The headlines following Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix were all about the tie between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton at the top of the 2017 World Drivers’ Championship. But what else did we learn from F1’s weekend in Shanghai?
The championship will continue to swing
After the first couple of races we were all hoping to get a clearer picture of whether Mercedes or Ferrari would be the team to beat in 2017. But if the Chinese Grand Prix is anything to go by, the answer to that question looks like it will continue to change from race to race.
According to Shanghai’s long straights and Lewis Hamilton’s two 2017 pole positions, it would appear Mercedes still enjoys enough of an advantage in pure engine power that it should have the edge around the likes of Spa, Suzuka, and the newer Tilkedromes. But when it comes to street and chassis-dependant circuits like Barcelona and Singapore, Ferrari’s better handling will make all the difference in race trim.
Add to that the usual variables of reliability, weather and individual driver performance, and the result should be a title battle that keeps on pitching from one camp to the next.
The driver market is taking shape
It’s never too early to start talking about silly season. We may have only just finished the second of twenty races, but already certain drivers are coming to the fore as potential linchpins in this year’s contract negotiations.
Carlos Sainz was one of those whose CV enjoyed some added sparkle in Shanghai, as he ran in sixth place and within touching distance of the leading pack for most of the race; likewise, his compatriot Fernando Alonso’s efforts in hauling his MCL32 into the points before retiring looked every bit a sales pitch to the likes of Mercedes in the final year of his McLaren contract.
On the other end of the spectrum, Jolyon Palmer had yet another dismal weekend in China, and was shown up considerably by qualifying eleven places behind teammate Hülkenberg. Nor will Valtteri Bottas be particularly pleased with his Shanghai performance—once again the Finn was too easily muscled out at the start by Vettel, which is a trend he cannot allow to continue if he wants to remain with Mercedes beyond the terms of his current one-year deal.
Ferrari needs new blood
Another driver feeling the pressure after China is surely Kimi Räikkönen. Whilst his teammate was carving through the Red Bulls and chasing down Lewis Hamilton, Ferrari’s Flying Finn spent most of the Chinese Grand Prix cruising some way off the leaders, seemingly unable to affect any of the passes that Vettel made look so easy.
Now that Ferrari is in a position to win races and fight for the championship, Räikkönen’s tailing form is being made painfully clear beside Vettel—and not to mention in the light of burgeoning talents like Sainz and Pérez. As much as the sport will miss him, perhaps the time has finally come for the Iceman to move on.
James Matthews, Editor-at-Larges