Nico Rosberg and Mercedes
Nico Rosberg might choose to play things down right now by reminding all and sundry that there are still another 18 rounds of the 2016 FIA Formula One World Championship to go, but even Mr Cool must be very chuffed by his 17th victory and his third from three races.
As everything went wrong for his main rivals, he dominated the race in great style and yet again never put a wheel wrong as he headed Sebastian Vettel home by 37.7s. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Christian Horner admitted prior to the start that he doubted his team would truly be able to fight for victory, and also suspected that Ferrari’s pace would prove insurmountable. But there was Daniel Ricciardo leading for the first three laps, as Daniil Kvyat blasted down the inside of the Ferraris in the first corner to put Rosberg’s Mercedes in an energy drink sandwich.
It was a shame that Ricciardo then had a debris-induced puncture as Rosberg sped by, but the Australian’s fight back to fourth was one of the highlights of the race and proof that the Red Bull side of the chassis-power unit performance equation is back to its 2010-2013 standards.
Kvyat’s drive to fend off Vettel initially, then follow him home to complete the podium was further proof that you underestimate the team from Milton Keynes at your peril.
When he clobbered team mate Ferrari Kimi Raikkonen at the start and dropped down to seventh place, it looked like things were over for Sebastian Vettel. But even though he needed a new nose when he stopped under the safety car on the fourth lap, and later damaged the replacement in a collision with Valtteri Bottas, the German was able to exploit good strategy to force his way back up to an albeit distant second place by the finish. That’s a win in anyone’s book.
At one stage the young Dutch star was back in 17th place after he had an indifferent opening lap and was then stacked behind Toro Rosso team mate Carlos Sainz during the pit stops on the fourth lap, but you can’t keep a good man down. He put his foot down and drove another of his sensational races to claw his way back into contention, and in the closing laps overhauled Button, Alonso, Perez, Sainz and Bottas to scratch his way up to eighth. With one more lap he likely would have had Hamilton, too.
The Manor driver’s plan was to let Hamilton go by at the start then nail himself to the Mercedes’ gearbox in the hope of following it through the field. But when the world champion met trouble in Turn 1, the young German rookie did it his own way. He was 15th at the end of that opening lap, then fourth as his medium tyres carried him on as so many supersoft-shod rivals pitted under the safety car.
He then dropped to fifth, but defended that cleanly but forcefully for a while from more experienced drivers in much faster cars. Inevitably he fell back down the order, but it was yet another reminder that he is very much a man to watch.
And the losers…
Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes
What does the world champion have to do to catch a break in 2016?
He came to China determined to avoid having yet another damage limitation weekend, but first there was the gearbox change and the prospect of a five-place grid drop, then the MGU-H ERS problem in Q1 which prompted an engine change and forced him to start from the back row.
He had made up three places in the first corner, when he got collected by Felipe Nasr, who had to take avoiding action as the errant Kimi Raikkonen veered back on to the track. Delayed by the need to stop for a new front wing, then further hampered by two more stops before the sixth lap, he battled with a car which had yet again lost downforce as a result of collision damage, and could not better seventh when, with only slightly better fortune, fourth was a possibility. As a result, he trails his team mate by 36 points.
The veteran Finn looked his most convincing in a long while in China, and seemed set to play a key role in the race until he got hit by his team mate in the first corner. The resultant damage spun him off, then necessitated a stop for a new nose and tyres. After that he struggled initially, but was later able to fight back to fifth on a day when, with only slightly better luck, he might have challenged for victory.
It was his 30th birthday, but the star of Australia and Bahrain didn’t get the present he and Haas were hoping for. A collision with Marcus Ericsson on the opening lap forced him pitward for a new nose, and then he got stacked and further delayed when everyone dived into the pits under the safety car on the fourth lap. Thus, for the first time in their F1 career, Haas scored nil points. Two fastest laps, on the 47th and 48th laps when Grosjean was running supersoft tyres, were no consolation to either party.
No grip, no traction, poor balance and severe tyre degradation - the Chinese race was a horrible one that Renault will not want to remember, as Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer trailed home 17th and 22nd respectively, both a lap down on the leaders.