We didn’t see this one happening, probably not at all this season but somehow Red Bull managed to win the Chinese Grand Prix in what is a fast but inferior car compared to the Ferrari and Mercedes. It now appears that the 2018 tyre compounds are playing a pivotal role in deciding which team is fastest on any given race weekend or even day. Ricciardo was all but a distant figure during the early phase of the race, languishing in 6th for the first 20 laps.
So, Ferrari had the fastest package, race victory was all but guaranteed it seems that the Ferrari is better able to manage it’s one lap pace and really nail the qualifying sessions, Vettel, and Raikkonen locked out the first row of the grid, 0.5s faster than the Mercedes of Bottas.
Hamilton started the race from 4th, struggling to get enough temperature into his tyres during Q3 to mount a serious challenge to the Ferrari’s who also had slightly better straight-line speed, a particular advantage at the Chinese circuit.
The advantage Ferrari has in qualifying is minimized during the race, the Mercedes cars seem to be designed to perform better over longer runs, it’s as though Ferrari and Mercedes have swapped philosophies because in 2017 Ferrari was fast over long runs whereas Mercedes were faster in qualifying.
In the end Mercedes out developed Ferrari during the 2017 season, and as we know Vettel lost his mind management virtually giving away the championship to Hamilton. But the race in China, 2018, anyone in the top six could have won.
It appeared Vettel had the race in his hands until the first round of pitstops whereupon he lost the lead to Valtteri Bottas. A safety car period on lap 30 changed the running order and brought the two Mercedes drivers into play with Vettel as an uncomfortable sandwich in 2nd.
Meanwhile, Ricciardo made a pitstop under the safety car and had fresher tyres because neither the Mercedes or Ferrari’s made a pitstop. But both the Mercedes and Ferrari’s are faster than the Red Bull right? So a Red Bull, even on fresher tyres, does not pose a serious threat.
So logic suggests that Riccardo would not be able to match the pace of the Ferrari and Mercedes? That’s not how this season works, Riccardo battled passed Vettel and Bottas and drove away to secure a… dominant victory.
Vettel dropped down the order after a clumsy do-or-die move by Verstappen on lap 43. Ferrari sacrificed a potential race victory early on by using Raikkonen as a human shield to protect Vettel, it didn’t work. At one point Raikkonen was 6th. After the Vettel Verstappen crash, he secured 3rd.
Vettel ended the race limping around 7th until the final lap when he yielded to the McLaren of Fernando Alonso. Hamilton could have claimed victory but missed his opportunity to make a pitstop under the safety car, again it seems the team was sleeping on his behalf.