Formula 1 fans were treated to a perfect weekend of racing as the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix saw the sport revert to the much-needed and entertaining qualifying format of the previous season on Saturday, followed by an incident-packed race on Sunday.
Nico Rosberg won his third consecutive race of the 2016 Formula 1 Season, a feat that historically leads to being crowned as World Champion. A driver with three consecutive wins in the opening rounds has gone on to clinch the Drivers’ Championship in that year. If you’re a Rosberg fan (strangely, only a few seem to exist!), you’ll know that the German driver won three races on the trot towards the end of 2015 too.
Rosberg’s championship challenge received a further boost after Hamilton, who suffered from a rare Mercedes engine issue on Saturday, didn’t manage to qualify and started from the back of the grid. The reigning World Champion finished a distant 7th but not without attempting a brave and rare 5-stop tire strategy. Rosberg left China with a 36-point lead over Hamilton – or more than a race, in Formula 1 lingo, and the statistic of being the sport’s only driver to have won 17 races without having clinched the Drivers’ Championship title.
That’s the thing about Rosberg, he’s got the pace, but for some strange reason, he’s been unable to convert it to a World Championship title till date. But then again, along with pace, luck will also play a role if someone has to beat the world favourite and actor-singer-to-be, Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton’s start to the 2016 Formula 1 season has been like 2014. He’s either had reliability issues with his car (example China) or has not performed to his potential in the opening rounds. The 36-point deficit will be tough one to close down, but if he does manage to do so, the 2016 Formula 1 Season will be ideal to follow from inside the Mercedes garage! By the way, Mercedes swapped mechanics for both their drivers before the start of the season; does this have anything to do with Rosberg’s consistent performance and luck?
Daniil Kvyat and Sebastian Vettel were the other two drivers on the podium. But the race result could’ve been slightly different had Daniel Ricciardo not suffered from a high-speed tire blow-out while leading the race in the opening stages. The Australian driver drove an aggressive race to finish 4th and about 7 seconds away from the podium. Kimi Raikkonen, who seemed in form all weekend, was nudged by his teammate Vettel in a first-lap first-corner incident that needed a nose change and a charge from the back of the grid. The Finnish driver drove a strong race to finish 5th and with the hope that he can do better should he have an incident-free race!
In comparison to Ricciardo and Raikkonen’s charge to the front, Hamilton’s strategy and pace could be questioned. The three drivers all had opening lap incidents that needed an extra pit-stop and it seems that Red Bull Racing and Ferrari’s engineers did a better job than those at Mercedes. The better part of Hamilton’s race was seeing him battle Massa. I think the last time they did so was back in 2008! (For Massa fans, Hamilton couldn’t beat the Brazilian!)
Outside of the top performers, Max Verstappen (P8) and Carlo Sainz (P9) did well to score double points yet again for Toro Rosso. The youngsters’ consistent performances will pose a problem for Red Bull Racing towards the end of the current season. There will be four talented drivers – Ricciardo, Kvyat, Verstappen and Sainz battling for the two cockpits available with the parent team – Red Bull Racing. Should either of them not retain their seat or get a promotion, will they be on their way to Ferrari or even Mercedes?
And finally, Williams, Force India and the FIA would join my list of under-performers. Williams and Force India seem to have lost direction and form in the opening rounds of 2016. They have been consistently challenged and beaten by the new mid-field teams of Toro Rosso and Haas. Will they be able to rise from their slump? If and when they do, their mid-field fight will only get more interesting! As for the FIA, I wonder what were they thinking when they delayed Q1 of qualifying by 22 mins to dry a puddle on the main straight. Trying to sanitize Formula 1 a little too much, are we?