Lit­tle trou­ble in big China


De­spite an early lost lead, Ros­berg re­gained his com­po­sure to take seem­ingly ef­fort­less win

Lewis Hamil­ton is fond of us­ing the hash­tag #blessed on so­cial me­dia, but so far this sea­son he has been any­thing but. In­deed, as the MGU-H within his Mer­cedes power unit gave up the ghost dur­ing Q1 on Satur­day, it re­in­forced the im­pres­sion that team-mate Nico Ros­berg is the one count­ing his bless­ings. Lewis was al­ready fac­ing a ve-place grid penalty for a gear­box change, but now he would have to change en­gines, too – and start from the back.

Fer­rari had demon­strated a threat­en­ing turn of speed dur­ing prac­tice, but as the weather turned un­favourable on qual­i­fy­ing day – tor­ren­tial rain and howl­ing winds ren­dered the prac­tice ses­sion mean­ing­less and the track was still damp as the qual­i­fy­ing hour ap­proached – Ros­berg rose to the chal­lenge. An ex­cit­ing nal seg­ment justied the grudg­ing de­ci­sion of the sport’s stake­hold­ers to drop the half-baked elim­i­na­tion qual­i­fy­ing sys­tem used in Aus­tralia and Bahrain, where the ac­tion had zzled out in Q3.

Ros­berg had an in­dif­fer­ent rst sec­tor on his nal qual­i­fy­ing run but went pur­ple there­after to nail pole po­si­tion, while Fer­rari held Se­bas­tian Vet­tel back un­til the very last mo­ment pos­si­ble for a one-shot run. He went wide at the hair­pin but in truth the lap was al­ready not re­ally good enough, and Räikkö­nen went on to make a sim­i­lar mis­take. To com­pound Fer­rari’s angst, Ric­cia­rdo then de­moted Räikkö­nen and Vet­tel to third and fourth.

Hav­ing set his Q2 time on the soft tyre, us­ing only one set, Ros­berg was the sole fron­trun­ner to start on that com­pound. Pirelli pre­dicted that the ideal strat­egy would be a three-stop race, with two stints on the soft and one on the short-lived su­per­soft, but couldn’t say deni­tively whether it would be bet­ter to dis­pose of the su­per­soft rst or leave it un­til the end. Cir­cum­stances would ren­der this sce­nario moot, since Ros­berg ended up stop­ping just twice and run­ning to the end on medi­ums.

Ric­cia­rdo got the bet­ter start and swept into the ris­ing, tight­en­ing Turn 1 rst. Ros­berg elected not to con­test the cor­ner, tuck­ing in to his slip­stream, rel­a­tively un­threat­ened from be­hind be­cause the Fer­raris on the sec­ond row were slow away from the line. Räikkö­nen locked a wheel and slid wide be­fore gath­er­ing it in again, while Vet­tel looked to the in­side line but then had to change course sud­denly as he spot­ted Kvyat ap­proach­ing from aft.

Vet­tel turned his team-mate’s car broad­side and then spent the rest of the lap apol­o­gis­ing to the team from his new po­si­tion of sev­enth, be­hind Ric­cia­rdo, Ros­berg, Kvyat, Ser­gio Pérez, Hülken­berg and Car­los Sainz. If Hülken­berg par­layed the rst-cor­ner tan­gle neatly to run fth, hav­ing started 13th, Valt­teri Bot­tas was less for­tu­nate. Hav­ing started fth, the Wil­liams driver was hung out to dry at the pe­riph­ery of Turn 2 af­ter hav­ing to go around the out­side of Räikkö­nen, drop­ping to tenth. Lewis Hamil­ton

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