The Chinese Grand Prix was the most entertaining Formula 1 race since Baku in June of last year. And while Sebastian Vettel looked likely to disappear into the distance from flag-fall, and Bottas looked to have the race stolen away following the notorious ‘pit-stop undercut’, it was a safety car and good fortune which saw Daniel Ricciardo apply the freshest tyres and have the fastest car, based on rubber alone, at the end of the race.
We have to be grateful. We have a competitive season where any one of three teams are capable of providing us with a winner. But will it be tyres, pit-stops and safety cars that continue to determine the outcome of 2018’s races?
Maybe that’s not a bad thing, what is the alternative? Mercedes sweeping up at all the high-speed low-downforce venues, Ferrari collecting the trophies at the mid-downforce tracks and Red Bull prevailing at the dog tracks: Hungary, Monaco and Singapore?
That’s a best case scenario, a return to a four year cycle of dominance enjoyed by a single team, Red Bull and Mercedes being the most recent examples, is the worse thing that could happen to the sport.
Baku’s the best
So let’s be grateful for what we have and hope we get some more of the same in Baku next time. And there is every chance too. Baku arguably gave us the most spectacular race of the decade in 2017 and its unique layout, with a huge straight combined with corners that rival anything Monaco has to offer, is conducive for everything that is good about this sport.
It was Daniel Ricciardo that prevailed in the race last year. Interestingly it was staged in June during 2017 so it has come forward in the calendar by some considerable way. A quick look at my iPhone tells me it is just 11 degrees there as I pen this piece. Surely it cannot warm up dramatically in just a few days, so this looks like being a relatively cool race weekend. And if there is one thing the Mercedes showed us it disliked in China last week…
Where next for Ricciardo?
Talking of Ricciardo, there is much speculation as to where he will be driving in 2019 when his current Red Bull contract ends. The Australian’s stock is high and he will surely be sitting in a seat at one of the ‘big three’ next year. That includes staying put at the team which has given him all his race victories and is more competitive now than it has been at any stage of the hybrid era.
Mercedes is most people’s favourite though. This will necessitate the ejection of Valtteri Bottas from his seat alongside Lewis Hamilton. Just what the Finn has done to deserve to be cast away, and earn so many critics come to that, is unclear.
Bottas has completed every race he has started for the team with only one exception, Spain, where his engine let him down. He has also collected 15 trophies from 23 starts. During the last six races Bottas has netted 101 points, Hamilton just 77.
Will he see red?
A seat at Ferrari on the other hand, that would require the removal of Raikkonen and his discharge would be a lot easier to understand. Now, while he has followed the footsteps of Irvine, Barrichello and Massa in being a distinct No.2 Ferrari driver and the proverbial ‘lamb to the slaughter’, Raikkonen is aging and also, frankly, often disappointing.
Clearly Ricciardo will have no interest in joining Ferrari in the capacity of being a No. 2 driver to Vettel and playing the fall-guy when ordered to. On the other hand, he is fully aware that he has the ability to beat Vettel in identical equipment as was the case in 2014 when they were coupled together at Red Bull.
During that season Ricciardo won three races and acquired an additional five podium finishes. Vettel never won a race and took home just three trophies during the year.