Class B: Midfield Report, 2017 Chinese GP

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Carlos Sainz finished seventh despite this early moment. Photo from: F1

Because F1 today is not just about the frontrunners Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull, this new-for-2017 section will be dedicated to the teams that make up the rest of the field. I’ll be calling this section “Class B”, where Force India, Williams, Toro Rosso, McLaren, Haas, and Sauber shine.

  • Carlos Sainz gambled by starting the race on slick tires. It was a reasonable decision considering that the track was just damp, at most, if not drying. When the lights went out, Sainz started poorly, struggling to accelerate as he immediately dropped to the back and even went off at the first corner.  There was even an odd sequence where he spun at Turn 3 and nudged the barrier on his attempt to rejoin the race. Sainz’s opening few laps seemed to be the beginning of a disastrous race but he stuck with his slick tires, and would consolidate sixth place for most of the race until eventually being overtaken by the recovering Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas. Remember that “Class B” is everyone else other than the top six drivers, so with a sterling drive and a seventh place finish, Carlos Sainz can proudly proclaim to be “the best of the rest” in the Chinese Grand Prix. “The rest” at the jump:

  • After a double retirement in Australia, the Haas team bounced back with a promising race. Kevin Magnussen didn’t get much camera time but he held on to a strong eighth place finish to score Haas’s first points of the season. His teammate, Romain Grosjean, started from the back of the grid due to a penalty he received when he failed to properly slow down for Antonio Giovinazzi’s Q1 accident. The Frenchman could only recover to eleventh but he showcased several spectacular overtakes, especially the one where he went around the outside of Felipe Massa’s Williams at the long Turn 1-Turn 2 sweep. This was an impressive race for Haas, no doubt.
  • Force India produced another double points-scoring finish, with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon finishing ninth and tenth respectively. Ocon continues to prove himself to be a solid driver in a solid team. Perez meanwhile was a party to the Lance Stroll incident, in which the Williams driver was forced to retire. Perez took the inside line in attempting to pass Stroll on the opening lap but the Williams driver didn’t see him and turned in. After the stewards investigated the incident, no penalties were handed down, hence it was deemed a racing incident. Nobody was at fault there.
  • Nico Hulkenberg turned eyes in Qualifying when he took his Renault into Q3 and a seventh-place start. His opening lap was good but he pitted straight away to switch to slick tires. It was then revealed that he had to take 15 seconds worth of time penalties for passing under the VSC period and the [actual] Safety Car period. Again, I didn’t seen any replays for these incidents. If not for the penalties, he could’ve finished in the top ten.
  • Jolyon Palmer actually started from the pit lane and was the other driver to be on slicks right from the go. Unlike Sainz though, he couldn’t produce a good enough recovery drive.
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Antonio Giovinazzi steps out of his car following his crash on Lap 4. Photo from: Daily Mail
  • An apologetic Antonio Giovinazzi can now at least leave behind a miserable weekend after having not one but two crashes along the main straight. The first one was in Qualifying when he lost control at the exit of the final corner, pushing a bit too hard to break into Q2. During the race, he had just switched to slick tires on a still-damp track. He seemed to have over-accelerated just as he went through puddles along the main straight, immediately losing control and crashing into the pit barrier. Fortunately, he was not injured and I hope his confidence isn’t as destroyed as the Sauber’s front end. It remains unclear whether the Italian will have a quick chance for retribution at Bahrain given the situation surrounding Pascal Wehrlein’s neck injury.
  • It was revealed that Wehrlein’s injury actually involved a vertebral fracture. It’s more than just fitness that’s holding him back now. Although he was cleared by FIA medical staff to compete even back in Australia, I’m still hoping to see Giovinazzi in the Sauber at Bahrain unless Wehrlein thinks that he’s really really healthy and ready to drive.
  • Williams was nowhere to be found in this race. Massa actually finished 14th and seemed to have taken an extra pit stop. Goodness, there were so many things that weren’t caught on camera this weekend.
  • In fairness to Stroll, he had good pace in Qualifying and made it to Q3.
  • Daniil Kvyat was running strong race until something broke on his Toro Rosso and was forced to retire.
  • Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren also broke.
  • Oh, Fernando. He ran in the top ten from the opening lap onwards but of course the McLaren had to break (driveshaft problem). Another retirement for the two-time champion.
  • Marcus Ericsson was last among the finishers.

 

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