Chinese Grand Prix: Safety car stymies Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen's cool head produces a mesmerising first lap

Jack de Menezes
Max Verstappen lit up Shanghai by passing nine cars on the first lap of the Chinese Grand Prix: EPA

Ferrari’s smart move doesn’t pay off

Ferrari rolled the dice to pit Sebastian Vettel when the Virtual Safety Car was deployed for Lance Stroll’s accident, and had a full safety car not followed immediately after whe Antonio Giovinazzi stuck his Williams into the wall, the outcome of the Chinese Grand Prix could have been very different to the Lewis Hamilton masterclass it proved.

Vettel found himself dropping from second to fifth due to the early stop and had to fight his way past Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen as well as the Red Bull pair of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen to resume his pursuit of Hamilton. But by the time he returned to second position, Hamilton had built a 10-second lead and Vettel’s hopes of pushing the Mercedes driver had gone.

As Hamilton put it afterwards, he was “chilling” until Vettel made his way through the pack, but had it not been for the safety car, he may have been the one doing the chasing.

Verstappen displays a cool head to make lightning start

Max Verstappen came under intense fire from Vettel last season for what he perceived were rash and dangerous overtakes. But watching the 19-year-old’s first lap in Shanghai was a thing of beauty that had shades of Ayrton Senna at Donington Park about it.

Verstappen went from 16th on the grid to seventh in the opening lap of the race, something made all the more impressive given he was blocked of the line and had to lift off the throttle. The teenager is proving a supremely talented driver in wet conditions, something he displayed at last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix in monsoon conditions, and his charge to third place in Sunday was one that belied his single years’ experience in an F1 cockpit.

Stroll showing little to suggest he has what it takes

Lance Stroll is only two races into his F1 career, but there’s so far little to show that warranted the Williams seat for any reason other than money. Writing him off at this stage would be incredibly premature as there’s still plenty of time to show he’s capable of earning his place on the grid, but so far he has little in his favour.

His performance on Saturday to qualify 10th was more like what we expected from the young Canadian, but two consecutive DNF’s will not go down well with a team who needs to capitalise on points early before their rivals are able to heavily invest in mid-season upgrades.

The way Stroll went out of the Chinese Grand Prix may have been ruled a racing incident by the stewards, but he must show more patience that, in tricky and changeable conditions, means giving other drivers a bit of extra room so that he’s there to see the chequered flag.

Lance Stroll was too overeager on the opening lap and paid the price (Getty)

Overtaking not an issue in China

Martin Brundle’s quip that “we may have had 100 fewer overtakes” than last season was slightly hyperbolic, yet Sunday’s 54 on-track passes was a far more welcome sight than the five that were witnessed in Australia.

The near Pirelli tyres and wider cars with improved aerodynamics have sparked large fears that overtaking would be a near impossibility this season, but China dismissed that threat and, though the changeable conditions helped, it was a very enjoyable race to watch.

Sebastian Vettel saw his shot at Lewis Hamilton robbed by the safety car (Getty)

Bottas makes the right noises after costly error

Valtteri Bottas was caught out behind the safety car as he spun off just a lap before racing resumed, the cold tyres in changing track conditions leaving the Finn way down the order and ending his chances of a podium finish. His day didn’t get much better when he came in to change tyres for a second time as an issue with the rear jack cost him time, and to top it all off, his radio engineer Tony Ross – who coached last year’s world champion – managed to call him Nico in reference to the now retired Nico Rosberg.

Valterri Bottas had to fight back through the field after spinning behind the safety car (Getty)

But when interviewed by the media, Bottas refused to blame the pit stop delay and admitted it was his error, not the teams, that cost him any chance at a top three finish for the second race in a row. It was a good sign of maturity from Bottas, and something that should mean he learns from the error rather than let it affect him.

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