CHINESE GP: race analysis

Written by @spontonc e @SmilexTech - Translated by Federico Marchi

Hamilton-Mercedes 1 vs Vettel-Ferrari 1. In a football context this would be the result after two intriguing Grand Prix of a season that seems to promise a great show mainly thanks to a competitive Ferrari. A Chinese GP that turned out to be very interesting without however giving us the pleasure to watch the duel between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel that many fans wished to see on a track, the Chinese one, that is very undervalued by many experts.

The final result is partially untruthful: Lewis Hamilton in fact, has obtained a too easy win for what we saw during the race; we say this because no one has been able to put under pressure the triple world champion (even if Sebastain Vettel proved once again to have a great feeling with his SF70H).

CHINESE GP: correct decision the one of not sanctioning Vettel for his position on the grid
The first fact we want to analyze is the positioning on the starting grid of Sebastian Vettel. For those who did not watch the race, the German driver positioned his car slightly to the left, with two wheels completely outside the grid slot.

Vettel made this smart choice to start in an area of the track that was less wet. Before the warm up lap we clearly noticed that the Ferrari’s driver, together with the engineer Adami, checked carefully the asphalt. The decision was taken together with Adami and the sporting director of Ferrari (Diego Ioverno) that knows perfectly the rules imposed by FIA. Vettel’s action was then put under investigation after some laps, without however leading to further actions. There is also a precedent, that of Daniel Ricciardo in Japanese GP of 2016. Even in that case, there were no sanctions since it does not yet exist a rule that bans the positioning beyond the grid slot. The race direction has however asked Vettel to avoid such a behavior in the future. Also Cristian Horner, RedBull’s Team Principal, asked FIA to go more in depth. This will probably result in a technical note that is going to be issued in the next weeks, aimed at clarifying what happened in this situation.

CHINESE GP: only Sainz risked the SuperSofts, a gamble that in the end paid off!
Every driver but Sainz decided to start the race on Intermediate tyres. Hamilton and other fellow drivers, during the installation laps tried the slick tyres realizing that for those of them fighting for the win the risk was perhaps too big. For the drivers that were starting in the back positions, as for instance Sainz, instead the choice could have paid off using extra care during the earliest laps in particular in the 1st sector and in the braking point after the long straight (where Lewis Hamilton, during one of the installation laps, made the mistake that probably persuaded him to start with wet tyres).

The crash of Stroll in the first lap, rear-ended by Perez, forced Charlie Whiting to deploy for the first time this season the Virtual Safety Car. Ferrari’s box, in our opinion very intelligently, opted thus for an early pit stop on the car of Vettel to install Soft tyres. This move could have turned out to be decisive in the evolution of the race if Giovinazzi would not have crashed in the main straight during the 3rd lap. This accident obliged the Race Director to deploy the Safety Car and to make the cars go through the Fast Lane. The undercut of Ferrari on Lewis Hamilton had some downsides, among which the chance that a driver using slick tyres crashed (which in fact happened). In general, taking the Pole Position allows also to manage this kind of situations in the best way possible and to avoid aggressive strategies.  

Ferrari’s move became so, within one lap, an unlucky failure. Looking at the times, during lap 3 the gap of Hamilton on Vettel was slightly below 18 seconds; this gap was not sufficient to pit and maintain the lead of the race. To be precise, even without the Safety Car Mercedes were sure that in the following laps, Vettel on Soft with respect to Hamilton on Intermediate, on a partially wet track, would have lose some seconds per lap so to allow an easy pit stop for the German team. However, we do not have the counter check of this. Luckily, and this is important to point out, during the SC Vettel gained one position thanks to a huge error of Bottas. The Finn driver had an about-turn while he was trying to warm up his new tyres. This turned out to be fundamental for Vettel, since overtaking on track a Mercedes W08 would have been quite tough.  

After the SC, Hamilton, having a completely clear track ahead of him, has been able to impose his own pace while Vettel, although quicker than the drivers ahead, has been forced to slow down

From the graph below it is possible to notice the time lost by the German driver on the race leader. He in fact, from lap 10 to lap 20 (when he overtook Raikkonen), lost on average about 0.5 seconds per lap on Hamilton

Once he passed Ricciardo (lap 22) from lap 23 to lap 27 the pace of Vettel has been very similar to the one of Hamilton. In this part of the race the gap between the two drivers increased by only 1 tenth.

Gap that started again to grow when, Hamilton, getting closer to his second pit stop, pushed hard.  Thing that Vettel has not been able to do, due to a greater decline of tyres on his SF70H, probably because of the laps behind his teammate. 

On the graph below, it is possible to see the tendency lines of Vettel and Hamilton in their first stint of the race. The one of Hamilton tends to the bottom; in fact, the English driver, in the laps before the pit stop, recorded his best times. The one of Vettel, instead, tends to the top and proves that his tyres were completely “used up” even because, as already said above, he always raced stuck in the traffic.

CHINESE GP: in the 1st stint a good performance by Hamilton, and a bad one by Ricciardo on a RB13 set for a dry race
In the next graph we present the average pace of the six Top Drivers: very good the pace of Hamilton, favored by being the race leader and so by racing with a clear track, while quite disappointing performance by Daniel Ricciardo that, unlike other drivers, had set his car for a completely dry race (Ferrari and Mercedes opted for a mixed setup for both drivers). The Australian driver suffered of understeer in the first part of race, improving instead in the second part thanks to a change in the front wing made during the 2nd pit stop.

In the end, we definitely have to focus our attention on the discussion about the so wanted (from Ferrari’s fans) Team Order in the moment in which Sebastian Vettel was stuck behind Kimi Raikkonen. In hindsight, it was for sure better to ask the Finn driver to step aside, but we cannot criticize the Italian team that in our opinion (since it is only the second race) took a correct decision demonstrating the important role played by Kimi Raikkonen inside the Team.

And certainly we can say that if Vettel was really quicker, he should have tried the overtake as did by Max Verstappen on Kimi and Ricciardo. Are we sure that at the beginning of the stint Vettel was really quicker than his teammate? Or only after some laps, when the car became lighter and the tyres reached an optimal grip, the pace of the German driver started to be competitive (at the level of Hamilton) allowing him to pass Raikkonen and then Ricciardo with an amazing overtake?

CHINESE GP: in the 2nd stint great performance by Vettel. Hamilton was controlling the race
In the 2nd part of the race, the pace of Vettel with clear track like Lewis Hamilton, has been the best. This should not have to mislead us and think that Vettel was quicker than Hamilton since the leader normally has only to control the race matching the lap times of those who follow. It is the same as saying that in Australia, Mercedes were quicker than Ferrari because Bottas has been the fastest driver in the 2nd part of the race.

With clear track and a light car, the decline of the tyres on the SF70H was similar to the one of the W08 and this is for sure a great signal. On this track the W08 has been “helped” by the cold temperatures but also by the changes on the flat bottom (click here for more details), showing less troubles in the management of tyres and consequently on the race pace with respect to what we noticed in Australia.

Talking about Red Bull, and ending the analysis of the second seasonal race, the Team from Milton Keynes scored two good results, for sure the most at which Ricciardo and Verstappen could aspire. The Dutch driver chose a “wet setup” that caused him some difficulties in the last part of the race where the understeer, due to tyres outside their ideal window of functioning, forced him to slow down.

The RB13 revealed to be more competitive in the first part of the race where the car was made heavier by the great quantity of fuel. In this phase the RB13 managed to exploit the SuperSoft tyres in their proper window of functioning. It is mainly this factor that obliged RedBull to choose this type of tyres, Low Working Range and more similar to 2016 compounds, on both cars. They were in fact afraid of the possibility of not properly exploiting the Soft tyres, typically a High Working Range compound.

Now teams move to Bahrain where they will find different weather conditions, even if it has to be considered that the race starts at 6 P.M. local hour, when the sun is already set below the horizon. They do not have to expect a boiling asphalt as in Malaysia (for instance) but rather similar conditions (during Quali and race) to those already encountered in Melbourne. Will it be sufficient to undermine Mercedes’ performance and enhance the easiness in the management of tyres of the SF70H? Let’s wait few days to have the answer; in the meanwhile, you can read our usual preview of the Bahrain GP.

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