Controlled Lewis has Rosberg rattled
Mercedes were back at the front in China, but not everyone in the team was happy with the result
It was soon after the conclusion of the 56-lap Chinese Grand Prix that tensions between the two Mercedes drivers were once again thrust into the spotlight. Lewis Hamilton had beaten his hapless team-mate this weekend – both in qualifying by 0.042 seconds and in the race by 0.714 seconds – and Nico Rosberg had become understandably frustrated by it all.
After qualifying, Rosberg was upset with his team because of their suggestion that he should run quicker on his warm-up lap ahead of his best run, which took a little bit more grip out of his tyres. When he discovered Hamilton had beaten him to pole, he exclaimed: “Come on, guys!” over the team radio. There was further frustration during the race when Rosberg felt that Lewis was driving deliberately slowly in a bid to push him back into the reaches of the chasing Ferraris.
On lap 20, running 2.351 seconds behind Lewis and 1.686 seconds ahead of Vettel’s Ferrari, Rosberg said to his engineer Tony Ross: “Lewis is driving too slowly – get him to speed up. If I go closer [to Lewis] I destroy my tyres like in the rst stint. That’s the problem.”
As in Malaysia, tyre degradation was a key factor here. This notoriously technical circuit is tough on the left-front and left-rear axles and drivers and engineers struggle to nd solutions to the demands imposed by the track. Watching trackside on the entry to the long radius rst corner, drivers take wildly different trajectories on turn-in as their titanium skidblock machines throw up sparks on full tanks. Likewise, drivers also differed with their lines around the tricky Turn 12 and 13 right-hander to ensure the best slingshot for the 1,175 metre back straight, which also put a premium on engine power.
Track temperatures peaked on race day to roughly 46°C, but it was nowhere near as hot as Sepang was a fortnight earlier – and although the Ferraris were close, they couldn’t match the Mercedes in race trim.
The growing threat from Ferrari has resulted in Mercedes being more circumspect with race strategy. The James Allison-designed Ferrari SF15-T is kind to its rubber, so the early stages of the race were dened by the leading Mercedes machines showing strong pace, but ensuring their soft (option) tyres could last the required stint. The strategy worked for Hamilton, who ran consistently in the 1min 44.4secs bracket and then pumped in a 1min 43.6secs a lap before his rst stop. Again, just before his second stop he was able to run a full second quicker to ensure his place at the front of the eld was safe.
As the drivers nished their podium celebrations and came into the press conference, Hamilton was questioned over whether he was running too slow and pushing Rosberg back towards the Ferraris.
“I wasn’t controlling his [Nico’s] race, I was controlling my own race,” said the reigning champion. “We knew the Ferraris were very good