Ferrari’s form — It’s no flash in the pan

The Chinese Grand Prix has given sufficient indications that the 2017 World Championship could go all the way down to the wire, with Ferrari and Mercedes fighting for supremacy.

Sebastian Vettel’s performance in the first two races suggest that the Championship will go all the way down to the wire.   -  AP

What a great Grand Prix in China! I really enjoyed it because it was a real indication to us after Melbourne that Ferrari’s form wasn’t a flash in the pan. This really is going to be a World Championship that goes all the way down to the wire, with Ferrari and Mercedes fighting for supremacy.

Lewis versus Sebastian in qualifying

On April 8, it was a good qualifying session: the final free practice was great and you had the prospect of Mercedes and Ferrari being very close, particularly Lewis against the two Ferraris, and it proved to be so. That’s where a top quality driver — like Lewis or Sebastian — earn their No. 1 status. They took a leap of faith, put it all on the line and were clearly ahead of their team-mates on the grid.

Carlos Sainz on slicks

Rain was forecast all the way through and Carlos Sainz arrived when I went to the grid, standing at the front just before the national anthem. I know Carlos quite well and we started chatting. I said, “You’re here early,” and he replied, “Yes, I want to go to slicks, I’ve made the decision, but no one else in my team wants to do it. They think I’m a bit mad!”. It was a very brave move and it worked out well in the end.

Carlos started 11th and finished seventh, but it was a very bold choice. He said to me, “I know I will be last on Lap One, but I think I will be in the top six by lap 10.”

Sure enough, he was in sixth place by Lap Eight. It worked out. I think he was a little lucky because of the safety car. If there wasn’t a safety car following Antonio Giovinazzi’s accident, Carlos wouldn’t have gained so much. He rolled the dice, it worked out for him and from then on I think he was one of the drivers of the day. A great performance and a fantastic result for him and Toro Rosso.

What more can we say about Max Verstappen? He started 16th and it was just incredible what he managed in the opening laps. The way he is able to find grip in tricky conditions is amazing. He has got this great feel to find grip on parts of the circuit that other people aren’t seemingly able to exploit.

Max has a huge amount of confidence — he is young and fearless — but he is not out of control. He is very calculated with the moves that he makes and that opening phase of the Grand Prix was just incredible.

Max passed his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo in a straight fight and Daniel is a top-notch racing driver. In this part of the Grand Prix, Max was the man — he was quicker than anyone else. As the race went on Daniel came back at him, so if you look at it over a Grand Prix distance from, say Lap Seven, there wasn’t too much to choose between the two Red Bull drivers.

However, to go from 16th to fourth in those first half a dozen laps was just amazing stuff. Absolutely, the driver of the day in my books.

Vettel — victory missed?

Vettel’s race for me was a story of what could have been. When he pitted under the virtual safety car it looked like the right decision: I was in the pit lane and I thought ‘This is going to work out for him’. Ironically, the third driver from Ferrari, Giovinazzi, driving for Sauber in place of Pascal Wehrlein, caused the proper safety car which allowed the Red Bulls, Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas to get ahead — although Bottas later spun during the safety car period. That really compromised Vettel’s race. If you contrast him with Kimi, Seb was in a situation where he thought ‘I am going to get on with this, I am not going to sit back’.

Seb came up behind Kimi and Daniel and while Kimi had a couple of looks at getting past Daniel, he never looked like he was doing anything innovative to get ahead. Seb was really thinking ahead in the cockpit and he would use unconventional lines on first Kimi and then Daniel for a move at Turn Six. The move Seb made at Turn Six was a result of everything he did at Turn One and Turn Two.

Formula 1’s A-listers

Kimi was behind Daniel for a long time — Seb got past Kimi and within two laps he was past Daniel as well. If you look at the gap at that point, Seb was 13 seconds behind Lewis. And at the end he was only six seconds behind Lewis. Okay, they’re all doing tyre saving and engine mode saving in different places, but if you look at the fastest laps in the Grand Prix, Seb and Lewis were clearly the A-listers, establishing themselves as championships favourites. They did a 35.3 and a 35.4 as their fastest laps.

It’s great for F1 to have two teams fighting it out.

The best of the rest

I thought Nico Hulkenberg did an outstanding job in qualifying, even if it didn’t work out for him in the race thanks to various penalties. Williams had a really difficult race, as Felipe Massa just went backwards and Lance Stroll was out on Lap One. I thought Stroll did a good job in qualifying under pressure as a driver coming into his second ever Grand Prix. He had a tough race in Melbourne and he did a good job in qualifying to get into Q3. Hopefully, Stroll can build on that for his sake. Sergio Perez did a good job as well.

Only three days off and then everyone reconvenes in Bahrain. It should be a great weekend because it is the first normal circuit. Melbourne is a street circuit and Shanghai is a bit unconventional with these long, tight corners, which we don’t have anywhere else in the calendar. Bahrain, to me, is the first normal track where we can see what the true pecking order is.