Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Shanghai International Circuit, 2018

2018 Chinese Grand Prix Star Performers

2018 Chinese Grand Prix

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Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg were RaceFans’ stars of the Chinese Grand Prix weekend. Here’s why.


Valtteri Bottas

Mercedes appears to be in the same situation it found itself 12 months ago: they haven’t quite got on top of their car yet and it’s Bottas, rather than Lewis Hamilton, who is getting the most from it. For the second weekend in a row Bottas out-qualified his team mate and was a genuine contender for victory.

This time it seemed he’d got it bought and paid for after a superb out-lap got him ahead of Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari. The Safety Car which compromised his strategy was a piece of luck there was no answer for, and it’s doubtful he could have kept Daniel Ricciardo from victory.

Daniel Ricciardo

The star of the race, Ricciardo used the fresh tyres he took on during the Safety Car period to attack his rivals with daring yet clinical moves which stood in contrast to his team mate’s ragged approach.

The only blemish on his weekend was Max Verstappen being quicker on Saturday. But given his compromised build-up to the session following a power unit failure, this was no great failing.

Nico Hulkenberg

Starting on used ultra-soft tyres looked like a tough ask for those who qualified in the lower half of Q3. Sure enough those who missed the cut for the final 10 but got to start on fresh tyres, such as Kevin Magnussen and Fernando Alonso, were handed an advantage by the rules.

But Nico Hulkenberg made his two-stop work, thanks in part to the Safety Car, and came out on top of the midfield fight. He took advantage of a rare chance to beat a Ferrari and was only six-tenths of a second away from gaining another position from the penalised Max Verstappen.

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Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen, Sebastian Vettel, Shanghai, 2018
Verstappen’s ragged race drew criticism
After a couple of borderline incidents in the opening races, Verstappen was way over the line in China, making two mistakes which compromised his race, one of which also earned him a penalty for spoiling a rivals’ afternoon.

He made a battling start, picking off Hamilton and Raikkonen. After celebrating his progress Verstappen’s engineer told him to “settle down”, words which evidently weren’t heeded. He tried to go wheel-to-wheel with Hamilton though the fast turn seven, but the Mercedes driver gave him edged him wide and Verstappen skidded off.

That allowed Ricciardo through. It has seemed in the past that the threat of losing to his team mate brings out the worst in Verstappen – remember the Hungaroring last year – and in his haste to pass Vettel he botched the move completely. Vettel said afterwards he wasn’t even planning to fight the Red Bull driver hard, making the contact all the more unnecessary. Verstappen at least had the sense to apologise for it.

And the rest

Vettel took the pole and kept the lead at the start yet contrived to lose his advantage to Bottas, which was a surprise. Raikkonen lingered on his first set of tyres, temporarily serving as a useful roadblock delay Bottas for Vettel, but having lost out on that strategy benefited from the Vettel/Verstappen clash to reach the podium. Hamilton had an uncharacteristically indifferent weekend but collected useful points for fourth.

Charles Leclerc, Sauber, Shanghai International Circuit, 2018
Leclerc tried rallying his Sauber
Alonso was the last driver to take a place from Vettel, dealing very firmly with his rival at turn two. Carlos Sainz Jnr and Kevin Magnussen took the remaining points.

Sergio Perez failed to score after a fine qualifying effort. It didn’t help matters that after making an average start it was if he decided the only car he badly needed to keep behind was his team mate’s. Esteban Ocon owned up to an error at the final corner on his Q3 lap and Stoffel Vandoorne spent his afternoon making up for a poor start.

The Williams pair came next, led by Lance Stroll who profited from the Force India fight at the start before slipping back. Marcus Ericsson made amends for a poor Saturday, where he collected a penalty and was much slower than his team mate, by being the first Sauber home. Charles Leclerc spoiled his race with a spin.

Romain Grosjean’s strategy proved optimistic and he sank out of the top 10, unimpressed at having to let his team mate by. Brendon Hartley had to do the same for Pierre Gasly, who he out-qualified, but the second time of asking the pair made contact.

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2018 Chinese Grand Prix

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    Keith Collantine
    Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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    34 comments on “2018 Chinese Grand Prix Star Performers”

    1. ‘Sergio Perez failed to score after a fine qualifying effort. It didn’t help matters that after making an average start it was (as) if he decided the only car he badly needed to keep behind was his team mate’s’ – bit of an unfair comment I’d say having looked at the replay as Ocon seemed to be completely overreacting to normal first lap chaos and looking to find malice in Perez. It certainly didn’t look like Perez intentionally impeded him and didn’t Ocon end the first lap ahead anyway?

      1. That also doesn’t take into account that he was pushed off track by Alonso on lap one.

    2. I’ve been a little disappointed by Charles Leclerc so far. I wasn’t expecting him to set the world alight in his first season, let alone the first few races, but half of me hoped he would at least be crushingly better than Marcus Ericsson; which certainly isn’t the case so far. Let’s wait until mid season before starting to pass judgement, but it’s fair to say that he needs a couple of good results soon.

      The Force India duo simply have to work together this year. The midfield is packed tightly and there’s no guaranteed fourth place waiting for them in 2018. Every point is going to be crucial come the end of the year… I always wince when they get close together on the track. (… and might start doing the same for Toro Rosso now!).

      1. @ben-n
        I sort of agree with your assessment of Leclerc’s lacklustre showings thus far; he’s clearly struggling not to over-drive the car. However, Sauber keep repeating a mistake they also regularly made in 2017, and that’s seemingly forgetting the second car when a strategic reaction is needed.
        Point in case: Leclerc’s stints in Bahrain and China, after swapping positions with Ericsson: Leclerc was already on the back foot in Bahrain after flat-spotting his tyres in the opening laps, but he recovered much of the lost ground with a fresh set of mediums. However, Sauber seemingly ignored him after the orchestrated position swap with Ericsson as the Swede returned to the track on new rubber. Leclerc was losing over 2 seconds per lap from then on, or just under 20 seconds in 8 laps, compared to Ericsson, who wasn’t even pushing but trying to make a one-stopper work. The gap between both Sauber drivers was just 18 seconds at the finish line, so it’s conceivable that a quick switch to Ericsson’s tyre strategy could’ve increased their chances of a double points finish.
        The same phenomenon repeated itself in China: Again, the Saubers swapped places (lap 40) after an earlier spin by Leclerc (lap 28). Sauber then failed to pit Leclerc under the Safety Car, despite having nothing to lose: Ericsson and Hartley were the only drivers behind Leclerc, whose tyres were predictably going to be marginal after an early pit stop (lap 21) and his spin. But Sauber were caught sleeping again, and Leclerc had to finish his race on a very worn set of tyres, again losing 20 seconds to Ericsson in the remaining 16 laps, even though Ericsson wasn’t really able to push, either, as he was again busy with making a one-stopper work.
        Now, I’m not saying Sauber are sabotaging Leclerc. He’s been doing that on his own, with major mistakes in both qualifying and race in Bahrain and China. But Sauber’s apparent strategic rigidity, which far surpasses the strategic gaffes for which Ferrari and Mercedes have already been criticised this season, is making his results look far worse than they needed to be.

        1. It seems Sauber always playing split strategies because they just want have a car that can capitalize on unexpected events. Quite reasonable strategy for a team that poised to be 9th at best but I don’t think the records alone is good indicator for both drivers.

          1. @sonicslv

            It seems Sauber always playing split strategies

            I would theoretically agree with you, but if you read carefully, you’d notice that there’s nothing ‘strategic’ about these situations. A strategy would need to have at least one advantage over another approach to merit that name.
            In essence, there are two sensible strategies:
            – Aiming for the best achievable track position at the expense of tyre life.
            See Ericsson’s strategy in Bahrain, or Wehrlein’s strategy in the 2017 Spanish GP. You either hope to be able to cling to your track position until the end, or at least gain a ‘free’ pit stop due to a neutralisation, whereas your opponents lose time by pitting while the track is green. Of course, this strategy is risky because it’s always possible that you’ll run out of tyre life too early. Bottas’ undercut and Räikkönen’s delayed pit stop were variations of this archistrategy.
            – Sacrificing track position to gain a performance advantage.
            See Red Bull’s strategy in Bahrain. This strategy consists in sacrificing track position (i.e. your position in the running order, or a relatively close gap to the cars in front of you), but attempting to attack with fresher tyres at a later stage.

            Why am I explaining this? Because Leclerc’s situation in the last two races had nothing to do with either strategy. He repeatedly found himself in a bad track position with bad tyres. Unlike the aforementioned strategies, which can either succeed or fail, Leclerc ended up in strict lose-lose situations, despite there being obvious strategic alternatives. There wasn’t a single conceivable situation that would’ve given him an advantage over his competitors. That’s why I’d say that Sauber’s behaviour wasn’t a ‘strategy’, it was negligence.

            1. I’m just trying to work out what a “theoretical” agreement is.

            2. @psynrg
              A factual disagreement. An agreement that would be given if the facticity presupposition of the statement it refers to were indeed valid. However, in this case, the statement presupposes that Sauber’s negligence is a strategy. I entirely agree with the observation that Sauber tend to split their strategies, but this simply doesn’t apply here.

        2. Swapping places in China? I don’t think it was teamorders to let Ericsson pass. They were only a couple of seconds behind Gasly, but lost a lot of time to the group in front over a couple of laps after the sc. When Ericsson managed to pass it was almost 7s and under 4s at finish. If it was teamorders he should have been passed much earlier to get a chance on the group in front.

          1. @orchide
            Swapped, overtook, doesn’t really matter in my opinion. If anything, it makes Sauber’s negligence even worse.

    3. So much fun seeing Ricciardo win, good on him and good on the RBR crew! What a feat between the engine rebuild and the snazzy stacked pit stops.

      Verstappen races the same way I do in Project Cars, I can put in a steaming lap but rarely go the full race without ramming some AI driver or spinning off of my own accord. Maybe this star is rising too quickly for his own good.

    4. Frankly, I can’t see how Bottas performed better than Vettel. Vettel’s performance pretty much mirrored Hamilton’s in Australia (for which the latter was called a Star Performer), but with a heap of misfortune on top. What could he have done differently/better? Absolutely nothing, I think. Ferrari were caught sleeping when Hamilton’s pit stop gave Mercedes’ intentions away. But that’s hardly Vettel’s fault.

      1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
        16th April 2018, 17:10

        If you saw Sky’s showing the replays and speeds of Vettels pit stp, He slowed down to the pit lane speed much earlier than he needed to, only adding to his time. Bottas braked as late as possible and that combined with his team and outstanding outlap is what made him slightly better than Vettel on race day IMO. He also did some great defnding on Vettel when it was reasonably clear that Ferrari were better this weekend.

        1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
          16th April 2018, 17:18

          sorry, meant to say I still do think Vettel should be a star performer, but I do think Bottas did slightly better given the ability of his car.

          1. @thegianthogweed
            I must admit that I didn’t see this analysis, and that I’d very much like to see it if there’s any recording of it. Not that I’d doubt that what you say is, in essence, correct. But I very much doubt that we’re talking about a difference of more than a few hundredths at most.
            My point would be moot if Vettel and Bottas had been given the same praise, but drawing a decisive line between these two drivers’ respective performances, while bearing in mind that Hamilton’s identical performance in Australia was also deemed worthy of a star, makes this … odd.

            1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
              16th April 2018, 20:45

              Even I can’t remember it that well, But Sky did go into quite a bit of detail and Anthony Davidson did seem to think that this was certainly what made it a bit worse for Vettel, on top of the slower stop.

            2. The analysis was very good from Ant Davidson on Sky, he didn’t attribute the undercut by Bottas on Vettel to a single event, instead considering the cumulative impact of three minor factors:

              1. The lockup at T14
              2. Early braking for the pitlane entry (specifically showed the steering wheel lights the drivers follow as a guide.
              3. The slightly cautious pit-stop from Ferrari

              Adding in Bottas’ outstanding outlap and the result is coming out several car lengths behind car 77.

      2. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
        16th April 2018, 18:06

        @thegianthogweed when did Sky show the replays of the pit stop and speeds? Is it during the race or in some kind of post-race analysis?

        1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
          16th April 2018, 20:44

          I think it was around an hour after the race. Anthony Davidson showed a replay of Vettels analysing on his steering wheel with the lights that he slowed down to the limit of the pit lane before he needed to. Where as Bottas looked like he carried even more speed round the corner and braked as late as possible, only hitting the limiter when he was restricted to that speed.

          I think it was a mixture of that as well as Mercedes’s stop (which was a lot faster) which gave Bottas the advantage. But hen we have to admit, his outlap was brilliant. I think from what Sky said when it was live that he was over a second faster than Vettel in just 1 sector alone. Yes Vettel hadn’t pitted yet, But I don’t think he did quite as good a job at pushing when he needed to. He was in free air at this stage and was about to pit. I think both Mercedes and Bottas did a better job that Ferrari and Vettel in the pits and with the in / out laps if you know what I mean. I don’t think it was just Mercedes that gave Bottas the advantage and I think Vettel didn’t quite do the best he could have done either at this stage. But the rest of Vettel’s weekend was flawless. And I was quite surprised he isn’t a star performer.

          1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
            17th April 2018, 3:43

            @thegianthogweed Thank, do you get an hour of post-race analysis in other countries from Sky? We don’t get that in the States.

            1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
              17th April 2018, 9:00

              You get ted’s notebook in the UK.. I can’t remember if it was in that part or just before though.

    5. I find that Hamilton and Raikkonen are very similar, in that they both need cars and specific conditions that suit their particular style of driving (Raikkonen more so than Hamilton) to extract the absolute maximum from it, a problem that drivers like Ricciardo and Alonso don’t have. Ricciardo and Alonso also share another characteristic, which is their silky smooth braking ability, which allows them to implement those impressive late-braking manoeuvres, which we all like so much. I have a question though. Does Hamilton not help in development and set-up of the car as well as someone like Vettel?

      1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
        17th April 2018, 4:21


        I’m not sure how you arrived to those conclusions – I’d love to hear your reasoning.

        Personally, I don’t not see how Raikonnen and Hamilton are similar, if anything I feel they are quite different.

        I’m also not sold that Ricciardo and Alonso share similar silky smooth braking abilities – I’d love to hear someone discuss the difference in their braking.

        For what it’s worth, here’s my opinion:

        Raikonnen’s been having issues at Ferrari over the past few seasons and you’re correct that he appears to do better at times – perhaps the 2018 car suits him better than the 2017 car like you said.

        About Hamilton needing a specific car that suits him, I think the general consensus is the opposite.

        About Ricciardo, there are ongoing debates that Ricciardo has been having issues of his own at least in comparison to Max. If his braking was better or significantly better than Max’s, I imagine he’d have more pace during the race.

        As for Alonso, he doesn’t have many weaknesses. He has many strengths including great pace on Sunday and incredible starts and is probably one of the best wheel to wheel racers in the history of the sport, although he’s in the company of others on the grid.

        There’s exceptional talent on the grid this season.

        As for late breaking, I believe Hamilton is famous for his late braking ability.

        Also the question about Hamilton’s ability to develop and set up the car implies that Vettel is obviously great at doing that. Imo, they both help develop and set up the cars and they are both excellent at that.

        Just my 2 cents:-)

      2. @major-dev The exact opposite is the consensus for Hamilton based on his career – however no driver is always going to drive around all a car’s quirks all the time, based on past performance vs team-mates the consensus is Hamilton and Alonso are the best two drivers at getting around a car’s foibles, you only need to look at 2017 to see the evidence for this between Hamilton & Bottas.

        We haven’t seen Riccardo at another team outside the Red Bull family so it’s impossible to say how sensitive he is to car setup, however he doesn’t appear as quick as Max over one lap.

    6. No love for the Red Bull pit crew?

      Not only did they do a stellar job on Saturday, they were twice tasked with stacked pit stops on Sunday.

    7. Verstappen’s rating this year should be in the Stats & Facts section.

    8. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      16th April 2018, 22:59

      Well, I will now do what several others did last year. Basically add up the star performers and strugglers over the season so far.

      Many didn’t seem to understand this last year. 0 will be the drivers that have either not been mentioned as a star performer. Or, ones that have been both. The other numbers can be affected in the same way. This does not reflect on what has happened in just this last race.

      +2 – Kevin Magnussen
      +1 – Lewis Hamilton – Sebastian Vettel – Daniel Ricciardo – Nico Hulkenberg – Pierre Gasly – Marcus Ericsson

      0 – Valtteri Bottas – Kimi Räikkönen – Fernando Alonso – Stoffel Vandoorne – Carlos Sainz – Esteban Ocon – Sergio Perez – Charles Leclerc – Brendon Hartley – Lance Stroll – Sergey Sirotkin

      -1 – Romain Grosjean
      -3 – Max Verstappen

      Interesting points here. I was heavily against Magnussen last year and the previous actually. He has been really impressive this year. Although these statistics make him look better than anyone else, I don’t think he’s that good yet. But Grosjean is really looking under pressure. Although I don’t think he was bad in the first race.

      Another interesting point is Verstappen. 3 bad races. Who would have thought the heavily criticized Ericsson would have had one outstanding race this year while the driver who some say is the best on the grid has had 3 dreadful weekends. There is no doubt he has pretty much been the worst driver this year. This seems so hard to say though. As he has had plenty of great overtakes. But he has just been to impatient and done lots of them at the wrong time, costing the team and himself massive amount of points. I said last year that I thought Ricciardo was the more complete driver even if he doesn’t have the outright speed. I still think he is overall better than Verstappen. But has had a significantly better start this year

      Gasly was outstanding in the 2nd race, but a little surprised he wasn’t counted as a struggler in China really. Even if the team had told him he could go past his team mate, it seemed Hartley didn’t know this was the case yet. Or at least not fully understand. And from Gasly point of view, it should have been more than obvious that doing what he did won’t have worked.

      I thought Sainz would have been a struggler especially in Bahrain. He really is getting beaten heavily by Hulkenberg. The performance gap is looking quite a bit smaller between Hamilton and Bottas. Given some thought Sainz was good enough for Red Bull, I think he needs to be doing better than this. He didn’t look faster than Kvyat even in qualifying. And Kvyat was dominated by Ricciardo in this area when they were team mates. I think Sainz often has the speed on race day, but at the moment, lacks consistency.

      Leclerc is about where I expected him to be. I don’t think he’s really struggling. I just think that we’ve now got an example that Ericsson just isn’t as bad as the majority think. He may not be consistent, but he does every now and then put in very good performances. They are just more often than not when the car isn’t capable of points, or the car fails on him. And not enough people remember or respect he has had these.

      The Force India pair haven’t impressed me this year. I find it amazing that Ericsson is beating both of them and that the team haven’t yet managed a single point. The car may be poor, but I don’t think the drivers are getting the most out of it. That said, Perez did have bad luck in Bahrain.

      Bottas has had a complete turn around since his bad start, unlike Verstappen who has just kept getting worse. He’s 5 points behind Hamilton and has basically had the same level of bad luck now. Yes, Hamilton did have a 5 place penalty in Bahrain, but Bottas out qualified him and Hamilton didn’t overtake any of the top 3 teams cars. As 3 of them retired. He did well, but Bottas’t weekend was marginally better in Bahrain and certain’t better in China. Bottas is now just 1 point lower than he was at this stage last season. And that is with Ferrari and Red Bull being far closer. A bad first race, but a fine job since then. He doesn’t get enough respect IMO. People forgive Hamilton for his mistakes. He’s crashed out in qualifying or made crucial at leased once over a year for the past few seasons. This is the first time Bottas has ever crashed out in qualifying or the race. I think we should forgive him for this as he sure has made up for it.

      Alonso is looking solid this year. But I don’t think he’s quite at the level of Hamilton and Vettel. He’s been quite fortunate with one or two of the race results but made the most of it. Either the drivers or the car is underperforming in qualifying a lot of the time though. I think McLaren put way too much blame on Honda for the performance last year. Vandoorne is looking a lot more solid than last year. Given he’s up against Alonso, I should probably be giving him more credit. But he hasn’t looked that impressive to me.

      The Williams pair is certainly the weakest Williams and F1 has had on the grid for quite some time I think. But I also think the car is terrible. It has gone backwards ever since the hybrid era began. And it was excellent to start with at most circuits. It is hard to judge Stroll and Serotkin. I think they are probably similar at the moment. One positive thing I can say, is Stroll has been having some very impressive starts.

      Vettel has looked very good this year. He’s done great in qualifying the last 2 races although his team mate was close. In the races, other than Australia, Raikonnen has looked a lot worse. He was unlucky to have Verstappen collide with him. He will have likely still held on to 3rd or 4th if it wasn’t for that. Raikonnen seems good in qualifying, but really has looked to be under performing over the last 2 races.

      Lets see how the rest of the season goes. The main driver who needs to improve is Verstappen.

      1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
        17th April 2018, 4:29

        Great analysis! I think this scoring tends to give equal weight to star performers. For instance, I feel that Kimi maybe is closer to 1 than he’s to 0 this season based on his performance through the 3 races.

        Seb, Hulk and Alonso are over 1, maybe closer to 1.5.

        Hamilton is a tough one – 1 to 1.2 for Australia (it was a stellar performance) and maybe 0.3-0.5 for the Verstappen incident yesterday and in Bahrain.

        Grosjean might be lower than -1, maybe -1.3 . I’d love to see him get back to form though.

      2. I think Raikonnen wasn’t bad as much as the team didn’t care to give him a working strategy, being always focussed on how the second car can help Vettel @thegianthogweed, for the rest: quite a few interesting observations,wel said.

      3. @thegianthogweed Thanks for this!

      4. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
        17th April 2018, 13:34

        Good man Ben! Was hoping someone was going to pick this up again.
        Also loving K-Mag proving the detractors wrong so far this year, long may it continue :)

      5. @thegianthogweed
        Good to see this being done again.

        3 races in it is maybe a bit difficult to see a trend coming together, but we can definitely see who has had a good start to the season!

        Hoping KMag continues on form, the Mclaren era I felt was needlessly harsh on him and, similar to Perez, he’s had to pick himself up again, start lower in the field and show his worth. He is certainly showing well at the moment.
        Would be great to see Bottas keeping some consistent results and gaining confidence, a true multi team, multi driver battle would be great to see!

    9. I think there’s more who should be considered strugglers this race, hamilton above the rest, but also vandoorne and gasly had a quite bad race.

      I totally agree with the stars.

      1. Oh, and also vandoorne, alonso keeps gaining position on starts and he keeps losing them, he was as far behind the top 10 as alonso was in it I think.

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