LOTS OF OVERTAKING: Chinese Formula 1 fans were treated to an exciting race in Shanghai despite disastrous practice sessions. Image: AP
Shanghai - We look back at the second race of the 2017 Formula 1 season and countdown five talking points from the Chinese Grand Prix, which was won by Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton on Sunday (March 9).
1. Title race is on
Single-team dominance has been the norm in recent seasons but after another duel between Hamilton and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, there are unmistakable signs of a genuine title race this year.
After the first two grands prix of a 20-stop season, Hamilton and Vettel have one win and one second-place finish apiece to be locked at the top of the standings with 43 points each. If not for the timing of the safety car, which worked out badly for Vettel, "it would have been a flat-chat race, a couple of seconds between us the whole way", said Hamilton, who won by six seconds.
He added: "I think it's going to be one of the closest (seasons), if not the closest I've personally ever experienced."
2. Amateur hour for 'Nico'
It wasn't a great outing for Hamilton's team mate Valtteri Bottas, who embarrassingly spun behind the safety car and dropped down to 12th, before recovering to finish sixth.
As if to rub it in, Bottas was also called "Nico" over the team radio as an engineer confused him with world champion Nico Rosberg, who quit Mercedes and F1 after winning the title last year. After battling Rosberg for the title in recent seasons, it seems Hamilton won't face a similar threat from the Fin. "Really sorry, guys, for the amateur mistake," said a sheepish Bottas. "I'll make up for it in the next race."
3. Teenage kicks
Max Verstappen's star continues to rise after an astonishing performance when he weaved his way from 16th on the grid to finish third behind Hamilton and Vettel. The 19-year-old Dutchman stormed past nine cars on the first lap alone and later said it felt like he was playing a video game.
Masterful Max! Verstappen passes 9 F1 cars in one lap
It's not the first time the Red Bull driver has pulled off such a feat, after he recovered from 16th to reach the podium in heavy rain in Brazil last year. But Verstappen's form means stiff competition for his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who had to settle for fourth after a furious late battle between the Red Bulls.
4. Start as you mean to finish
In a season of fine margins, small differences will be crucial and Hamilton's fast start made all the difference in Shanghai. While the Mercedes driver got away smoothly from pole, Vettel's botched start from the front row plunged him immediately into difficulties.
Hamilton predicts 'closest' fight with Vettel
Pre-race, Hamilton said Mercedes had been working on his starts. "We worked hard to make sure we're on top of things. I think I got the second best start of the whole grid (in Australia)," he said. "My goal is to remain in the top three consistently all season. We're working towards that."
5. Whatever the weather
China's weather ensured a farcical start to the week when low-lying cloud - mingled with Shanghai's trademark smog - all but wiped out the first two practice sessions on Friday (March 7) . With visibility so poor that the medical helicopter would have been unable to land at nearby hospitals, the drivers couldn't take to the track.
2017 Chinese GP: Practice abandoned in smoggy Shanghai
Eventually, according to Autosport, specialist neurosurgery staff were transferred to a hospital nearby to make sure the race could go ahead. But ultimately the weather delivered testing racing conditions with a wet start giving way to a drying track. "These are some of the most exciting circumstances when you have a track that starts wet and it goes through a drying phase," Hamilton said.