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 five-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 final segment justified 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 fizzled out in Q3.
Rosberg had an indifferent first sector on his final 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 definitively whether it would be better to dispose of the supersoft first 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 first. 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 first-corner tangle neatly to run fifth, having started 13th, Valtteri Bottas was less fortunate. Having started fifth, 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