Mercedes back on dominant form
While Bahrain ended with a 1-2 finish for the Brackley-based team, they were clearly slower than Ferrari throughout that event. However, it all turned around in China as they were the class of the field, just like in Australia.
Bottas pipped Hamilton to the pole as the Mercedes duo locked out the front row by 0.3s from the Ferraris.
Hamilton got a great start and beautifully controlled the race from his team-mate. They showed ominous pace in the first stint as the Brit pulled out a lead of over 10 seconds to Vettel and Leclerc. From there on in, they could manage everything and take it relatively easy.
It’s Mercedes third straight 1-2 finish in 2019 and their fifth win out of six attempts at Shanghai during the V6 era so far. It's the first time since 1992 that one team has scored 1-2 finishes at the opening three events. Mercedes continue to be relentless and the benchmark team in Formula One.
Ferrari have a shocker on the pit wall
Not for the first time this year, Ferrari are in the headlines for using team orders – and their old Achilles heel of poor strategy calls returned at this event as well.
Leclerc jumped Vettel at the start and that proved to be a problem for the team. The Monegasque driver missed the race simulations during FP2 – and he was holding Vettel up as the German got stuck in the dirty air. Eventually, they asked him to move over and let Vettel by.
Initially, it looked like a bad decision because Vettel kept locking up and losing time. Ferrari didn’t ask Vettel to let him back through.
It got even worse for Leclerc as Verstappen got in undercut territory – and Ferrari had no choice but to pit Vettel first. The German only just got out in front of the Red Bull driver.
Leclerc’s late second stop was extremely puzzling, to say the least. It meant he had absolutely no chance of catching Verstappen in the closing stages of the race. Despite lacking speed vs his team-mate, he got hung out to dry by his team who should have done a much better job vs Verstappen.
Frankly, the Italian squad didn’t have the pace to challenge Mercedes – but they should have finished P3 and P4. Instead, it turned out to be a very disappointing P3 and P5. It was another poor day operationally for the Maranello squad.
Superb performances from Perez, Raikkonen and Albon
Away from the front of the field, there were some fantastic drives in a very competitive midfield group.
Sergio Perez delivered once again on race day. Starting P12, he quickly moved himself up to P8 by the end of the opening tour. He closely followed Ricciardo throughout the race and only finished a couple of seconds behind him. Just like he did a number of times against Ocon, ‘Checo’ blew his stablemate away in the race and finished over half a minute in front of Stroll. An excellent weekend from the Mexican.
Raikkonen was equally as good. From 13th on the grid, he provided some excellent entertainment on track with some nice overtakes, particularly on Kevin Magnussen. The Finn finished a very solid P9 – and he continues to be the ‘best of the rest’ in the Drivers’ Championship. He’s started 2019 very strongly.
The comeback king of the meeting was Alexander Albon. Following a huge crash for the Thai driver during FP3, he missed qualifying due to heavy damage to his machine. Starting from the end of the pitlane, points looked unlikely. Nonetheless, he did it. A brilliant 36 lap stint on the hard compound tyre saw him jump the two-stopping Haas cars. He held Grosjean off in the closing laps to finish a superb P10. It was a wonderful recovery.
Gasly and Giovinazzi struggles continue
The Frenchman and Italian, who were team-mates in GP2 in 2016, continue to have tough starts to 2019.
Gasly is really struggling to get on top of the Red Bull machine. He finished a whopping 0.8s behind team-mate Max Verstappen in qualifying as he was a distant P6. It was the same story in the race as the top 5 pulled well away from the French driver. In the end, the team pitted him to take the fastest lap from Ferrari. He did that, but by less a tenth on much younger tyres. Gasly ended up over a minute adrift of Verstappen today. He’s under massive pressure already.
For Giovinazzi, it’s been even tougher. At all three events, he’s had problems beyond his control. He’s shown flashes of speed, but lots of issues have set him back during every weekend.
Australia – Damaged car during the race.
Bahrain – He missed almost all of FP2 with reliability problems.
China – No running in FP1 or qualifying thanks to more reliability problems and issues on the car packaging side.
It’s fair to say the beginning of his first full season in F1 has been extremely difficult, made it even more tricky by having such a quality driver alongside him. The Italian will be hoping to get much closer to Raikkonen when the F1 circus returns to Europe; they’ll be tracks that he’ll have experience of from his GP2 days.
Incredibly close qualifying battles between team-mates
Saturday’s qualifying session at the Shanghai International Circuit turned out to be a thriller. Five intra-team battles were incredibly tight; so close in fact that they were separated by less than half a tenth.
Mercedes: Bottas vs Hamilton – 0.023s
Ferrari: Vettel vs Leclerc – 0.017s
Renault: Ricciardo vs Hulkenberg – 0.004s
Haas: Magnussen vs Grosjean – 0.006s (Q2)
Williams: Russell vs Kubica – 0.028s (Q1)
The tiny margins above show the quality on the current grid and how high the standard is. The Shanghai circuit is certainly not an easy track to put a brilliant lap together. Let’s hope these close fights between team-mates continue throughout the season.