SHANGHAI: Five talking points have emerged from the Chinese Grand Prix:
Now it’s Rosberg’s to lose
Nico Rosberg put himself among some of the Formula One greats with his sixth straight win as he established himself as the man to beat this season. With a 36-point lead after three races, Rosberg assumes pole position early in the title race with another 18 grands prix to go in Formula One’s longest season yet. Only Sebastian Vettel, Alberto Ascari and Michael Schumacher have won six races or more in a row, although three of Rosberg’s victories date from the tail-end of last season when the championship had already been clinched by Lewis Hamilton. Rosberg was left in Hamilton’s slipstream last year, after also finishing behind his Mercedes team-mate following a dogfight for the title in 2014. Now the pressure will be squarely on the German as he attempts to keep his nose in front until the end of the season. One stat is already ringing in Rosberg’s ears: no driver who has won the first three races has failed to seal the world title.
Vettel’s red, red whine
Sebastian Vettel’s enraged reaction to his first-corner collision with Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen has some pundits wondering whether he was trying to cover his own embarrassment. The four-time world champion aimed a series of insults at Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat, labeling him “a madman,” “suicidal” and saying he “came like a torpedo” after the Russian charged into a gap, forcing Vettel to take evasive action and hit Raikkonen’s car. However, the stewards saw nothing untoward and Kvyat, who finished third behind Rosberg and Vettel, was unrepentant. “You see the gap, you go for it,” shrugged the Russian. Vettel’s fiery outburst, which included a sharp exchange with Kvyat after the race, was termed “whining” by a stream of fans on social media, and a BBC website columnist wondered whether the German was upset because he had crashed into his team-mate with Ferrari’s president, Sergio Marchionne, watching. “Was he overcompensating because he felt a bit embarrassed?” the columnist wrote.
‘Best fans in the world’
The Chinese Grand Prix has a reputation for empty stands, so when seats were filled by 160,000 spectators over three days of action — the highest attendance in four years, according to the Shanghai Daily — it was cause for celebration. “Best fans in the world,” purred Sebastian Vettel. “Great to see full grandstands.” F1 has been beset by concerns over falling audiences, both on TV and at the tracks, prompting attempts to jazz up the sport like the failed experiment with a new qualifying format that was ditched after the first two races. China in particular has lacked excitement, with one pre-race headline in British media reading: “Declining audiences and a complete lack of interest — how long can the Chinese Grand Prix go on?” While it’s unclear how many tickets were sold and how many were given away, it looks like China, which joined the F1 circuit in 2004, isn’t about to exit in the manner of South Korea, India or France. “There are many standards in judging any event’s success,” Jiang Lan, manager of race organizer Shanghai Juss Event, told the city’s English-language newspaper. “To fans, it’s the good service. To Bernie [Ecclestone], it’s drawing a good crowd — it seems we can’t find a reason not to continue our partnership.”
Let’s put this to bed
Lewis Hamilton gained credit for fighting back from last on the grid to seventh, but with three races gone the reigning world champion must be wondering when his season is finally going to start. Hamilton, who won last year’s title with three races to spare, finished second in Australia and third in Bahrain after slow starts from pole position each time. In Shanghai, a technical malfunction in qualifying effectively ruled out a first win this year, and an early scrape with Felipe Nasr put him even further behind the leaders. Hamilton did eventually finish in the points but it could have been better for the Briton, who was made to look foolish late in the race when he was trying to pass Felipe Massa and Daniel Ricciardo was able to overtake both drivers. “That is quite possibly the worst lap I have seen Lewis Hamilton drive in a Formula One car,” said Sky Sports F1 commentator Martin Brundle. Hamilton later complained his car was driving “like a four-poster bed,” but he also admitted that he doesn’t have “any more jokers available” if he is to claim his third straight title this year.
Cut to the quick
Daniel Ricciardo sported a new hairdo this weekend as he sped to second in qualifying, his highest yet this year, and finished fourth for the third race in a row, his best start to a season. But it remains unclear whether he’ll keep his “lucky” new look, created by a friend with a set of clippers who untidily shaved his hair at the sides and left a curly mop on top. The results were so bad that Ricciardo had to call in a proper hairdresser to attempt a repair job. “Hopefully it grows back soon anyway,” he said, according to news.com.au. “My engineer’s excited, I’ve saved about 300 grams.” Australian media were unimpressed. “It’s a good thing Daniel Ricciardo spends a large amount of time with a helmet on his head,” the news.com.au article commented.