The Chinese Grand Prix was a special occasion for Formula 1. It was the 1000th race in the history of the highest class of single-seat auto racing. Mercedes continued their 2019 dominance with the team’s third 1-2 finish of the season, and are well in the lead of the Constructor’s Standings over rivals Ferrari and Red Bull. While the racing up front was rather underwhelming, the fight among the midfield teams was riveting courtesy of some spectacular driving by Kimi Räikkönen and Alex Albon.
Ferrari Under-Performed Again
Ferrari’s push to get back to the top of Formula 1 took another blow on Sunday. The team back at Maranello, Italy surely have a lot on their plate over the next few weeks. The straight line speed of the Ferrari cars simply could not make up the gap from Mercedes’ pace in the corners. Mercedes is a full 57 points clear of Ferrari in the Constructor Standings. This lead is certainly not indicative of the impressions that Ferrari left after Pre-Season Testing in Barcelona.
Former Mercedes driver and 2016 Formula 1 Champion, Nico Rosberg, was quick to point out how much of an advantage Mercedes has over Ferrari at the moment.
“Mercedes are really big, big favorites at the moment… Ferrari have pitched their car in the wrong place aerodynamically.”
It is evident that Ferrari will need to drastically alter their R&D strategy over the coming weeks to find the speed in the corners. There is simply too stark of a difference in race pace that the Italian team could find both championships over early than expected.
Unfortunately for Team Principal, Mattia Binotto, the struggle against Mercedes was the least of his problems on Sunday. The team orders instructing Charles Leclerc to give way to Sebastian Vettel early in the race utterly decimated Leclerc’s chance for a podium finish. Binotto made it clear that in 50/50 situations the advantage would be given to Vettel. The manner in which Vettel was handed the final podium spot without truly driving as though he deserved will leave the Monegasque driver bitter.
Throughout the course of the first three races, Charles Leclerc has been a thorn in the side of Vettel. He only trails the German driver by one point in the driver standings, and arguably should be ahead of him had fortune gone his way. Considering the combination of the unfortunate circumstances at the Bahrain Grand Prix due and team orders going in favor of Sebastian, Charles must be wondering what he ought to do to prove he is the best driver in the team.
Alex Albon and Kimi Räikkönen Put on a Performance
After a horrific crash in 3rd Practice on Saturday, Alex Albon was forced to start from the pit lane for the Chinese Grand Prix. That did not deter him though from a masterful race, which saw Albon claim 10th at the Shanghai Circuit. His one-stop strategy worked like a charm and he was rightfully named Driver of the Day.
The Thai-British driver has so far exceeded expectations at Toro Rosso and has already been linked to replace Pierre Gasly at Red bull. These discussions are quite premature even though they are not outside the ream of possibility. Regardless, Gasly should be given more time to adjust to his promotion. The distance between Gasly and Verstappen is far too great to be acceptable and solely down to adjusting to a new car. Gasly never came close to putting Verstappen under pressure in the race.
Kimi Räikkönen continued to impress with Alfa Rome Racing. The Finn has finished in the points in each of his first three races and has easily outperformed his teammate, Antonio Giovinazzi. Räikkönen has provided consistency for Alfa Romeo, and his drive highlighted the quality that the Ferrari powered engine possesses. While the results are no longer podium finishes, the now 39 year-old driver appears to be enjoying a new challenge.
Alfa Romeo’s pace has not lived up to the expectations so far this season. This could either be down to the fact that the opposition was simply underestimated or the Italian team was unable to build the quality of car expected. The hope had been for the team to put a strong challenge to Racing Point, Haas and Renault in the early races. It just has not happened this season, but there is a slight improvement from last year. While Haas has been struggling to maintain points finishes, the Iceman is taking advantage of the opportunities presented to him.
Baku, Azerbaijan is the next destination on the Formula 1 calendar. The tight street circuit has the second longest straight only behind Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps along with the tight turn sequence around the Maiden Tower. The 1001st Formula 1 Grand Prix will hopefully live up to the great spectacle from 2018.
Photo Credit-Unsplash: Kevin Langlais