The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX: China: How Did They Manage to Lose?

21-04-2018

Story by Winston D’Arcy

 

I was looking forward to writing this, its been such a long time since the esteemed editor has invited me to write a race report. With two good wins from two races so far it looked like a breeze for Ferrari and I even dug out my Hilfiger T-shirt from the Schuey days after watching qualifying. How could they possibly lose this one?

Well, they managed it.

Half a second clear of third place man Bottas and his Merc team mate Hamilton the Ferraris looked mighty in qualifying. Hamilton was in one of his absent modes and seemed no threat at all, and the Dead Bulls were back to complaining about their Renault engines, sorry, ‘power units’. I thought they had promised to stop all that when Renault agreed to continue their engine supply…?

The track has grown on me over the years; I particularly like the long back straight followed by a hairpin as that seems to enable these aero horrors to overtake each other. The faster sweeps round the back are good as well but highlight the impossibility of following another car’s dirty airflow with all its eddies, currents, swirls and vortexes as spent air is discarded by the one in front. But the first corner after the pit straight still makes these cars look silly as all the aero disappears and they are left struggling with non-existent mechanical grip.

Qualifying was a straight Ferrari – Mercedes – Red Bull affair with two Renaults, one Haas (Grosjean) and one Force India (Perez) filling in the top ten places. As a non-McLaren fan it was gratifying to see them struggling again – so much for them having ‘the best chassis’ and, it has to be said, so much for Alonso reckoning that he’s driving better than ever, although he did manage to keep going and earn himself a 7th in the race.

The paddock was an unusually quiet place for this race; everyone was probably still trying to figure out whether the Liberty Media strategy proposals would advantage or disadvantage them. To an extent the teams don’t care about the tech regs, they just want to know they are going to get more money (the small teams) or not lose money (the big teams). Ferrari will of course stand to lose the most because of their extra ‘heritage’ payment and it is little wonder that Sergio Marchionne is once again raising the possibility of Ferrari quitting F1. But then they won’t get any payment, will they?

Starts are now 10 minutes past the hour and this causes a bit of confusion in the D’Arcy household as everything is still measured by the long hand either being at the top or the bottom. But we solved that by tilting the clock a little to one side.

And at the appointed hour the Ferraris gleamed at the front of the grid, albeit a little hazy in the Shanghai smog, but whilst Sebastian got away cleanly the other red car of Kimi got jumped by both Bottas and Verstappen. That was the way they stayed for the first 19 laps with Vettel eking out a 3 second lead over Bottas, when the latter was called in for an undercut attempt. The 3 second advantage disappeared with a slick Mercedes pit stop and an awesome out-lap by Bottas, and when Vettel was called in he had lost the lead.

Worse was to come on lap 31 when the safety car came out. Bottas and Vettel had already passed the pit entry but the following two red Bulls dived in for fresh tyres. That, in essence, decided the race. And of course the little matter of Ricciardo’s spellbinding driving from that point on…

Daniel, on his fresh tyres, climbed all the way from 6th to 1st in just nine laps, using guile and excellence. He first of all went past Raikkonen for 5th place, past the lack-lustre Hamilton, then benefitted from Verstappen clattering into Vettel, breezed past the ailing Ferrari and finally shot up the inside of Bottas to take the lead with ten laps to go. I know he had the freshest tyres of all the front runners but nevertheless he never put a wheel wrong. He was decisive, clean and showed maturity that Max can only dream about.

So, what did we end up with? A 3rd for Kimi and an 8th for Vettel, who even had the ignominy of being passed by Alonso’s McLaren on the last lap. Not great when you consider the Ferrari advantage after qualifying.

Still, at least it wasn’t a Hamilton win and Vettel remains at the head of the points table, albeit with only a 9 points lead. In the constructors table Mercedes are now at the top, having placed 2nd and 4th in this race.

Let’s hope that Baku brings that much needed element of luck back to the Scuderia!