GRAND PRIX : China : Ferrari Best of the Rest

Posted on April 15, 2015.

Lewis seems on top of his game right now
Vettel cuts a much happier figure at Ferrari than last year at RB
A sub-optimal quali performance again made life difficult for Kimi
So far so good for Arrivabene - but expectations are now high

Report by Jack Target

It looks like Ferrari were right to tell us another result like they had in Malaysia would have been tough to repeat in China. From start to finish the weekend saw the two Mercedes dominate at the top, restoring their superiority over the chasing pack.

One of the main reasons the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel was able to grab the team’s first victory in nearly two years was because of the tyre degradation of the Mercedes in the heat. China, especially when the F1 circus rolls into town, is not usually that hot. However conditions on race day were glorious compared to previous gloomy years in Shanghai.

The early discussions and previews going into the weekend were not only around the fight Ferrari are going to be giving the front runners but also on Kimi Raikkonen. Many reporters were suggesting he could be the main Ferrari contender after his excellent performance last time out, coming from 11th in qualifying to finish 4th. The Finn also has a pretty good record in China finishing on the podium in all but two races here and winning in 2007, his first in Ferrari red. You could even see the love for him in the grandstand with a sea of Finnish flags and pictures of him in both Ferrari and Lotus overalls, flying next to the typical Prancing Horse logo.

After the Ferraris stayed quite close to the Mercedes in the practice sessions Hamilton grabbed another pole position to add to his tally and without much fuss. At the top end none of the Brits’ challengers could force him into starting from further back with Nico Rosberg a tenth of a second behind. Kimi was challenging Vettel but the Williams again split up the two Ferraris, a sign of their continued improvement with the Mercedes engine.

Come race day the famous red cars came flying out the traps with Raikkonen passing the Martini clad white Williams by the time the first lap was over and Vettel in pursuit of Rosberg.

However it stayed pretty much the same from there on. We had some interesting moments with Daniel Ricciardo battling with the Toro Rossos, trying to keep up with their smaller sister team. I spoke of the mighty falling when Ferrari went into the new season aiming for a mere two wins. Well, look at Red Bull now.

Talking of the Toro Rossos there was a comedy moment at the end of the race when Max Verstappen’s car blew up next to the pit wall on the main straight. The track marshals tried desperately to get the car through the gap in the wall and out of harms way. You could almost hear the team engineers screeching as the front wing hit the wall on each failed attempt. Eventually they got the car in, much to the delight of the cheering crowd.

But the highlight for Ferrari fans, and surely everyone watching at home, would have been on lap 44 when we got our first Kimi Raikkonen soundbite of the season. As the 2007 World Champion was lapping some of the back markers we heard him say “come on get this McLaren out of the way” in the dismissive and funny manner we are used to hearing from the Finn over the radio. Many people at home would have joined in chuckling with the commentators after that moment.

But there was more to come as you could hear a slight chuckle in his delivery of “come on get these two cars out of the way” just minutes later when referring to Jenson Button and Pastor Maldonado. He was on fresher tyres than his team mate up ahead and wanted to make a challenge for the podium. More on that later.

The race ended on whimper however as Verstappen’s engine failure brought out the yellow flags and the safety car until the end of the race ensuring Hamilton his second victory of the season. Despite bringing the race to an anti-climatic end it denied everyone involved in F1 the chance to discuss what could have been a very difficult decision for Ferrari.

With a few laps to go Kimi was closing the gap on his teammate and as stated before was on the fresher tyre. The chances are Vettel would have picked up the pace or the laps would have run out but the scenario will surely rear again in the future. Would Ferrari let a faster Kimi Raikkonen go past their golden new boy?

In the Sky commentary Martin Brundle quizzed the idea and hypothisised that surely Ferrari and Vettel had it in ink that he was to be the number one driver. Seb is the most recent, and multiple, winning driver in red. He has had issues with a ‘number 2’ driver before at Red Bull. That ended very sourly. Ferrari did not need that kind of attention so early into what is turning into a good season for them so far.

The logical, and desirable, situation would have been for Vettel to stay in front of Kimi, especially after the former had won already this season and is the main challenger to the Mercedes duo. But it is still very early in the season. They have two drivers that are world champions and want to be champions again. Both could be very unhappy if they were forced to step aside. Raikkonen has left his previous team early due to problems with pay and he could kick up a stink if he is playing second fiddle too.

The whole situation that never came would have thrown up a lot of questions for the season, especially if either goes on to grab another win or split the silver arrows. How would that affect the race for the championship?

Thankfully Maurizio Arrivabene did not have that problem to deal with just yet. With a great win in the last race and a solid finish above the rest of the field this weekend, the last thing the team needed was an upset driver and a controversy on their hands.

Compared to the troubles of last year, the first three races have been excellent for Ferrari. A podium in each race, with the other car not far behind and a race victory too. It’s a good start and hopefully we’ll see more success come our way in Bahrain and beyond.

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