suggests that Sauber might be the team to bring Alfa back to the sport. FIAT would buy Sauber and run it as a satellite effort similar to Haas.
While FIAT / Ferrari boss Sergio Marchionne is interested in getting Alfa back in the sport and Sauber is the prime candidate to make that happen, Marchionne isn’t necessarily sold on buying Sauber for this purpose. Sauber apparently has some significant debts that are outstanding at this point in time. Marchionne has made comments to Autosport to the effect that he doesn’t want FIAT to pick up the whole tab so an Alfa rebadge of Sauber isn’t quite cut and dry.
The next round of the 2016 Formula One World Championship brings us another change in the calendar from last year. The circus hasn’t been to Malaysia yet and won’t be until the fall. Moving up from the fall is the Russian Grand Prix from the streets of the Sochi Olympic Park.
While Rosberg is on a six-race winning streak, history favours Hamilton in Russia. In two races at the Sochi Autodrom, Hamilton is undefeated. Given Hamilton’s luck this season, that unbeaten streak could come to an end this year but it’s also as good a place as any for Lewis to get his Championship chase back on track.