F1’s 1000th race wasn’t a lights to flag thriller – but there were still several major moments of intrigue. In his latest analysis piece, former Renault F1 driver Jolyon Palmer casts his eye over two of the key battles in Shanghai, highlighting why in his view one driver was lucky - and another very unlucky…
Jolyon Palmer’s Analysis: Why Kvyat was hard done by and Vettel lucky in China
The incident at Turn 6 between the McLarens and Daniil Kvyat was a classic first lap incident in my opinion. They were all very close coming into the corner. Norris tried to brake late and go around the outside of Raikkonen ahead. It didn’t work and he ended up slightly wide on the exit on the astroturf and lost drive on the exit of the corner.
At the same time Sainz and Kvyat were side by side at the apex, with Kvyat hugging the apex, completely on the inside of the corner. On the exit Kvyat had a small moment of wheelspin as he was desperate to get on the throttle as soon as possible. This meant his Toro Rosso car moved half a car to the left of the track and squeezed Sainz, who was now stuck between Kvyat and Norris.
With Kvyat’s natural momentum taking him left, even though he was steering hard right to avoid contact, and Norris moving right to rejoin the track and find some grip, Sainz was simply pincered in the middle.
He saw the contact coming, hit the brakes and locked his right front in a desperate bid to back out of his perilous position. Unfortunately for all of them it didn’t work. Sainz and Kvyat touched which launched Kvyat into Norris and Norris into the air and back down with a heavily damaged McLaren.
The stewards deemed Kvyat at fault for the incident and gave him a drive-through penalty. A ridiculously harsh penalty for what I believe to be a racing incident. I think the penalty came as a result of Kvyat’s reputation as ‘torpedo’. Whenever there’s an incident it’s easy to blame the driver with the worse reputation for crashes.
Secondly the consequences made the penalty worse. Two McLarens effectively out of the race at the start and the fact that Norris was launched up onto two wheels made the crash look worse than it was.
In reality nobody is blameless in the incident. Norris, probably the least culpable, was returning from off the circuit. Sainz was putting his McLaren into a risky position - a gap that was always likely to close, in between his two rivals. And Kvyat had his moment of wheelspin which forced him wider than he wanted to be and into Sainz.
Kvyat can’t really be massively blamed for the wheelspin though. Tyre temperatures were cold at the start of the race - we saw that with even Verstappen and Kubica spinning on the warm up lap. For me it was just one of those incidents.
Penalising Kvyat was extremely harsh, but the severity of the penalty was, in my opinion, a bit of a joke in comparison to other incidents. Stroll into Grosjean in Bahrain (no penalty), Vettel taking Bottas out in France last year (five-ssecond time penalty) and Raikkonen taking Hamilton out at Silverstone, also in 2018 (10-second time penalty).
A drive-through is fairly unprecedented for such an accident and it effectively ended Kvyat’s race, adding 20 seconds so early on.
Vettel vs Verstappen
The fight between Vettel and Verstappen decided the final place on the podium. Whilst Ferrari had more pace than Red Bull, Verstappen undercut Leclerc in the pitstops and had one shot to try and pass Vettel as well on track, as Vettel emerged from the pits.
Coming from so far back Verstappen dived down the inside decisively, with just a small lock up as he approached the apex. Vettel saw it coming though and left the door open for Verstappen to go down the inside. It’s worth noting that Verstappen came from several car lengths back and was absolutely on the limit of braking.
Vettel, meanwhile, stayed wide, braked much earlier and prepared his exit. He managed to turn his car significantly earlier than Verstappen, and therefore he could get on the power sooner.
On the exit he squeezed Verstappen onto the grass, which was a questionable move. He was right to the limit of the rules. Vettel was looking in his mirrors and appeared to know what he was doing. Ultimately I don’t think it made a difference to the outcome, and fair play to Verstappen for just getting on with it and not whinging on the radio, as we so often see.
This move echoed the battle the same drivers had into the same corner last year. On that occasion they made contact because Verstappen tried to get the move done off the brakes, into the corner. This year he was fully committed and didn’t give Vettel a choice into the corner. Ironically being more committed is actually, in my opinion, one of the reasons Verstappen is having less incidents than a year ago.