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Wesley Branton | April 14, 2019 @ 7:51 am
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The teams and drivers were in Shangai this weekend for the FORMULA 1 HEINEKEN CHINESE GRAND PRIX 2019. It was a special weekend for the sport, as Formula One celebrates their 1000th Grand Prix.
Max Verstappen created some embarrassment for himself before the race even started, spinning on the formation lap while trying to warm up his tyres. He wasn’t alone though, as Robert Kubica managed to do the same thing. Both drivers rejoined the formation and were able to start the race in their qualified grid positions.
As the lights went out, pole sitter Valtteri Bottas got a lot of wheel spin off of the grid, allowing Lewis Hamilton to slot into the lead of the race well before the first corner. Sebastian Vettel had to slow slightly for the slow Mercedes ahead, giving Charles Leclerc the opportunity to slide past his teammate on the inside of the first corner.
There was trouble for the McLaren duo on the opening lap when Daniil Kvyat had a bit of oversteer on the inside of the corner. He turned to the outside of correct the slide, colliding with Carlos Sainz and then slamming into the side of Lando Norris. Both McLaren’s had to limp back to the pit lane where Sainz was given a new front wing and Norris got new tyres. The stop was slow, as the team struggled to remove Sainz’s front wing, making the situation worse of his teammate who was forced to double stack in the pit lane. Kvyat was handed a drive-through penalty for causing a collision.
The incident prompted a virtual safety car, allowing time for the marshals to clear the debris from the opening lap.
With the Mercedes rivals stretching the lead at the front of the race, Leclerc was told to swap positions with his teammate, who appeared to be faster at the time. The young driver complied with the request, despite some minor protesting over the radio.
But the swap didn’t help the team much. Vettel wasn’t able to use the clean air to his advantage, locking up repeatedly and continuing to lose pace compared to the leading pair of Mercedes. Meanwhile, Leclerc was slowed by the dirty air coming from the other Ferrari, pushing him back to Verstappen attack zone.
Nico Hulkenberg was the first car to retire from the race, parking in the Renault garage with an apparent mechanical failure after just 18 laps. This is his second mechanical failure this season.
Verstappen was the first of the lead five to pit for new tyres, changing to the hard compound tyres. He rejoined the car just ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, which was critical for his strategy. Ferrari was forced to respond to the undercut threat from Red Bull, calling Vettel into the pit lane. He was able to stay out in front of Verstappen but was stuck behind Norris who was nursing floor damage from his first lap incident.
This cost Vettel dearly, putting Verstappen into attack mode. By the time the duo reached the hairpin, Verstappen was close enough to make a dive up the inside of Vettel, locking up slightly. Vettel performed the switchback to get on the inside down the straight. Verstappen was on the grass and was not able to maintain the position.
Mercedes responded to the risk of Vettel and Verstappen’s brilliant lap times. Bottas was given the first choice of strategy from P2, covering up the risk of losing a position to Ferrari. Hamilton was next to pit from the lead of the race along with Leclerc, whose race was jeopardized by the team.
However, it wasn’t a one-stop pit strategy in this race. Verstappen was the first of the lead cars to make a second pit stop for the medium compound tyres on lap 35. This triggered another round of pit stops from the lead teams. Vettel was the next to respond, coming out of the pits with a comfortable 8 second lead over Red Bull.
Mercedes made a rare move, double stacking their drivers the following lap. Hamilton was the first into the pits from the lead of the race, with Bottas right behind. It was a perfect double stack from Mercedes and Bottas didn’t need to wait at all. Hamilton rejoined the race in the lead, but Bottas came out behind Leclerc who had not yet made his second pit stop. Leclerc did a good job of holding up Bottas, surely helping his teammate’s chances of a P2 finish.
Once Bottas got by, the team left Leclerc out. It wasn’t until Vettel overtook him in the hairpin that Ferrari finally called Leclerc in for his second pit stop. The delay meant that Leclerc would emerge from the pit lane more than 14 seconds behind Verstappen, putting Leclerc’s P4 hopes out of reach.
As the race entered the closing stages, everyone was lapping roughly the same times. Hamilton held a race lead greater than five seconds over his teammate. Leclerc reported a technical problem over the team radio, but the team dismissed the issue. Nevertheless, he was not able to challenge Verstappen.
Red Bull tried to steal the fastest lap from Vettel, taking advantage of Pierre Gasly’s free pit stop to fit a set of fresh soft tyres for the final lap of the race. He was able to steal the extra bonus point from Vettel.
Hamilton topped the podium, collecting his race victory this season and taking the World Drivers’ Championship lead from his teammate. Bottas completed Mercedes third 1-2 finish of 2019.
Above results table does not include any post-race penalties