Chinese Grand Prix 2015 Sweet and Sour Grapes
If there was one word to describe the Chinese Grand Prix it would be ‘anti-climatic’. As expected the cooler track temperatures in Shanghai meant the challenge of Ferrari was also dampened, and Lewis Hamilton dominated Sunday’s race, as he had every session of the weekend.
Ferrari though kept Mercedes honest for most of the race and this caused an interesting period of drama. During the race Nico Rosberg was heard complaining down team-radio that Hamilton needed to speed up: the implication being that he was pushing his teammate back into the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel and risking an undercut to the detriment of the team.
Mercedes responded by issuing a warning to Hamilton: but after the 2nd and final pit-stops, Rosberg was able to pull away from Vettel and the threat failed to truly materialise. It was not until the post-race press conference that Rosberg upped the ante, and accused Hamilton of deliberately trying to jeopardise his race.
It was a stark contrast – the sweet taste of dominance allowed for a smirk from Hamilton – while Rosberg’s sour grapes seemed to have turned bitter. If Hamilton had put Rosberg in any real danger, we would have heard stronger discussions from the pit-wall. The reality is, Rosberg, has been completely unable to live with Hamilton this season.
It is Hamilton’s responsibility as a Mercedes driver to ensure that he helps the team achieve the best result possible: but it is also his responsibility to win the World Championship. With no other calls from his team, he was free to control the race how he best saw fit: and he did so with complete and utter ease. This is what caused Rosberg’s outburst and it is a startling insight into how Hamilton’s dominance is rattling him.
An inability of Rosberg to live with Hamilton and Ferrari to match Mercedes meant that there was no real fight for first; but the other anti-climax of the race came just two laps from the end.
With Ferrari unable to mount a challenge for first or second: the final piece of drama left to unfold was Kimi Raikonnen gradually reeling in his teammate, on tyres four laps fresher. He was just over 1.5 seconds off Vettel when the proceedings turned into procession behind the safety and denied us a potentially fierce fight to the finish. If one thing is now clear for Raikonnen, it is that he needs to focus on Saturday’s qualifying: because despite some early season setbacks, he clearly still has the race-pace to trouble Vettel. But if the iceman is to maintain equality within the team, he needs to start beating his teammate, and he needs to do it soon.
And what was the cause of the safety car? More reliability issues from a Renault powered team. It was a very disappointing way to see Max Verstappen’s afternoon end, after another extremely impressive performance. He may just be 17 but he appears to have a head far beyond his years: completing some of the most impressive overtaking manoeuvres of the day. Martin Brundle isn’t known for exaggeration, and it is telling that he described Verstappen as a potential “mega-star”.
Despite Verstappen’s display, it is unfortunately Renault who will be taking more of the headlines home. Lacking in power and reliability the French manufacturer really need to step up their game: particularly after more grumbling from Red Bull’s hierarchy, who are not known for making any kind of unmotivated remarks.
It will have also been a genuine concern for Christian Horner and Red Bull to see the resurgence of Lotus. The only team which even came close to challenging Sebastian Vettel during his historic nine-race winning streak back in 2013, it would appear that the Enstone outfit finally delivered the pace which winter testing had promised. But for all the sweetness of Grosjean’s 7th place, it was his teammate who soured the day.
For once Maldonado was not directly fault for his crash. But there is also no denying he shouldn’t have been scrapping away with the McLaren’s in 13th and 14th anyway. Maldonado was actually leading Grosjean during the race, but then an apparent break issue caused him to overshoot his entry into the pit-lane; and he subsequently lost control and spun out when pushing trying to make up time.
Some of his wheel-to-wheel racing with Jenson Button was impressive; and he does seem to contain some pace on his day. But ultimately, if Lotus are serious about moving further up the grid, they are going to have to seriously weigh up the difference of what Maldonado brings to the table through investment, and the deficit he takes away if he consistently continues to cost his team points.
Largely then the Chinese Grand Prix will be remembered as a sweet and sour anti-climax. There was some good midfield racing and an intriguing tactical engagement at the front, but it is a race that will perhaps be remembered not for the events during the race, but the comments made after.
We need Nico Rosberg to kick start his season and though his comments may have been made of frustration, hopefully they are also a sign of last seasons Rosberg sparking into life.
And with Bahrain only a week away, there is perhaps no place better to do this, than the race which ignited the 2014 World Championship.