[F1 2019 NEWS FEATURE] MAURICE HAMILTON: CHINA DEBRIEF

Formula 1 news story about [F1 2019 NEWS FEATURE] MAURICE HAMILTON: CHINA DEBRIEF

Three races in and Mercedes are already 57 points clear in the Constructors’ Championship. They have almost twice as many points as Ferrari and more than the bottom seven teams put together.

It's very early days, of course, and we need to remember that Ferrari managed to find some of their pre-season testing form in Bahrain, where Charles Leclerc should have taken a newsworthy maiden win at the end of a race that was as good as China was dull.

A trio of one-two finishes for Mercedes is not what F1 needs right now any more than the lacklustre celebration of what should have been a milestone 1000th race (not Grand Prix!) on Sunday.

We could talk all day about the strategic fumbling at the Ferrari pit wall and the need to do something about the fleeing Mercedes that led to the positional switch on lap 11. That, at least, was easier to understand than the subsequent decision to really compromise Charles Leclerc and leave him at the mercy of Red Bull. (As an aside: how long do you give Verstappen and his Dad before they start kicking off if the Red Bull/Honda combination remains no better than also-ran in what is Max’s fifth full season? Answers on a post card to Dr Helmut Marko, Austria.)

The post-race interviews were interesting on a couple of counts. Regardless of whether or not you agree with everything Mattia Binotto said, it was refreshing to have such lucid honesty rather than the glowering grunts than had previously accompanied Ferrari’s statements – assuming you were granted them in the first place. 

And secondly, Leclerc’s impressive maturity came across once more as he politely declined the media bait and said he wished to understand the full picture from his engineer before ‘saying something silly’ about how the strategy had played out.

Sensible statements aside, Ferrari have a potential problem here as they attempt to appease both drivers, one of whom looks increasingly edgy in direct proportion to the other’s rising speed and confidence.

More worrying for F1 as a whole was the way Sebastian Vettel’s tyres were made next to useless after running for a handful of laps in his teammate’s slipstream. That surely can’t be the way to go motor racing? It has to be hoped that such a flaw (introduced on purpose to improve the ‘show’; an indictment of F1 in itself) has been noted by the F1 Brains Trust in danger of missing the obvious while currently immersing themselves in more complicated technical trivia for 2021.

Meanwhile Mercedes just get on with doing their job, as exemplified by the beautifully orchestrated stacked pit stop that kept the playing field level for both drivers. Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were so close on this particular Sunday that the hour and a half of competition was decided in the nanosecond it took Valtteri to experience wheelspin as the W10’s rear wheels crossed the white line ahead of his grid position.

Such parity in performance may not have contributed to the entertainment value of this so-called race but hope for future tension was carried in Hamilton’s voice when he questioned the team’s decision (prompted by the danger of an undercut) to bring Bottas in first. It was a sign that, despite such a commanding drive on the way to win number 75, the World Champion had to work very hard while making it look easy.

It was a typically focussed weekend for Hamilton that, in its way, was a tribute to the resolve shown by Bottas Mk II. The pity is that Ferrari can’t get close enough to expose potential tension within Mercedes. And if they do, Ferrari’s challenge should not be diluted by a perceived need to keep their more experienced driver happy.