Lewis Hamilton was seemingly untouchable as he secured his first win of the 2017 Formula 1 season and his fifty-fourth of his Formula 1 career at the Shanghai International Circuit on Sunday, his fifth victory at the track.
Starting from pole position on a damp track, all bar Carlos Sainz Jr started the race on Intermediate tyres, and despite an early virtual safety car to recover Lance Stroll’s Williams Martini Racing car from the gravel and a safety car to remove Antonio Giovinazzi’s stricken Sauber F1 Team car from the start finish straight following a crash, Hamilton was never truly challenged for the race lead.
Sebastian Vettel started and finished second for Scuderia Ferrari but he was made to work hard for it after running fifth after pitting behind the virtual safety car, but managed to work his way back up to second, finishing just 6.250 seconds down, while Max Verstappen completed the podium for Red Bull Racing and was voted driver of the day in the process, and for very good reasons.
The Battle for the Podium
Hamilton got away from the grid perfectly to lead into turn one, while Vettel held off the challenge of Valtteri Bottas, while Daniel Ricciardo found himself ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and into fourth place.
An excellent first lap saw Verstappen climb from seventeenth on the grid to seventh, and then moved up to third as he took advantage of the early virtual and full safety cars. On the resumption of the race, Verstappen made a move on his team-mate Ricciardo heading into turn six to move into second.
Ricciardo then was the cork in the bottle as he withstood the pressure from both of the Ferrari drivers, until Vettel started working his magic. The German passed team-mate Raikkonen into turn six for fourth, and then on lap twenty-three passed Ricciardo on the exit of the same turn, the two banging wheels in the process.
Ricciardo had defended the inside line into the corner but Vettel placed his Ferrari on the outside, and was able to get a better exit from the turn to make the move work heading into turn seven. It was thrilling wheel to wheel action between the two former team-mates.
Vettel then closed the gap down to Verstappen, who locked up at the hairpin at the end of the long back straight to allow the Ferrari driver through, with the Dutchman losing a good chunk of time in the process. Verstappen then locked up again into the final turn, and headed into the pit lane on the following lap for a new set of Supersoft tyres, dropping behind Bottas into sixth.
The grip with his new tyres meant Verstappen was able to catch and pass Bottas again for fifth, again into the favoured turn six, and when his team-mate pitted for his second stop, Verstappen was back into fourth.
Raikkonen was the last of the front runners to make his second stop and found himself relegated to sixth as a result, but the Finn quickly made his way passed Sainz into fifth before trying to close down the gap to the Red Bull’s ahead of him. Bottas followed Raikkonen passed Sainz a couple of laps later to run sixth.
The two Red Bulls ended the race nose to tail in third and fourth, with Raikkonen unable to bridge the gap to them and being forced to settle for fifth, while Bottas could only manage sixth, the four drivers 3.616 seconds apart at the chequered flag.
It was a disappointing opening few laps of the race for Bottas, who was forced to wait for his team-mate to change from Intermediates to Soft tyres before his own pit stop was performed, which dropped him down from second to fifth, and then while trying to warm up his tyres behind the safety car he spun himself down to twelfth.
The Finn was able to make quick work of Daniil Kvyat and Kevin Magnussen to move back into the top ten, and with Perez pitting, he caught and passed Fernando Alonso to move up to seventh. He then pitted again and found himself again fighting with Sainz, but was unable to better sixth.
The battle for points
Despite being the only driver to start the race on dry weather tyres and twice found himself off track on the opening lap, but the virtual safety car and safety car brought Sainz into play, and the Scuderia Toro Rosso driver finished an excellent seventh.
Magnussen secured his and the Haas F1 Team’s first points of the season in eighth ahead of the Sahara Force India Formula 1 Team duo of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, with Romain Grosjean just outside the points in the second Haas.
Nico Hülkenberg was twelfth for the Renault Sport Formula 1 Team but found himself twice penalised during the race, a five second time penalty coming his way due to overtaking under the virtual safety car and then another ten second penalty for overtaking under the safety car.
Jolyon Palmer brought the second Renault home thirteenth after pitting on the formation lap to switch to dry tyres, but found himself spin early to fall to the back of the field. He finished ahead of Williams Martini Racing’s Felipe Massa, who struggled throughout with the grip of his tyres as Williams’ deficiencies once again became apparent when in damp or low grip conditions.
Marcus Ericsson was the final finisher for Sauber, but the Swede was never really on the pace and ended up 28.470 seconds behind the rest of the field.
Alonso stars but mechanical issues hit McLaren again
Having enjoyed a couple of fights with his fellow Spaniard Sainz, Alonso found his race ended on lap thirty-four, with the McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team racer having been inside the top eight for the majority of the afternoon but found himself going slowly with a mechanical issue before he pulled off the track.
Alonso had made a good start from thirteenth on the grid to run inside the top six, but fell behind Sainz early on as the Toro Rosso driver made a good move at the end of the back straight, and later on after both had pitted, Sainz again found himself making a similar move into the same turn, although this time Alonso attempted to re-pass him only to hit a wet patch and run off track. It would all be for nothing however, as Alonso retired on the following lap.
Another retirement was to befall Kvyat. Having started inside the top ten, the second Toro Rosso driver had initially dropped outside of the points in the opening laps due to the timing of the virtual safety car and safety car, and was running twelfth when he stopped out on track with an issue.
The second McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne lasted nineteen laps before being called into the pits to retire his MCL32 with a fuel pressure issue, but the Belgian was well down the field when he was forced to call it a day.
The safety car had been called at the end of lap four as Giovinazzi had his second crash in as many days as the Italian hit the pit wall heavily after losing control on the wet patch beneath the bridge. The Sauber driver was able to get out of his C36-Ferrari, but with it in a dangerous place, it meant the cars drove through the pit lane while behind the Safety Car.
Stroll was the first retirement on the opening lap of the race when he was tipped into a spin by Perez at turn ten, ending the promising weekend for the young Canadian before the race could really get going having started tenth on the grid.
Hamilton untouchable? Not quite…
Whereas it appeared easy for Hamilton as he took the victory from pole position, setting the fastest lap and leading every lap, it was far from easy for the Mercedes driver, who was forced to keep pushing until the chequered flag with the Ferrari of Vettel looking strong behind him. The two were pushing each other right until the end.
Ultimately Hamilton prevailed, but the championship is now locked at forty-three points apiece heading into next weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix. It’s game on!
Shanghai International Circuit Race Result
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