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Hamilton wins, Verstappen puts on show in China

By Gary Becker
Lewis Hamilton earned his 54th career Formula One victory leading start to finish at the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai. Hamilton started from the pole and grabbed the lead as the lights went out. From then on the lead Mercedes was never seriously challenged. The win marked Hamilton's third Grand Chelem where he tallied the pole position, race win, fastest lap, leading every racing lap of his F1 career

"My pole lap put me in a great position and then the start was just fantastic." said Hamilton "I’m really happy with my starts right now so I want to keep that up! During the race I needed to keep my composure in some really tricky conditions out there. After the pit stop under the Safety Car the speed was low and the tires were very cold, so it would have been very easy to make a mistake, so I’m just grateful that I didn’t. In those final 20 laps Seb and I were just pounding around as fast as we could, exchanging fastest lap times, that’s what racing is all about. In the future there will be times when we don’t have a Safety Car and we won’t have that gap. I’m excited for that. It’s very close and there were times when it was hard to match Sebastian. It has been a fantastic weekend and I’m so grateful for the effort the team has put in for us to be where we are today. It’s very overwhelming when you have a weekend like this, because I’m just a single link in the chain and there are hundreds of people who are involved to put me up here on the top step. Big congratulations to everyone, especially those back home, I hope they’re celebrating and feeling the spirit and the fight."

Starting the race next to Hamilton and eventually finishing second was the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel. Using a rather unorthodox angled starting position Vettel got off to a poor start on the damp track falling behind Hamilton and having to fight off Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull Racing's Daniel Ricciardo going into the the first turn.

Vettel was also the first of the leaders to pit on lap three during a safety car period to change from intermediate tires to slicks. The early stop put Vettel back to fifth place but from there he mounted an inspired charge back to the front muscling his way around Raikkonen, Ricciardo and then Max Verstappen to regain second place where he would eventually finish the race.

“We can be happy with today’s results." said Vettel "The race was a lot of fun, very entertaining. Conditions were tricky at the start, you never know what can happen in those moments, so I was perhaps a bit too conservative. Then we chose to change tires since the track was quickly drying out, so that we could take advantage from the slicks; but luck was not on our side as the safety car came in right after. I can’t say how much this affected the final result, it was still a long way from there to the finish, but I think it had an effect. From then I had to work my way through the field, and I had a tense wheel-to-wheel fight with Ricciardo. I like this way of overtaking, when gaining position comes at a price and not simply by opening up the DRS. At that moment though, the gap to Lewis had widened, and I kept pushing to keep some pressure on him, while asking my engineer what pace was needed for me to catch him. I think that pace-wise we were a match today, sometimes he was faster, sometimes I was: if we can fight with Mercedes also in Bahrain that will be again good news. We can still improve.”

The drive of the day was put in by Max Verstappen who after suffering problems with his Red Bull Racing machine in qualifying started the race from the 14th grid spot. Verstappen passed 6 cars on the first lap on the damp Shanghai circuit. From there he continued to work his way to the front through on-track moves and pit strategy running as high as second place before having to settle for the final podium step at the end of the race.

“That was a very special race." said Verstappen "When I woke up this morning I never expected to be on the podium. It was a very good first lap, I passed nine cars I think which is very positive. The conditions really helped me get past the cars as quick as I could, that was important as I knew it would only dry up and get tougher to pass. I always enjoy driving in the wet so I made the most of the fun conditions early on. I think in the first eleven laps I got up to seventh place which set me up for a strong finish. We were a bit unsure of how the balance of the car would be towards the end of the race as I didn’t run much yesterday in Qualifying and the temperature is a lot lower today. We had quite a bit of understeer but just about managed to hold on to third place. These balance issues combined with being within two seconds of another car in the closing stages of the race made it really hard to drive, there were blue flags out but I still couldn’t get past, this needs looking into. The battle with Daniel at the end was hard as my car was not fun to defend in. I’m glad we hung on and obviously it was a great race to watch and for the team. I think on pure pace in the dry we are still a bit slow for a podium but all things considered today we definitely MAXED it out.”

Ricciardo finished fourth after a spirited dice with Verstappen ahead of Raikkonen and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz.

“I have mixed emotions, it’s obviously disappointing to miss out on the podium as it was so close today but as a team it’s a good result to finish third and fourth." said Ricciardo "I lost a lot of time in the first stint as I struggled to keep my front tires alive and that pretty much put us out of a podium position. After the first pit stop I had good balance and speed which meant I could claw some time back and close the gap to the leaders. Towards the end of the race I could see that Max was struggling with his tires but as soon as I got close to him I also began to struggle with mine. The team let us race but even though I was in the DRS zone I was not really close enough to pull off a convincing move. I had a look but the inside lines were still quite slippery into the hairpin and I was honestly never really close enough to make a move stick. It was also quite noticeable that the DRS effect is far less on the cars this year which didn’t help. As a team we should be pleased with the result and we learnt a lot today but we still have some work to do to close the gap to Mercedes and Ferrari.”

Kevin Magnussen took Haas’ first points of the season with eighth place, while Force India enjoyed a double points finish for the second race in a row, with Sergio Perez ninth ahead of Esteban Ocon.

“It was a good race." said Magnussen "I had fun out there. I had a good car all the way through the race. I’d made a really poor start, so to come back from that and push, I was really happy. The car’s been good today. I was able to look after the front tires, which I think was key, along with working with the team to get the car in the right window. The race was really well managed from the team. It was good strategy to get me out on the supersoft after the intermediates. You had to fight for it, in terms of passing. It’s not easy, but you also have grip, so you can take different lines and get close in alternative ways. It’s so much more fun when you’re fighting in the points. I’m happy for the team and we’re looking forward to the coming races.”

Hamilton with 43 points is tied with Vettel for the lead in the Drivers’ Championship while Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport with 66 points leads the Constructors’ Championship by a single point over Ferrari.


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