A great Grand Prix without the politics; that was the general verdict of the Chinese Grand Prix last weekend. OK, we did have some rain to upset things, and some pretty chaotic opening laps which worked well for some, not so well for others but a seriously competitive and action-packed Grand Prix. And with Bernie Ecclestone absent and Jean Todt only appearing just before the start, there was a distinct lack of politics too, thank heavens.
But have we seen the overall level of Grand Prix racing 2016? I still don’t think so. Like the red flag in Melbourne and even the first lap opening contacts in Bahrain, we had the safety car intervention in China after lots of contact in the opening laps and that slightly skewed some people’s Chinese Grand Prix, so we’re still waiting for a clean race to gauge the true picture.
Of course, we had Lewis Hamilton first of all relegated with a gearbox penalty and then no qualifying time and after his problems on lap one, he was at the back with several pit stops before the safety car came out to tighten everyone up and cancel out his multi-second deficit. It worked the other way for Ricciardo, of course, whose exploding rear tyre caused the safety car, and Felipe Massa who had gambled on a two stop strategy using the soft tyre.
Talking of which, that was a great call by Nico Rosberg to set his Q2 time on the softer tyre, not worrying whether he was quickest or not in that session, sacrificing a bit of speed to use the soft tyre rather than the supersoft used by all the other Q2 top ten. Of course, they all dipped into the pits under that early safety car which rather nullified his advantage, but it was a good call while it lasted.
And it mixed up the grid nicely, to the extent that some saw it as a reverse grid to liven up the rest of the race. We had Hamilton coming through, of course, but also Raikkonen and Ricciardo, while Wehrlein was up to fifth at one point, so it was a nicely mixed up field. That’s when teams’ strategists came into their own, trying to devise ways to make the most of their tyres: 13 drivers used all three Pirelli dry tyres available, although not winner Rosberg and sixth placed Massa who made just two stops.
All this came after the reversion to 2015 qualifying. Talk to any observer and they will refute the reasoning that the new qualifying for 2016 came from a call by the promoters. I’ve told you that I was never asked about this; you might ask why I should be but I am the on-track commentator, so it is me who has to explain the qualifying to the spectators at the circuit. No one has ever spoken to me, nor heard my concerns about just how well my co-commentators could relay the information – even the excitement – to the spectators. No, say my colleagues, this was about something else; what, we shall have to wait and see.
Apart from that qualifying talk, China was remarkably free of politics. There was a bit of banter about the drivers’ dinner and who should pick up the bill but if that’s the worst of the politics, we got off lightly. Even one old hand who normally scarcely notices the racing said how much he was enjoying F1 in 2016.
But is Nico Rosberg running away with it? Well, even Nico would dispute that, knowing full well that it’s just a matter of time before Lewis gets the bit between his teeth and absolutely runs away with it. Nico knows this, and it is his challenge, once Lewis has a good grid position and a good start. Talking of starts, this time it was Daniel Ricciardo who made the great start to head Rosberg, although Rosberg had the knowledge that Ricciardo would have to stop earlier than he would, because of the different tyre choice. So Rosberg may have won all three races, but only in Bahrain did a Mercedes lead after lap one.
Of course, take a look at the gaps and you do see that Ferrari are close and Rosberg has already said that he doesn’t feel that the guys from Maranello have really shown their hands yet. We had a retirement from Raikkonen in Melbourne, and Vettel’s non-start in Bahrain, but at least this time they both finished.
Of course everyone finished in Shanghai and a big congrats to all the teams for this achievement. We do have a great sport and a great World Championship and without the politics – and some of my colleagues who stir it up – we have great races and ones to be proud of. Long may it continue.
By Bob Constanduros