Three in a row for Lewis

Chi­nese Grand Prix 20.04.2014 / Shang­hai

F1 Racing - - FINISHING STRAIGHT - by James Roberts

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 brieng 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 condence 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…”

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