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F1: Criticisms put to rest - overtaking can be easy.

Publication: 
Bryan Edwards
chiefofficersnet

The Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai often throws up things that seem like anomalies but after 14 years of doing it, the strange is becoming the norm. And it's that unpredictability that makes this the race where, so often, the season comes alive. This year was no exception: while loyalty would have had some fans predicting the winner, no amount of analysis of form of driver or team would have identified the winner nor the final result down to tenth place. It was a race of derring-do, bravery and magical overtaking by experts and dismal failures when others tried identical moves. Literally edge of the seat stuff with multiple battles right through the field.

Right, so by now every reader and his granny will know that the race was won by Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo from a disappointed Valteri Bottas and a (by his standards) pleased Kimi Räikkönen.

Lewis Hamilton was fourth, Max Verstappen was fifth (after a ten second penalty was applied to his his race time) and Nico Hülkenberg was sixth followed by Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel.

The story of the race is one of brutal driving by some. Vettel pushed Räikkönen who had started in P2 and started better onto the grass on the first corner with an aggressive move that saw Bottas up to second and a scramble that left cars all over the place. That seemed to set the mood for Vettel's day: he was in a take-no-prisoners kind of mood later it became clear that every overtaking move would be, to be polite, resisted firmly. And so it proved, ultimately ending up with a collision with Max Verstappen. Verstappen was awarded a ten second penalty - but in some respects it seems as if the penalty was for more than that offence alone: it is true that it was, at best, an optimistic dive down the inside. Perhaps Vettel was unsighted but other drivers in similar situations pulled off exactly the same manoeuvre with no ill effects. But Verstappen had also had a go at others. Yet, when Ricciardo made identical moves on several drivers, he did it with, as his team said, "clinical precision." Verstappen cannot complain that his tyres were rubbish: on two occasions in the race, Red Bull had brought both drivers in, the second in the pit lane as the first left, together.

Ricciardo didn't win by a nose: he was two seconds a lap faster than Bottas and Räikkönen.

Less than 26 hours earlier, it had looked as if Ricciardo might not get to the grid at all: an engine blow up in free practice 3 had left him needing a new power unit but when they opened the packaging, Red Bull found that what was in the box was exactly that - a power unit. None of the engine management bits that they expected were there. To say that this re-opened old wounds, already festering after poor performances in Australia and Bahrain, would be to underplay it. Set an impossible task - to fit all the external bits from the old engine onto the new engine and attach it to the car - the Red Bull mechanics did the impossible and Ricciardo made it out, with three minutes to go, to qualifying three where he set a time enough to get into Q2. But hardly anyone expected the car to be reliable or, even, to finish. Christian Horner said "in Bahrain, we had a fast race car " but fast doesn't count if it doesn't get to the end.

But it was a bit of luck, a brilliant pit call and those mechanics who put both Ricciardo and Verstappen in the position where a Red Bull one-two became a genuine option.

It was the Torro Rosso pair of Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly who, in another of those dives up the inside, came together in a move that looked remarkably similar to the Verstappen / Vettel crash that was to happen later with much less severe consequences. The pair, once they calmed down, blamed a "miscommunication" - their tyres were out of sync and, as had happened earlier, Hartley had been told to let Gasly, on quicker rubber, pass. Instead of waiting until after the corner where it was safe, and where Hartly had let Gasly through earlier, Gasly decided to lunge and Hartley didn't know he was there. Bits big and small and very sharp flew and the safety car was called in as soon as drivers reported the extent of the debris. The call went out just as Vettel, in the lead, was passing the pit lane entrance. On his tail, Bottas, Räikkönen and Hamilton dashed past: Red Bull, whose two drivers were just that little further back, had time to should "box, box, box" and to get the new wheels out into the pit lane. The two lost barely any places: by the time the snake came around for the next lap, if any of the leaders had gone into the pit, as many as 10 places might have been lost.

That, then, set up the last 20 odd laps. Räikkönen had tyres that were eight laps newer than Vettel's. Hamilton's were approaching their dotage. All the arguments as to whether it is possible to overtake in F1 came to nothing as Ricciardo, in particular, just drove up to and around one target after another. F1 goes on about "aero" all the time but what won the race for the Australian was good old fashioned "mechanical grip."

It would be a mistake to think that all the racing happened at the pointy end: literally right to the end, there were battles being hard fought. The Shanghai circuit is interesting and its weather even moreso. Race day was 15 degrees warmer on the track than Qualifying. Part of practice had been done in the rain. Mercedes were generally assumed to be the main beneficiary of the warmer temperatures which would make their medium tyres more sticky - and those are the tyres that the Mercedes runs best on. But that doesn't matter when they are past their useful life and when the field is so close that a pit stop in the last 20 laps would mean dropping so far down the field that only a demon drive would get the driver back to where he was. And so Hamilton, in particular, drove the last twenty laps knowing that he could make no progress, that he would have to defend where possible, and knowing that he was a sitting duck for the Red Bulls. And so it proved when Verstappen replicated Ricciardo's passing of Hamilton, neat, tidy, clinical, proving that he can do it without drama.

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