What a great race that was. The 2016 Chinese Grand Prix had everything from a mixed up grid to plenty of on track drama as Nico Rosberg secured his third straight win of the season and opened up a 36 point lead in the drivers championship, already over a race victory ahead of teammate Hamilton. There were plenty of talking points throughout the Chinese GP weekend which I’ll address in a later post, but here are two of the biggest winners and two of the biggest losers from the Chinese Grand Prix.
Red Bull Racing
Red Bull have certainly improved this season relative to 2015, and with Kvyat scoring their first podium of the year, for the first time in a good year or so Red Bull looked like they had the strongest car at certain points in the race, especially in the midfield section. A fine third place for Kvyat and a great recovery drive to 4th from Ricciardo represents a great result for Red Bull and they look to have easily surpassed Williams as the third fastest team in the pitlane, at what was supposed to have been one of their weaker tracks.
Without losing a tyre whilst leading the race Ricciardo would have surely finished on the podium but Kvyat’s resurgent form after the disappointment of Australia ensures that Red Bull have two drivers firing on all cylinders and more than capable of causing Mercedes and Ferrari headaches and it was a refreshing sight to see a Red Bull passing a Mercedes on more than one occasion.
I think Vettel was a little unfair to Kvyat post race, although it was unfortunate that the Ferrari’s collided, especially when both had the pace to finish on the podium but I think you have to put their collision down to a racing incident and it’s great to see Kvyat flex his muscles.
It might seem odd to class Kimi Raikkonen as a winner (this may be controversial) this weekend but I think he is finally back to his usual best after a difficult couple of seasons, and it’s great to see. He out qualified Vettel and would have certainly given him a run for second place had he not been turned round at turn one. Whereas in previous seasons Raikkonen may have been content to finish the race trundling round the bottom half of the top ten he impressively fought his way back through to take 5th place by the checkered flag finishing just 13 seconds behind Ricciardo.
The 2016 Ferrari certainly does seem to suit Kimi much better than the previous two seasons and Raikkonen trails Vettel by just 5 points in the championship standings. I can’t wait until Russia to see Raikkonen seriously challenge Vettel again after his impressive overtaking manoeuvres on Massa and Hamilton in the closing laps.
I think China showed that Williams have now fallen behind Red Bull in the pecking order and I can’t see them getting back past them any time soon. This was the sort of race over the last two seasons where Williams would have picked up the odd 3rd place finish after some of the leading runners had messy races (Hamilton, Raikkonen) but Red Bull are now clearly favourites in the battle to be best of the rest, I think come their engine upgrade in Montreal they could even catch Ferrari on pace alone. Williams are obviously restricted by their budget and the fact they they haven’t been able to manufacture more than one new nose cone due to financial reasons does highlight just how much a disadvantage they are at compared to their immediate rivals.
Of course, both Williams drivers still finished in the points with Massa coming in 6th place after starting outside the top ten and Bottas bringing home a point in 10th, and and those 9 points will be valuable come the end of the season. Massa did an excellent job to keep Hamilton behind him in the closing laps with some great defensive driving and Bottas’s 10th place finish ensures Williams keep both drivers in the top ten in the drivers championship and 4th in the constructors. Although, Bottas was passed on the last lap by Carlos Sainz who ensured Toro Rosso’s best points haul yet in the Chinese GP.
After all the promise of the last half of 2015 and 2016 winter testing Force India look to have fallen by the wayside this season and both cars finished outside the top ten in the race, something which you would not have predicted at the start of the season. Both cars were running safely inside the top ten at stages in the race before Perez came home 11th and Hulkenberg 15th after receiving a grid penalty after qualifying.
Perez has yet to finish in the points and Hulkenberg’s solitary points finish came way back in Australia in what is an extremely disappointing way to start 2016, especially given they were arguably on a par with Red Bull by the end of last season. Perez scored a podium in Russia last year but I honestly can’t see a repeat of that feat in Russia in a couple of weeks time. With McLaren rapidly improving and massive steps forward from Red Bull I fear Force India may fall further behind before the season is out.