Chinese Grand Prix 2016: Winners and Losers from Shanghai Race

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistApril 17, 2016

Chinese Grand Prix 2016: Winners and Losers from Shanghai Race

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    Nico Rosberg claimed his third straight victory of the 2016 Formula One season in Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit.

    The German secured his first pole position of the new campaign on Saturday and was allowed to take another routine win in the race as his nearest rivals yet again pressed their self-destruct buttons in the early stages.

    Sebastian Vettel was among those who proved to be their own worst enemies, with the four-time world champion colliding with Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen at Turn 1.

    After recovering to second place, Vettel did not hesitate when it came to blaming Daniil Kvyat for the incident as the Red Bull driver celebrated his second-ever top-three result.

    On a weekend Lewis Hamilton's substandard start to 2016 continued and Daniel Ricciardo offered more evidence that he is the best driver in modern-day F1, here are the main winners and losers from Shanghai.

Winner: Nico Rosberg

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    Yet again they all fell before him.

    Already hampered by a grid-place penalty, Hamilton was eliminated from contention when his MGU-H failed in qualifying, leaving the three-time world champion stranded at the rear of the field.

    With his Mercedes team-mate out of the picture, the two Ferraris became his biggest challengers.

    Rather than taking the fight to the No. 6 car, however, Vettel and Raikkonen turned on each other, the four-time world champion steering into his team-mate as he tried to avoid hitting Kvyat at the first corner.

    The threat from behind was all but extinguished even at that early stage, but there remained the small matter of the car ahead.

    On the high-grip super-soft tyres, Ricciardo had leaped into the lead at Turn 1 and managed to keep it over the opening couple of laps.

    Yet when the Australian's rear-left tyre unraveled on the long back straight on the third lap, Rosberg was again left with a clear track, a clear mind and a clear route to a third straight victory of 2016.

    The German's 17th career win means he has extended his points lead to 36 and now stands as the most successful driver in the history of Formula One without a world championship to his name, per Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde.

    But if Rosberg's rivals continue to hit trouble in their efforts to hunt him down, that is likely to change this year.

Loser: Lewis Hamilton

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    It was one of those weekends.

    Per Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper, Hamilton admitted his "approach" and "mindset" for the Chinese GP had altered from the moment he learned of his five-place grid penalty on Wednesday morning.

    The three-time world champion viewed the "challenge" as an "opportunity to rise," but rather than acting as an obstacle to success, the enforced gearbox change was merely a sign of things to come.

    His loss of power just minutes into qualifying—which may have been identified (and resolved) earlier had Mercedes conducted more running in the final practice session—added insult to injury, condemning him to the back of the grid.

    With the Shanghai circuit featuring one of the most challenging, unpredictable first corners on the F1 calendar, it was surprising that Mercedes decided not to start Hamilton from the pit lane to avoid any early incidents and prime the No. 44 car for a fightback through the field.

    It was rather predictable, then, that Hamilton drove straight into someone else's accident on the opening lap, colliding with Felipe Nasr and breaking his front wing on the approach to Turn 3 as the Sauber driver tried to make his way around Raikkonen's limping Ferrari.

    Hamilton pitted for a new front wing at the end of that lap—the first of five visits to the pit lane as Mercedes tried anything and everything to get their driver back in contention—but the damage sustained on the first lap, as in Bahrain, remained with him for the rest of the race.

    Per Motorsport.com's Charles Bradley, Hamilton likened his car to a "four-poster bed" after finishing seventh, missing out on the podium for only the third time since September 2014.

    It was one of those weekends, but the problem is that Hamilton is having too many of those weekends at the moment.

Winner: Sebastian Vettel

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    Try as he might, Vettel couldn't quite deflect the blame for his first-corner collision with Raikkonen in the Chinese Grand Prix.

    On three separate occasions during the race, he protested his innocence over pit-to-car radio before consoling his Ferrari team-mate in parc ferme and confronting Kvyat, his chosen scapegoat, in the cool-down room ahead of the podium ceremony, as reported by Motorsport.com's Valentin Khorounzhiy.

    But ultimately, the four-time world champion was fooling no one.

    Kvyat's move at Turn 1 was highly aggressive, but it was Vettel who made contact with Raikkonen's rear-right tyre and punted the 2007 world champion to the rear of the field. Vettel's desperate efforts to clear his name—on a day Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne watched from the garage—became increasingly amusing.

    And perhaps that embarrassment, that determination to make up for his early error—especially following his underwhelming performance in qualifying—played a role in his impressive recovery drive to second.

    So often criticised for a lack of overtaking prowess during his F1 career, Vettel was particularly feisty as he sought to make up places, even passing two cars on the entrance to the pit lane at one stage and placing his car in a number of risky positions—most notably with Valtteri Bottas—following the safety car period.

    With a three-stop strategy, Vettel spent more laps than any other driver on both the soft and super-soft compound tyres and, after passing Kvyat for second place on Lap 36, finished a relatively comfortable 12 seconds ahead of the Red Bull.

    A fortnight after his engine blowout on the formation lap in Bahrain, an instant return to the podium in China was crucial for Vettel.

Loser: Haas

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    Are Haas beginning to wake up from the American dream?

    After Romain Grosjean's top-six finishes in Australia and Bahrain, team principal Gunther Steiner told Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble how Formula One's latest new team were hopeful of scoring points in every single race in their debut season.

    But it has taken just one more grand prix for that target to move out of reach, with the Ferrari-affiliated outfit enduring their least convincing weekend to date in China.

    The front-limited nature of the Shanghai circuit was always bound to present a different challenge for the VF-16 car this weekend, but it was the tyre pressures—not degradation—that proved to be the team's main weakness.

    After Friday practice, Grosjean told ESPN F1's Laurence Edmondson how Pirelli's enforced limits were "ridiculous" and made his car "undriveable," and his struggles continued throughout the event.

    Having qualified 14th, it was unfortunate for the Frenchman that Marcus Ericsson squeezed him on the apex of Turn 2 on the opening lap, damaging his front wing and forcing him to pit immediately for repairs.

    So disappointed was Grosjean with his lack of pace that, as heard over pit-to-car radio, he pleaded with the pit wall to retire his car while running a lowly 19th toward the end of the race, but the team refused and went on to register their first two-car finish in F1, albeit with Esteban Gutierrez faring little better in 14th.

    Following their impressive performances in the first two races, this was the weekend the harsh reality of F1 bit Haas hard.

Winner: Daniil Kvyat

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    With Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr., the Toro Rosso youngsters, both pushing for a promotion to the Red Bull senior team for next season, Kvyat had almost resembled a dead man walking in the early weeks of 2016.

    Flashes of pace and signs of promise over the Australian and Bahrain weekends were swiftly forgotten amid the misery of qualifying, when the gangling Russian failed to reach the third qualifying segment in both sessions under the short-lived elimination-style format.

    By his own admission, Kvyat's sudden loss of form on Saturday in Sakhir was "embarrassing," but he felt his recovery from 15th on the grid to seventh was "crucial" for his morale, as he told Motorsport.com's Jonathan Noble.

    And he appeared to have returned to full confidence in the Chinese GP, where he claimed only the second podium finish of his career with an assured drive to third place.

    Kvyat's attack on Vettel at Turn 1 was the kind of opportunistic, see-gap-fill-gap move you would not associate with a driver seemingly lacking belief, and the manoeuvre had the bonus effect of provoking the collision between the Ferrari drivers.

    As the driver with the fastest car with the least damage behind Rosberg, Kvyat ran comfortably in the podium positions for much of the afternoon before Vettel—having switched to the soft-compound tyres for the final stint—recovered to snatch second position with 20 laps remaining.

    Admittedly, there remain concerns over Kvyat's maturity and race management—his emotional rants about traffic, as heard over pit-to-car radio, were reflective of the intense pressure he was under to claim a strong result—but his second podium finish has come at an ideal time.

    And it will ensure he will head to his home race at the Sochi Autodrom utterly brimming with confidence.

Loser: Renault

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    As Red Bull saw one driver lead the early stages of the Chinese GP and the other spray podium champagne, the team who provide the four-time world champions' engines were nowhere to be seen.

    Three times in 2016 we have had races in which those who combine decent speed with a knack of staying out of trouble stand an automatic chance of scoring points, and three times Renault have been unable to capitalise on the unpredictability of the early-season events.

    And after their unfortunate weekend in Bahrain, following their respectable start to the season in Australia, the Enstone-based team's performance in Shanghai was the most concerning yet.

    Kevin Magnussen's bad luck continued in China, where he completed no timed laps on Friday after suffering a suspension failure, but the Dane overcame his lack of preparation to qualify 0.855 seconds ahead of Jolyon Palmer as both R.S.16 cars again failed to progress from Q1.

    In a race featuring no retirements, Palmer finished dead last—behind Manor's Rio Haryanto as well as Nasr and Grosjean, who both struggled terribly with the handling of their cars—while Magnussen could only scrape 17th.

    It would be too simplistic to suggest the current difference between the Red Bull and Renault teams is solely found in the chassis department, with Lotus' financial problems toward the end of 2015 meaning Renault are currently competing with a largely unchanged car that was originally tailored for a Mercedes power unit.

    But even if Renault are at the beginning of a transitional year, it is unacceptable that they remain among the three teams yet to score a point this season.

Winner: Daniel Ricciardo

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    After producing the "equal best" race of his career in China, as he told Motorsport.com's Adam Cooper, is Ricciardo now the best all-round driver on the current Formula One grid?

    His consecutive fourth-place finishes in Australia and Bahrain were as measured as you would expect of a driver of his talent and experience, someone maximising (and even slightly exceeding) the level of his machinery.

    But as he told Cooper, Shanghai was where the spirit, the magic, the "vibe" of his breakthrough season in 2014 really came alive once more.

    At a track featuring the longest straight of the season, Ricciardo—still with the underpowered Renault engine fitted to his Red Bull—took advantage of the mistakes Raikkonen and Vettel made to claim his first front-row start since Singapore 2015.

    Rosberg's strategy of starting on the soft-compound tyres meant Ricciardo, on the super-soft rubber, had a golden chance to emerge from the first corner in the lead, and the Australian, ever the opportunist, obliged.

    The cruel nature of his puncture on Lap 3 prevented him from fighting to retain that lead, yet rather than spending the remainder of the race ruing his misfortune, Ricciardo produced a recovery drive arguably superior to that of Vettel.

    As we have often seen since his rise to prominence, the Red Bull driver identified a favoured passing spot and remained faithful to it, overtaking drivers of the calibre of Esteban Gutierrez, Jenson Button and Hamilton through sheer late braking and intelligent positioning at the Turn 6 hairpin.

    Fourth place was an insufficient reward for one of the best races of his career, but a true indication of the level of his performance can be found in his deficit to his Red Bull team-mate at the chequered flag.

    Despite Kvyat's relatively trouble-free afternoon, Ricciardo—even after his puncture and all those battles—still crossed the finish line within seven seconds of the Russian.

    All timing and tyre data, as well as team radio quotes, are sourced from the official F1 website, the FOM television feed and Pirelli Motorsport's infographic on Twitter.

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