The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX : China : Six in a Row for Rosberg

21-04-2016

Report by Alan Brown

 

The normal tranquil start to the weekly day of rest in your scribe’s household was punctured last Sunday with cries of anguish and clipboards being hurled across rooms. This could mean only one thing – the much hoped for smooth getaway by the two Ferrari’s occupying row two at the Chinese Grand Prix had somehow gone catastrophically awry. The day marked the 12th running of this race at the Shanghai 3.387 mile International Circuit. Shanghai was once a happy hunting ground for Prancing Horses in the early years. Rubens Barrichello secured the inaugural win in 2004 and two years later the race provided the final career win for Michael Schumacher in a brilliant, albeit rain soaked event. For good measure Schumi still holds the race lap record at Shanghai of 1.32.238 secs also achieved in 2004. Kimi then won the 2007 race of course in his championship winning year at Ferrari.

In the build up to the 2016 race, Vettel played down the calamitous start the Scuderia suffered in Bahrain, with the German side lined on the formation lap with a blown engine. Mercedes then announced Hamilton’s car required a new gearbox after contact with Bottas last time out, and was handed the mandatory five place grid penalty. Worse was to come for the Brit a bit later.  On a brighter note Alonso was cleared health wise to resume his campaign in China after the Spaniard’s scary exit down under.

On the tetchy subject of qualifying formats, the drivers for now appear to have secured their own way, with China seeing a return to the previous system of sessions reaching a crescendo rather than the other way round. Common sense seems to have prevailed therefore, but Messrs Ecclestone and Todt I suggest are unlikely to have had their last say on the subject.

Just recently team financial handouts from Formula One Management (‘FOM’) were published. 2015 looked like a good year financially for the sport with the teams collectively to be awarded $965m representing a 9% increase over the prior year. Ferrari will receive the largest slice of the cake amounting to 20% of the total, boosted by a special long standing annual payment of $70m. Sauber and Manor alas have to pick over a measly $100m between them. Sauber in particular it was reported are struggling even to pay staff salaries on time at the moment.

The start of track action on the Friday proved highly eventful with the spectacle of multiple tyre failures once again prompting accusatory glances at Pirelli management. Pirelli of course was the key note sponsors for this entire event. Massa was the affected party suffering two identical blow outs as rubber on his rear left tyres parted company with wheel rims. Magnussen too suffered a similar rear left tyre failure in the Renault. Swift investigations pointed the finger at a technical problem with the Williams car, rather than a tyre issue. Renault felt their problem may have been connected with the Dane running over Massa’s debris. The end result was a lot of red flag waving in the abridged session, and the two Mercedes finishing very close at the head of the time sheets, with Nico again in the ascendency. Seb and Kimi sandwiched Ricciardo to complete the top five.

FP2 proved a reversal of the morning session with the two Ferraris quickest, this despite a grumpy Finn complaining incessantly on the radio about the poor balance and performance of his SF16-T.

Early on qualifying day rain storms left the track awash, and so Vettel’s fastest time in FP3 contributed little to the proceedings.  Later as qualifying for real got underway it soon became apparent that Lewis’s streak of bad luck was unlikely to abate any time soon. In Q1 a problem with the Mercedes electric hybrid system sidelined his chances of progressing into later sessions and this developed into the need for an engine change to match his new gearbox. Track conditions remained tricky after the earlier deluge, and the pit straight in particular was visibly glistening with large areas of the damp stuff. Wehrlein succumbed to the wet conditions in the Manor, aquaplaning off into the barriers on the pit straight in Q1, resulting in more red flag waving and a long delay before the session resumed. Q2 brought a Ferrari lock out at the front in another halted session after Hulkenberg’s Force India parted company with its front left wheel. The subsequent investigation resulted in the hapless German being given a three place grid penalty. In the final chase for front row honours, Seb and Kimi lost time after what looked like minor driving errors allowing Ricciardo to nip in and sit alongside pole sitter Nico .

Then to the race. Track temperatures had almost doubled from Saturday, rising to 44degs. With no prospect of rain most of the top ten chargers appeared shod on the super soft tyre option. Only Rosberg and Massa ventured out on softs.

Ricciardo led the charge down to the never ending Turn One. Just behind the Red Bull came Rosberg but behind him mayhem was unfolding. Kimi and Seb collided, triggering further contact behind between Nasr and Hamilton. With front wings and end plates being scattered everywhere like confetti the safety car soon appeared to allow the track to be cleaned up. When the dust settled, the Ferraris at that stage were well down the field and out of the points along with Hamilton. Rosberg meanwhile was cantering off into the distance after the early leader Ricciardo suffered a puncture.

The rest of this Grand Prix then became a confusing blur of tyre changes with all three available compounds, medium down to super soft, being used. Vettel, Raikkonen, and Hamilton did ensure though that on track action held your attention as they fought back valiantly through the field to take second, fifth and seventh respectively. Vettel even used the pit lane for overtaking as Hulkenberg dawdled in, well aware his team mate had just pitted and so was in no rush. In the end all 22 cars finished with most having made contact with one another at some point. Amazingly no investigations were raised by the stewards and Rosberg crossed the line some 38 seconds ahead of Vettel.

Nico now joins the elite club of Ascari, Schumacher, and Vettel as having won six or more consecutive grands prix. Frankly even if he was handed a Granelli ice cream van you still wouldn’t bet your shirt on Keke’s son not somehow gaining a points finish.

Ferrari need to quickly sort out the reported design weakness in the SF16-T turbo chargers if they want to maintain their challenge to Mercedes and counter an advancing charge from the Red Bulls.