Rosberg hits trouble, while Hamilton makes it a championship double in Abu Dhabi

After all the build up, all the anticipation and drama of the 2014 Formula 1 season came down to one race, worth double points, in Abu Dhabi. It was a straight fight between the two Mercedes team-mates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. While Hamilton went into the race with a 17 point advantage, Rosberg had the advantage of starting on pole position.

Things were finely poised, but Hamilton knew that he only had to finish second to Rosberg to win a second world drivers’ championship. Rosberg, on the other hand, went into the race knowing that he had nothing to lose. The outcome of the title was largely out of his hands. He needed help from others or a car problem for Hamilton to take his first championship. As Rosberg frequently reminded the world, and his team-mate, in the build up to the race, the pressure was on Hamilton.

Hamilton started brilliantly and led into turn 1

Hamilton started brilliantly and led into turn 1

You wouldn’t have guessed it from the way the two Silver Arrows cars started the race, though. As the lights went out Hamilton took off, blasting past his team-mate to take the lead. It was the perfect getaway for Hamilton, who could watch in his mirror as Rosberg got a poor start and had to defend from Felipe Massa’s Williams going into turn 1.

As it turned out, Hamilton never looked back. He pulled out of DRS range immediately and built up a two to three-second advantage over Rosberg, which stayed stable throughout the opening stages of the race. It remained like that through the first pit stops until lap 23 of the race. It was at that point that things went from bad to worse for Rosberg.

The German appeared to lock up in the final sector of the lap, losing time to Hamilton. The gap expanded to around four seconds and if that had been the end of it Rosberg would still have been in with a shot. Sadly for the five time 2014 race winner, it only signalled the start of his troubles. Rosberg soon reported that he had lost power and his Mercedes team soon confirmed a hybrid system failure on his car.

It was a dreadful race for Rosberg, who finished 14th

It was a dreadful race for Rosberg, who finished 14th

The loss around 160hp from the failure of his ERS system was crippling for Rosberg. He started losing time hand over fist. Just a few laps later Massa blasted past him in his Williams, and he wasn’t the only one. As the laps ticked by Rosberg dropped further and further down the field, losing position after position as, despite his best efforts, cars cruised past his stricken Mercedes down the straight.

It is to Rosberg’s credit that he finished the race, despite his team suggesting that he should retire his car. In the end he finished in 14th positions, after being lapped by his team-mate. While it was a massively disappointing way to finish the season for Rosberg, it was very much delight for Hamilton.

A delighted Hamilton takes the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi

A delighted Hamilton takes the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi

The Briton took his second world drivers’ crown after a six-year wait since his 2008 championship win with McLaren. Hamilton survived some late pressure from Massa in the Williams, who ran a short last stint on the faster super soft tyres, to win the race by 2.5 seconds. Even without Rosberg’s troubles in Abu Dhabi, the German was never in a position to take the drivers’ championship. Had he not had his ERS failure and had somehow managed to catch and pass his team-mate – something that he hadn’t managed all season – Hamilton would still have finished in second place, which was all he needed to take the championship.

It was a great finish to a great season for Williams

It was a great finish to a great season for Williams

Thankfully, too, double points turned out not to be a factor in deciding the fate of the title. Hopefully this will be the first and only time this gimmick is used in Formula 1. Indeed, the only man to benefit was Valtteri Bottas, who took third place in the race behind his Williams team-mate Felipe Massa, and with it, fourth place in the drivers’ standings. It was an impressive end to the season for a resurgent Williams team, which took third place in the constructors’’ standings after finishing a lowly ninth in 2013.

2014 was, though Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton’s year. Mercedes finished as constructors’ champions with a record-breaking 16 race wins out of 19 and a record 701 world championship points. Hamilton took 11 of those race wins, more than double the number taken by his team-mate to deservedly take the world drivers’ championship by 67 points

It was Alonso's final race for Ferrari

It was Alonso’s final race for Ferrari

2015 will be a season of changes, though. We now know that Sebastian Vettel will leave Red Bull Racing – the team where he won his four world titles – to join Ferrari, while Fernando Alonso will leave the Scuderia for parts unknown. Presumably the Spaniard will join McLaren with their new Honda engines, but that’s yet to be confirmed, as are the futures of current McLaren drivers Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen.

One thing that is unlikely to change, however, is the Mercedes dominance of Formula 1. Next season already looks like it might be another shoot out between Hamilton and Rosberg, but let’s not worry about that too much now. Lewis Hamilton certainly won’t. He’s busy celebrating his second world drivers’ championship, and he’ll be going into contract negotiations with his Mercedes bosses with a spring in his step.

Abu Dhabi was billed as the duel in the desert. As it turned out, Lewis Hamilton was the jewel in the desert. It was a sparkling performance in a dazzling season from the 29-year-old.

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Rosberg returns to winning ways in Brazil

After a run of five consecutive victories for his team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, it was vital for Nico Rosberg to reassert himself in Brazil. To be fair to the German driver, that’s exactly what he did. Rosberg topped every single practice session at Interlagos and all three parts of qualifying including, most importantly, Q3 to put himself on pole position – his tenth of the season.

The biggest test, of course, would be the race itself. After Hamilton so expertly caught and overtook Rosberg last time out in Austin, Rosberg must have been fearful that the same might happen in Brazil, despite his dominance. In the end, though, Rosberg did enough on race day to secure his fifth victory of the season and reduce the deficit to his team-mate in the drivers’ standings to 17 points heading into the final round of the season – the double points race in Abu Dhabi.

However, although Rosberg took the victory, it was down, in large measure, to a mistake from Hamilton. The 2008 world drivers’ champion seemed to have the edge in race pace and would have overtaken Rosberg at the second round of pit stops but for a spin on lap 28, which cost the Englishman seven crucial seconds.

Hamilton was around a second behind Rosberg when the latter pitted on lap 26. It’s normal that the driver that pits first will have the advantage of fresh rubber to increase their advantage over the pursuing car, but that certainly wasn’t the case in this instance. Released from the turbulent wake of his team-mate, Hamilton immediately put in a stunning lap, which would have been enough for him to leapfrog his team-mate.

This spin for Hamilton proved crucial in deciding the outcome of the race

This spin for Hamilton decided the outcome of the race

Crucially, though, instead of diving into the pits at the end of lap 27, Hamilton continued for another lap, seeking to take even more of an advantage. That proved to be his undoing. As it turned out, the tyres were simply not able to cope with two consecutive laps of the same speed and intensity, and Hamilton spun at the end of the second DRS zone.

Hamilton got close to Rosberg, but not close enough to attempt a pass

Hamilton got close to Rosberg, but not close enough to attempt a pass

Instead of a narrow advantage over Rosberg, Hamilton emerged from the pits on lap 29 some seven seconds behind his title rival. The points leader drove brilliantly to relentlessly close that gap down over the remainder of the race, closing to within DRS range of his team-mate by lap 53, after the final pit stops. However, Rosberg managed to do just enough to hold Hamilton at bay. Hamilton never quite got close enough to attempt a pass thanks to Rosberg continuously having a small advantage over his team-mate in the middle sector of the lap.

The duel between Button and Raikkonen was just one of the exciting battlesbehind the Mercedes duo

The duel between Button and Raikkonen was just one of the exciting battles behind the Mercedes duo

Although, we didn’t see any over taking action up front, there was plenty further down the field. We saw some great battles involving the Ferrari’s of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button’s McLaren and Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull. We also saw Felipe Massa take a memorable podium at his Home race for Williams, despite a five second penalty, and nearly stopping in the McLaren pit box.

Massa was clearly delighted with his podium finish

Massa was clearly delighted with his podium finish

The Brazilian was clearly delighted on the podium, but despite the promise that they showed in qualifying, the Williams were never able to compete with the all-conquering Silver Arrows when it came to the race. The 2014 world constructors’ champions were, yet again, in a class of their own in Brazil. It’s only fitting that the battle for the world drivers’ championship comes down to the last race, in a straight shoot out between the Mercedes team-mates.

It would, though, be incredibly sad if Rosberg were to overturn Hamilton’s 17 point advantage thanks to double points in the final race of the season. In any other season a sixth place finish would be enough for Hamilton to secure the drivers’ crown, even if his team-mate were to win the race. Double points, though, means that the Englishman must finish second to take the title if his team-mate wins the race.

Such is Mercedes pace advantage over the rest of the field that a 1-2 finish would look to be odds on in Abu Dhabi, though, so surely Hamilton doesn’t have too much to worry about, right? Wrong. All drivers are using power units that are right at the end of their working life, which means that reliability could play a crucial role in Abu Dhabi.

Still, though, the championship, reliability aside, is in Hamilton’s hands. Whatever happens in Abu Dhabi, I hope it’s a fair fight. May the best man win.

Racing instinct delivers victory for Hamilton in Italy

After the drama of the Belgian grand prix the focus of the Formula 1 world was very much on the Mercedes team and their two world drivers’ championship protagonists, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. The pressure was on both drivers to deliver a clean race and a positive result for the team. The big question was, which of the two drivers would handle the pressure and intense scrutiny the best?

The answer to that question, at least at Monza, appeared to be very much Hamilton. That might be somewhat of a surprise to some given that it’s Rosberg who is supposedly the mentally stronger of the two drivers, but he simply had no answer to Hamilton in Italy.

Both drivers had experienced some reliability issues through free practice, with Hamilton missing an hour of free practice two with an electrical issue, while Rosberg failed to set a time in free practice three after experiencing his own reliability issues. Going in to qualifying it was pretty even in the reliability stakes, but not so in terms of pace.

Hamilton celebrates pole position ahead of Rosberg and Bottas

Hamilton celebrates pole position
ahead of Rosberg and Bottas

Hamilton had the edge throughout all three segments of qualifying, and in Q3 he really stamped his authority on proceedings with a first effort that was just under half a second quicker than his Mercedes team-mate. Rosberg closed the gap on his second run, but he still qualified over a quarter of a second behind Hamilton on the front row of the grid.

Rosberg led at the start while Hamilton was swallowed up by the field

Rosberg led at the start while Hamilton
was swallowed up by the field

Hamilton’s stunning qualifying performance counted for nothing on race day, however. The Briton got an awful start, through no fault of his own (car related software glitch), which dropped him down to fourth position and handed Rosberg the lead.

Hamilton had to make his way ahead of Kevin Magnussen in the McLaren and Felipe Massa’s Williams, both of whom had passed him at the start, before being able to set about Rosberg, who had pulled well clear in the lead of the race. He started to make his move on lap five, taking advantage of Massa’s move on Magnussen to make his own move on the Danish driver.

Hamilton passes Massa for second position

Hamilton passes Massa for second position

Massa and Hamilton then started to close the gap to Rosberg, who made a mistake on lap nine, running straight on at turn one and losing nearly two seconds to the pursuing duo. That was all the encouragement that Hamilton needed, pulling off a great move on Massa in the same place as Rosberg’s error just a lap later, before setting about closing down his team-mate.

Although Hamilton was able to get close to Rosberg – closing to within 1.1 seconds at some stage – he was unable to get to within DRS range on the first stint on the medium tyres. Rosberg got the advantage of the “undercut”, pitting first for fresh tyres on lap 25, briefly handing the lead to Hamilton before the 2008 world drivers’ champion pitted just a lap later and returned the lead to his championship rival.

Rosberg, under pressure from Hamilton, goes straight on at turn one

Rosberg, under pressure from
Hamilton, goes straight on at turn one

As battle resumed between the two Silver Arrows Hamilton’s race engineer suggested that his driver might want to hang back a little and preserve his tyres for attack in the closing laps of the race. Hamilton had other ideas. He decided that the time to make his move was there and then and started to eat in to Rosberg’s lead at an incredible rate of knots. On lap 28 he had closed to within 0.7 seconds of his team-mate and with the pressure very much on Rosberg cracked, making an identical error to the one he made on lap nine, going straight on at turn one, losing time and handing Hamilton the lead of the race.

Having taken the lead, Hamilton pulls away from Rosberg

Having taken the lead, Hamilton
pulls away from Rosberg

It was a lead that Hamilton never looked like relinquishing, pulling relentlessly away from his team-mate and building a comfortable 4.5 second gap. While there were some fierce battles, and great racing, behind the two Silver Arrows, Rosberg could never get close to Hamilton out front. Despite his own lock up at turn one in the closing stages, Hamilton had everything under control and took what was a comfortable victory in the end, with Rosberg completing a Mercedes one, two and Massa and team-mate Valtteri Bottas bring the two Williams cars home in third and fourth.

Rosberg’s championship lead is now down to 22 points – still a big margin – but the psychological impact of the events of Spa and Monza might be more significant to the outcome of the 2014 world drivers’ championship than the loss of seven points to Hamilton in Italy. Will we see more mistakes start to creep in to Rosberg’s driving? Is the knowledge that he would be at risk of being completely vilified should he make contact with Hamilton again affecting him?

It’s too early to answer those questions, but what is clear is that Hamilton’s racing instinct won him the race at Monza. He knew when to push, when to apply pressure and when to attack. He recovered brilliantly from the technical problems that caused him to lose the lead of the race at the start to win. Irrespective of the psychological impact on Rosberg, events in Italy will certainly give Hamilton a lift.

Has the momentum swung in his direction? I can’t wait to find out in Singapore.

Hamilton charges while Rosberg cruises in Germany

Well, the German grand prix was certainly an exciting one, not that you would have noticed if you were Nico Rosberg. After suffering his first retirement of the season at Silverstone, the German bounced back at home to take what must rank as one of the most straightforward of his career.

Hamilton's qualifying crash meant that he started the race in 20th position

Hamilton’s qualifying crash meant that
he started the race in 20th position

Rosberg was aided by some misfortune for his Mercedes team-mate, Lewis Hamilton. This time trouble stuck for Hamilton during qualifying. His right front brake disk failed at 130 mph during Q1, pitching the Englishman’s Silver Arrow into a spin, and into the wall. Even though Hamilton’s time was good enough to get him through to the second part of qualifying, with his car in the wall and its driver out of the cockpit there was no opportunity for Hamilton to challenge for a higher grid slot.

It looked like a 15th place start for the 2008 world drivers’ champion, thanks to a three place penalty for Esteban Gutierrez, while Rosberg claimed pole position ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa in the Williams cars. As it turned out, though, the damage sustained when Hamilton hit the wall meant that his Mercedes team were forced to change his gearbox. The resulting five place grid penalty meant that Hamilton started in 20th.

Rosberg started well, while Massa's Williams rolled after contact with Magnussen's McLaren

Rosberg started well, while Massa’s Williams rolled after contact with Magnussen’s McLaren

Going in to the race everything pointed to a Rosberg win, and so it turned out. Rosberg got away cleanly at the start and was well ahead of the carnage caused when Kevin Magnussen’s McLaren came together with Massa’s Williams at turn one, pitching the latter into a roll and out of the race. Out came the safety car, but that made no difference to Rosberg, who again streaked clear at the restart.

Although he’d made up places at the original start, Hamilton was still only 17th when the safety car came in, with lots of work ahead of him to claw his way up to the sharp end of the field. By lap 10 Hamilton was up into the points in 10th place, while his team-mate was leading comfortably at the front. Hamilton was slicing his way through the field and was even up to second at one point before making his first pit stop on lap 27, running longer than his competitors having started on the slower prime tyres.

 

Hamilton's coming together with Button didn't help his charge through the field

Hamilton’s coming together with Button
didn’t help his charge through the field

Hamilton fitted primes again at his pit stop and looked set to do a two stop race. As his team told him on the radio, Hamilton was looking good for a second place finish. That was until lap 30. Just a few laps after his pit-stop Hamilton came up behind Jenson Button’s McLaren. As Button went wide into the hairpin it looked for all the world that he had opened the door to let his former team-mate through. It certainly looked that way to Hamilton as he made his move down the inside of the McLaren, but Button cut back across Hamilton damaging the front wing of the Mercedes.

The damage had an impact on the handling of Hamilton’s car, increasing his tyre wear and forcing him to switch strategies to a three stop, running the options in the last two stints. Hamilton stopped for the second time on lap 44 meaning that Mercedes aimed to do two 13 lap stints on option tyres in the latter stages of the race. Amazingly, such was Hamilton’s speed, even with the damage to his front wing, that second place was still a very real possibility.

Then came another piece of bad luck for the Englishman. Sauber’s Adrian Sutil spun at the final corner and then stalled his car. The stricken Sauber was left in the middle of the track and it looked like the safety car would be deployed. That’s certainly what Mercedes thought as they pitted Hamilton the very next lap, even though it was five laps earlier than they had been aiming for. Had the safety car been deployed it would have been a potentially race winning strategy call. Hamilton emerged from the pits in fourth place and on fresh option tyres. With a bunched up field, with his competitors all on used tyres Hamilton would have been in a brilliant position to challenge his team-mate, who had led every lap of the race.

Bottas drove brilliantly to claim a second consecutive second place finish

Bottas drove brilliantly to claim a
second consecutive second place finish

Unfortunately for Hamilton, the safety car wasn’t deployed. Despite the dangerous position of Sutil’s Sauber race control decided that it was fine to allow marshals onto the track to push the stricken car out of the way. That meant that Hamilton had to run on his last set of tyres for far longer than expected. In the end it cost Hamilton at least second place. Although he was able to pass Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari very easily and close on Bottas rapidly, by the time that he caught the Williams his tyres were finished and he was unable to pass.

Third was the best that Hamilton could manage in the end, while Rosberg, barely featuring on the TV coverage, cruised to victory some 20 seconds clear. Hamilton looked downcast after the race, despite his stunning drive from 20th to a podium. Luck certainly wasn’t on his side in Germany, but he should console himself with the thought that going in to Silverstone the points gap to his team-mate was some 29 points. It’s now just 14. Had Hamilton won in both Silverstone and Germany, with Rosberg second, the gap would have been 15 points.

The championship is far from over and if Hamilton can win in a week’s time in Hungary – as he did last year – things will be nicely set up going in to the mid-season break.

Bulldog Lewis bites back in Britain

With a 29 point lead in the world drivers’ championship Nico Rosberg went in to the British grand prix very much on a high. The momentum, and the luck, was with him and his team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, had the pressure on him to turn it around.

That pressure only increased after qualifying on Saturday. After looking to have the edge in tricky wet/dry qualifying conditions, Hamilton aborted his final lap when on provisional pole position, thinking that no-one would beat his time. However, that decision proved disastrous for the Briton. The final few corners of the lap were dry, and several drivers were able to beat Hamilton’s time. Rosberg snatched pole and Hamilton found himself having to start in sixth.

Hamilton was desperate to win his home race, but it looked like the odds were against him. However, just as in the last race in Austria, Hamilton started well from his lowly grid slot. After just a handful of corners the 2008 world drivers’ champion was up to fourth after passing Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India off the line and the Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull.

Raikkonen's crash resulted in a delay of over an hour before the race resumed

Raikkonen’s crash resulted in a delay of over an hour before the race resumed

That was the limit of Hamilton’s progress for around an hour, though. The race was red flagged on the opening lap after a very heavy crash for Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferrari, who ran wide, rejoined the track but was pitched into a spin after hitting a bump. It was an extremely heavy impact – registered at 47G – as the Ferrari speared into the metal Armco barrier and bounced back across the track and was then hit by Felipe Massa’s Williams. It was the end of the race for both drivers, and particularly saddening for Massa on his 200th Formula 1 race.

After the barriers were repaired and the race was restarted behind the safety car, Hamilton quickly picked up where he left off, dispatching the McLaren’s of Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button on laps three and four and setting about closing the five second gap to his team-mate. The Mercedes cars were, once again, in a race of their own, lapping around 2.5 seconds faster than anyone else, With Hamilton reeling in Rosberg. The gap between the Silver Arrows as Rosberg pitted was just 2.7 seconds.

Nevertheless, the advantage was still with Rosberg, who had track position and the first choice of race strategies. But then Hamilton’s luck started to change. Despite another slow stop for the Englishman on lap 24 – 5 laps after Rosberg’s – which meant that he emerged from the pits over five seconds behind his team-mate, all was not well with Rosberg’s car.

Rosberg suffered his first retirement of the season at Silverstone

Rosberg suffered his first
retirement of the season at Silverstone

The German had reported gearbox trouble on lap 21, but his pace was still good on the softer option tyres; the supposedly faster race tyre. Hamilton had changed onto the hard prime tyres as he attempted an alternate strategy to beat his team-mate. On the ‘slower’ tyres Hamilton was on fire, though. He was catching his team-mate hand over fist before Rosberg again reported gearbox problems, before losing gears as he lapped Max Chilton’s Marussia and Hamilton blasted through into the lead.

Rosberg was briefly able to get going again before the gearbox failed completely, resulting in his first retirement of 2014, compared to his team-mate’s two. Hamilton didn’t look back. He was some 25 seconds clear of Valtteri Bottas’s Williams in second place, with the Finn having driven a fantastic race to claw his way up from his 14th place starting position. When Bottas stopped for fresh rubber the gap ballooned to over 40 seconds and it looked like Hamilton could continue without bothering to stop again.

Hamilton on his way to his second Silverstone win

Hamilton on his way to his second Silverstone win

As it was, Mercedes decided to pit the race leader for a second stop, but such was Hamilton’s margin over Bottas that he still emerged from the pits leading by over 20 seconds. All that was left for Hamilton to do was to bring his Mercedes home in one piece which he did with ease, winning the race by over 30 seconds from Bottas, with Daniel Ricciardo bring his Red Bull home in third, just ahead of a charging Jenson Button, a further 16 seconds adrift.

Alonso and Vettel were involved in a thrilling battle

Alonso and Vettel were involved in a thrilling battle

For a variety of reasons, it was a thrilling race. The British crowd got almost exactly what they wanted: Some fantastic racing – including some brilliant overtaking from Bottas and a thrilling fight between the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso and the second Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel (the latter beat the former to fifth place) – a win for Hamilton and a retirement for Rosberg, which reignited the championship fight, with the gap between the two Mercedes team-mates now just four points.

Indeed, the only thing that was missing was a podium finish for Jenson Button. The 2009 world drivers’ champion has never stood on the Silverstone podium, but he came awfully close this time. The Frome-born driver finished under a second behind Ricciardo. I guess the fans can’t quite have it all.

Having won his home race, though, Hamilton will hope that the momentum has now swung back in his direction. He’d like nothing more than to drive home his advantage at the next race at Hockenheim; a home race for both Mercedes and Rosberg.

Cruise control in China for hat-trick hero Hamilton

The thrills and fireworks that we saw last time out in Bahrain were sadly lacking at the Chinese grand prix. In that respect the two races couldn’t have been more different, but in another they couldn’t have been more alike. Once again, we saw Mercedes very firmly on top yet again, as Lewis Hamilton led home his team-mate Nico Rosberg to take his first ever Formula 1 hat-trick of victories with his third straight win and the team’s third consecutive 1-2 finish.

Hamilton proudly holds his winner's trophy aloft

Hamilton proudly holds his winner’s trophy aloft

The manner of Hamilton’s victory was akin to his first win of the season in Malaysia; completely dominant, with an 18 second margin of victory to his team-mate. In some ways, the race in Shanghai was even more impressive from Hamilton. The Englishman was severely hampered in Friday free practice because of suspension troubles which limited his running in FP1.

Despite finishing FP2 on top of the timesheets, Hamilton wasn’t happy with the car and made some big set-up changes for Saturday. Saturday free practice and qualifying were wet, however, which meant that, even though he claimed pole position, going into the race, however, he had no idea whether those changes would actually work. They clearly did, showing yet again that Hamilton’s detractors are wrong; he has the intellectual capacity to go alongside his undoubted natural speed and racing skills.

Indeed, the 2008 world drivers’ champion proved his critics wrong again during the race in China. Some said Hamilton would struggle with having to manage fuel consumption as a result of the 100 kg per hour fuel flow limit imposed in the new regulations. However, as we have seen in the previous two races, Hamilton’s fuel consumption was excellent. In China it was easily better than anyone else.

Hamilton was way out in the lead for the majority of the race in China

Hamilton was way out in the lead
for the majority of the race in China

Hamilton has also been criticised for using his Pirelli tyres too aggressively in the past, resulting in higher wear rates and faster degradation than his rivals. In China, while the likes of Red Bull Racing’s four time world drivers’ champion Sebastian Vettel complained about tyre wear over the team-radio, Hamilton declared “Surprisingly the front tyres still feel really good, as well as the rears.” He pitted some three laps later than team-mate Nico Rosberg on lap 17, after a brief off track moment as his soft Pirelli tyres finally gave up.

Hamilton, as in Malaysia, led every lap of the race, but to be fair to Nico Rosberg things might have been closer than the 18 second margin of victory suggested. Rosberg had a poor start and fell backwards as his team-mate got the perfect launch off the line to lead Vettel into turn one. Rosberg on the other had dropped down to seventh place, after heavy contact with the Williams of Valtteri Bottas in turn one.

Rosberg did well to recover from his disastrous start, to finish the race in second place. This was even more the case given that the German – the race winner in Australia – had to race without his car’s telemetry being communicated to the pit wall. This meant that Rosberg had to provide his team with fuel consumption data from his steering wheel’s LED display – an annoyance and a clear source of frustration.

Vettel seems to be struggling with his Red Bull

Vettel seems to be struggling with his Red Bull

Rosberg’s troubles pale into insignificance compared to those of Sebastian Vettel, though. Vettel, so dominant in winning four consecutive championships wth Red Bull, is clearly struggling with the 2014 RB10 and the change of regulations. Vettel has been out qualified three times in four races by his new team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, and although he leads the young Australian in the fledging championship table he is not having things all his own way.

For the second time in two races, Vettel was asked to let the faster Ricciardo through. In China, he refused to do so, questioning his race engineer about the tyres the Ricciardo was on and the reason why he was being asked to move over. When told that Ricciardo had fresher tyres he replied simply “tough luck”. A couple of laps later Ricciardo moved ahead of his team-mate into turn one and although the official line from Red Bull was that Vettel had let him through, it certainly didn’t look like that was the case.

Ricciardo leads Vettel, who eventually finished 20 seconds behind his team-mate

Ricciardo leads Vettel, who eventually finished
20 seconds behind his team-mate

Vettel eventually finished the race in Shanghai a very distant fifth, only one place behind Ricciardo, but a massive twenty seconds adrift of his team-mate. Sobering stuff for the defending world drivers’ champion. He’s not the only one unexpectedly struggling, though. Kimi Raikkonen is having a torrid time on his return to Ferrari. The Finn finished down in eighth place in China, over 50 seconds behind his team-mate Fernando Alonso who drove brilliantly to claim Ferrari’s first podium of the season with a third place finish.

There are a few other teams and drivers that are worthy of a mention. Despite Romain Grosjean’s retirement following gearbox trouble it clearly looks like Lotus are finally getting their act together in 2014. The Frenchman did brilliantly to qualify in the top 10 and had been on course for a points finish before retiring. McLaren, though, seem to be on the opposite trajectory. After a hugely promising start to the season with a double podium finish in Australia, the Woking-based team now appear to be struggling. In China, they were the least competitive of all of the Mercedes powered teams, finishing in 11th and 13 positions, both cars having been lapped.

The turn one contact between Rosberg and Bottas

The turn one contact between Rosberg and Bottas

Williams are still looking competitive. But for first lap contact for both Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas and a truly horrendous first pit stop for Massa, the team might have had more than Bottas’s seventh place to take away from Shanghai. Given the right conditions, and a bit of luck, a podium finish would not look to be beyond Williams’s reach at some stage this season, especially if Massa can continue to make the same sort of lightning quick starts that we’ve seen in recent races.

It will be a big ask for anyone to catch Mercedes, though. Such was the dominance of Hamilton in Shanghai that the chequered flag was waved a lap early. A bizarre mistake, which fortunately didn’t alter the result of the race much. The only driver to miss out was Kamui Kobayashi in the Caterham, who had passed Jules Bianchi’s Marussia on the last scheduled lap of the race, which was officially classified as running for 54 laps rather than the planned 56, in accordance with the regulations.

Next we move to Europe for the Spanish grand prix. This is the race where traditionally the teams make big updates to their cars. On the strength of the evidence of the first four races, the others will have to make some massive improvements to get onto terms with the Silver Arrows.