Three in a row for Lewis
Chinese Grand Prix 20.04.2014 / Shanghai
Hamilton scores his first-ever hat trick and reduces team-mate Rosberg’s lead to just four points
This was another masterly performance from Lewis Hamilton. For the rst time, he’s scored a hat trick of wins, and in doing so has equalled the achievements of both Jim Clark and Niki Lauda by scoring 25 grand prix victories.
Likewise, this was Nico Rosberg’s third defeat in a row by his Mercedes team-mate. From a relatively lowly fourth on the grid – thanks to an error in the wet qualifying – he made a superb job of damage limitation, particularly since his team lost all car-to-pit telemetry during the race.
During the weekend there were clear signs of irritation in Rosberg’s usually calm demeanour during press debriefs at the heart of the mazelike Shanghai paddock. A few times he snapped at journalists, seemingly rattled by a line of questioning about his team-mate gaining the upper hand. He was somewhat abrupt, too, on the radio during the race on account of having to continually relay his fuel usage to his pitwall.
After dropping to sixth on the opening lap (with no telemetry, the team were unable to calibrate his clutch effectively for the start), he made steady progress, passing Vettel for third on lap 22 and Alonso on lap 42 – to claw his way back to second place. The nish itself took place after 54 of the scheduled 56 laps, thanks to a moment of overenthusiasm on the part of the delegated waver of the chequered ag.
Rosberg’s second was enough to minimise Hamilton’s net gain, leaving Rosberg with a slim four-point lead in the standings.
Further down the eld there was frustration for another German competitor. On Thursday afternoon, a bank of TV cameramen and journalists crammed into Sebastian Vettel’s press brieng in the Red Bull hospitality unit. In fact the room was so busy that Vettel joked when he came in: “I thought Multi-21 was last year!”
He was soon asked whether the speed of his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo had surprised him this year. “Not surprised,” replied Vettel. “But he’s doing a good job. I’m not yet where I want to be with how I feel inside the car. There has been a lot of new stuff to adapt to and it’s been a challenge, so perhaps I’m not where people were expecting me to be in terms of results.”
Ricciardo’s form continued in Shanghai: he was second on the grid on Saturday and fourth on race day, 20 seconds further up the road than Vettel. There is speculation he could even have challenged third-placed Alonso, if he hadn’t been held up by his Red Bull team-mate.
For the second race running, Vettel’s engineer Guillaume ‘Rocky’ Rocquelin asked him to move over for Ricciardo. In Bahrain, Vettel had cooperated, but here there were shades of last year’s ‘Multi-21-gate’ as he declined to obey.
On lap 23, battling for fourth with Ricciardo, Vettel asked over the radio: “What tyre is he on?”
“Primes, but they are newer than yours,” replied the ever-professional Rocky. Three laps newer as it happened: “Tough luck” was Vettel’s response. But within a few laps, trying to hold Ricciardo back was futile. He didn’t have the pace and ran wide at Turn 1. Ricciardo was through.
Post-race Christian Horner denied that the delay had cost Ricciardo third place. “I don’t think so,” said Horner, showing none of the tension he’d clearly experienced on the pitwall during the key engineer-to-driver radio chit-chat.
“What Sebastian didn’t realise is at that stage we were looking at putting him on a different strategy [three stops, not two] because he was going through the tyre phase quicker. When he understood that, he let him through.”
After a gloomy week in Shanghai, the warmer temperatures on race day reduced graining on the tyres, pushing every team’s strategy towards a two, rather than three-stop race. But it’s not often another driver nishes 20 seconds further up the road in the same car as Seb Vettel, is it?
“It was a massively impressive performance by Dan, as it has been all weekend,” agreed Horner. “In all four races he’s done a tremendous job. His condence is growing, he’s very calm in the car, and his feedback is exceptional. When he talks on the radio, it’s like’s he talking in a coffee shop up the road – particularly with the lack of noise – and he’s enjoying what he’s doing.
“Sebastian is having a tough time because he’s not getting the feeling from the car that he is looking for. He’s tremendously sensitive to certain aspects of the setup and without that feedback the compound effect is that he’s damaging the tyre more. It’s unusual for him to go through the tyre life quicker since the Pirelli was introduced to F1, but once he’s worked those issues out, I’m sure he’ll be back with a bang.”
In the distance you could make out the cheers as the whole Mercedes team posed with their trophies for the obligatory post-race team photo. Then Horner was asked if he thought the gap to Mercedes had reduced since Bahrain. “In the corners, yes,” came the wry reply.
Over at Ferrari, new team principal Marco Mattiacci made an impact on his rst morning in F1 by conspicuously keeping his sunglasses on, even in the garage on the gloomiest day so far this year. His arrival coincided with a better result, but it was Fernando Alonso who elevated Ferrari to podium contention. Kimi Räikkönen could manage no better than eighth on race day.
And what of McLaren? Despite an impressive driver combination of young hotshoe Kevin Magnussen and wise veteran Jenson Button, they’ve gone from a podium nish in race one to beyond the top ten in race four. Behind the scenes, they’re on a recruitment drive and are currently at loggerheads with Red Bull over aero man Dan Fallows (see ‘F1 Insider’, page 22).
Christian Horner, earlier seen talking to Ron Dennis, who had threatened to take Red Bull to the High Court over the future of Fallows, summed it up: “It’s obvious why they’re looking for aerodynamicists…”