After romping away to his sixth successive victory – only the fourth man in history to do so – by a track record margin, Nico Rosberg had every right to sport a satisfied smirk in the oxymoronic heated cool down room, after a dramatic Chinese Grand Prix.
In doing so, Rosberg extended his championship lead over reigning World Champion and Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton to 36 points, after the Briton endured a frustrating weekend.
The Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel claimed second place, 37.7 seconds after Rosberg crossed the line, with Daniil Kvyat earning his second career podium in the surprisingly competitive Red Bull. Although, he felt the wrath of a frustrated Vettel before the podium over a first lap coming together.
Saturday saw a damp track for the welcome return of the previous Qualifying format. One can only hope that we’ve seen the last of the elimination format, heavily flawed and much maligned.
Rosberg claimed pole from Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen, with Hamilton suffering electrical problems and failing to set a time, thus starting right from the back.
From the start, the optimistic Ricciardo launched off the line, immediately taking the fight to Rosberg and pinching the lead into the long Turn 1. Moments later, Kvyat looked down the inside of Vettel, who was scared into the path of team mate Raikkonen, spinning the Finn and wiping out his front wing. That sparked a chain reaction, Vettel’s left endplate bouncing down the hill. Whilst trying to dodge the recovering Raikkonen, Felipe Nasr drifted back onto the racing line and clipped Hamilton, who also suffered front wing damage. Two corners later, the Briton found his front wing collapse and send him off piste for a second, and he hobbled back to the pits with the wounded Raikkonen for company.
As the field crossed the line to signal the end of the enthralling first lap, Ricciardo led from Rosberg, Kvyat and the Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg.
The early drama didn’t end at Turn 2, on lap four whilst trying to pull away from the menacing Rosberg, Ricciardo’s left rear tyre screamed enough, disintegrating down the back straight, forcing the Safety Car to make an appearance.
As proceedings fell into Rosberg’s hands, Hamilton was subject to an interesting strategy call. After pitting for a set of supersoft tyres when the Safety Car was deployed, he was called in again by Pete Bonnington for a set of the stronger, soft tyres. It demoted him back down to the rear of the field.
After the restart, Kvyat continued his racy start, passing the Williams of Felipe Massa for 2nd and setting off in hot pursuit of Rosberg. The recovering Ricciardo and Hamilton weaved past Esteban Gutierrez for 11th and 12th, Hamilton trying a daring move up the inside of the sweeping Turn 6.
After exceeding all expectations in their first two races, acquiring 18 points, the newly formed Haas team suffered a disappointing weekend. Their car not a match for the demands of the Shanghai circuit, as they failed to score points, with birthday boy Romain Grosjean pleading – to deaf ears – to retire the car at the tail end of the race, when in 19th.
Vettel’s resurgence was filled with vindication and anger, making light work of the returning Fernando Alonso and then Perez. After the second round of pitstops, Kvyat and Vettel found themselves occupying the same patch of tarmac once more. Mercifully, no troubles this time round.
However, at the sharp end of the field, Rosberg’s competition had faded away, as he settled into cruise control, something the chasing pack can only dream of.
At least the watching world had plentiful viewing with the big hitters carving their way back through the field, Raikkonen making leaps to eventually finish 6th. His battle with the jostling Massa and Hamilton made for terrific entertainment in the final five laps.
And although Maurizio Arrivabene looked less than impressed with the early liveliness, his frown was eased by Vettel’s problem free charge to second.
The German wasn’t satisfied though, the TV cameras picking up the argument between himself and Kvyat, Vettel enraged by Kvyat’s attempted manoeuvre that sent him barrelling into Raikkonen. Kvyat’s retort was brisk “I’m on the podium, you’re on the podium, okay?”
Rosberg spectated, politely taking a sip of water to only add to the awkwardness. He won’t mind though, as he steps into the European season as the man to beat. Hamilton, keen to put this weekend behind him, stated that he “had no more jokers to play” after his “horrifying” race. His embrace with Toto Wolff was met with a whisper of “tough one [out there]” from the Champion.
Follow me on Twitter @therealjeagles for updates on when I post.