The third round of the 2018 F1 season saw everyone head up to Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton knew that another defeat to Sebastian Vettel here would see his hopes of a fifth world title move further afield from his grasp.
Red Bull struggles for one lap pace and reliability despite a lucky win
Red Bull have proved that they can match Ferrari and Mercedes in races but single lap pace and reliability still hampers them.
Currently on their third engine of this season for Daniel Ricciardo after a FP3 turbo failure, Red Bull could very well find grid penalties heading their way in coming races.
That will hamper their hopes of fighting for wins but they currently have a big issue which already hampers their ability to get into such positions.
In the three qualifying sessions so far, Red Bull are around 0.6s off the two Ferrari and Mercedes drivers.
That needs to close up and perhaps get one car in amongst them four to give themselves a decent shot at a podium or victory.
Shanghai however brought them race luck after a clever double stacking pit stops especially when safety car was called, helping Ricciardo to take the race win against their one stopping rivals.
Teammate, Max Verstappen finished fifth after a few errors and time penalty but was full of praise for the team, saying; “The team executed everything perfectly today, we had a great strategy and the car was behaving well…”
In summary, great race pace and strategy but need to work on getting single lap pace up to same standards.
Williams’ woes start to lift
After a disastrous start to season, Williams’ woes showed some signs of improving this weekend.
Friday was disappointing but the temperature change for Saturday clearly helped them as Sergey Sirotkin managed to finish tenth in FP3 before missing out on Q2 by just 0.05s.
Although both drivers exited in Q1, that performance by Sirotkin shows that there is speed in the car but it needs to become consistent.
Chief Technical Officer, Paddy Lowe was full of praise after qualifying for the improvement, saying; “The team has done some great work so far this weekend to find a few improvements on the car relative to where we were in Bahrain.”
He is right because there has been a clear step forward despite leaving China with no points.
Force India make further progress
Despite announcing on Friday that balance is holding the car back from its full potential, this weekend saw Force India make further progress.
After spending Friday gathering data, the team surprisingly benefitted from the chilly conditions that arrived on Saturday and helped Sergio Perez to qualify eighth.
Speaking post quali, Perez was delighted and believes that the car is starting to become easier to understand and unlock its performance.
Discussing the progress made, the Mexican said; “we are getting closer and closer with every race, understanding more about our car and unlocking its performance.”
Admittedly the race didn’t go to plan after bad luck effectively robbed them of at least a point, but the data gathered will go a long way in helping them get back to where they were last season.
Perez and Esteban Ocon however looked to the positives from this weekend as a sign that there is progress being made.
Speaking post race, Ocon said that ‘pace was competitive so we focus on the positives’ whilst Perez is excited heading into the European leg of this season.
Reflecting on progress made this weekend and for the future, Perez told the media; “Yesterday we took a step forward; we made another improvement today and I am confident that once we get to Europe we can start picking up some stronger results.”
Varied Tyre Strategy Shakes Order
There is no doubt that the results of the Chinese GP were helped by Pirelli’s clever tyre selection of Medium, Soft and Ultrasoft tyres.
The biggest winners of this decision were Red Bull who double stacked their drivers for both pit stops, particularly when safety car came out after both Toro Rosso collided and spread debris across turn 14.
Fernando Alonso also benefitted from this after making his one stop strategy work till that safety car period, affording him a free change without losing many positions. If not, he would of slid behind Force India’s Esteban Ocon.
As well as there being winners, there are also some losers, which unfortunately befell both Force India drivers, with Deputy Team Principal, Robert Fernley putting it down to misfortune.
Discussing his team’s failure to get some points from the race, Fernley told the media; “It was one of those afternoons where a combination of factors played against us and into the hands of others”
Pit stop woes continue
After an incident at Ferrari during Bahrain GP when a mechanic got injured during Kimi Raikkonen’s second pit stop, wheels were a hot topic in the paddock.
That was only further aided by Stoffel Vandoorne suffering a loose rear right after a practice pit stop in FP2.
Vandoorne after that session played down the increasingly apparent pit stop problem, saying; “It happens every now and then.”
It’s becoming increasingly clear that safety of drivers and mechanics are being put at peril as they look to find the perfect pit stop time, with some teams like Ferrari now being slightly cautious during the race.
If there are any more pit stop issues in next few races, then a drastic rethink on the pit stop procedures will be needed.
If need a recap of the opening two rounds, check out our round ups below via the links.