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Crofty Blog – China 2017

It’s Thursday morning, somewhere around 11am.  Could be the afternoon though, or the evening, my body clock isn’t quite sure where it is as I stare at the lift doors in front of me.

I’m heading up to the Media Centre at the circuit. Nine floors up and housed in a bridge that spans the track. Right where Giovinazzi crashed in qualifying, and the race. Poor lad, he did have a proper weekend to forget.

China - hazard (resize)Anyway, I’m staring at the lift doors and thinking to myself, I like leaning! I’m also quite a fan of a random button pushing! And whilst I’m not overly keen on slapping the door, I most definitely do enjoy playing and jumping! Who is the person responsible for taking all of these glorious things away from me and is this conclusive proof that F1 just isn’t fun anymore?

Maybe that’s a bit over the top, but I wasn’t happy that leaning, one of life’s best pastimes, had been taken away from me. So, with a little frown on my face, I ventured into the Media Centre to pick up some pre-race weekend info from the nice people at the FIA.

First I had a read through of the Race Director’s Event Notes, always a handy thing to look at as it contains information on a variety of subjects which included, this week, a paragraph on what was expected from the drivers in the event of double waved yellow flags during qualifying.

Here it is, Article 10.1 of the Event Notes:  Any driver passing through a double waved yellow marshalling sector must reduce speed significantly and be prepared to change direction or stop. In order for the stewards to be satisfied that any such driver has complied with these requirements it must be clear that he has not attempted to set a meaningful lap time, for practical purposes this means the driver should abandon the lap (this does not necessarily mean he has to pit as the track could well be clear the following lap).

Now I’ve copied the article in full for you all because as you know, two drivers fell foul of the stewards in qualifying under these exact circumstances and continued to protest their innocence afterwards. This ruling, by the way, came into effect after Singapore last year when Sergio Perez was penalised and it was felt by the drivers that there was confusion as to what they had to do. Lewis Hamilton, I’m told, asked what was required of the drivers and this is the solution that was agreed upon, by all of the drivers, including Romain Grosjean and Jolyon Palmer, both of whom felt that they had slowed down enough and shouldn’t have been penalised this weekend.

China 2017 - paddock (resize) I’m not a steward, I haven’t seen all of the data, but I would say this to both drivers. How can you be preparing to stop, when the onboard footage shows that you’re both upshifting as you pass the incident? Surely if you’re preparing to stop, you should be changing down the gears and braking a lot harder than you were. Others did, that’s why they didn’t get a five place grid penalty. I’d have had a chat with them about it, but as you can see, the Paddock in Shanghai is a big place and I couldn’t see them. This photo was taken two hours before the start of the race, by the way.

Anyway, after leafing through the Event Notes I turned to the FIA preview which told me that this was ‘The first permanent circuit to be visited this season, defined by its two long straights and the slow corners that bracket them, making the Chinese Grand Prix one of the more overtaking-friendly events on the F1 calendar.’  Now, ladies and gentlemen, despite the lack of leaning in my life at this time, I was an excited little puppy. One of the more overtaking-friendly events on the calendar, just what I was looking for.

And then when you threw into the mix the total lack of running in FP1 and FP2, and the rain that was falling on the morning of the race, plus Verstappen out of position, well this was a race that couldn’t possibly disappoint.

So, for the record, I’d like to say that the Chinese Grand Prix of 2017 didn’t disappoint. Not in the slightest, not for one second, did I find it disappointing in any way whatsoever.

Which is why I was a bit taken aback when the Villa Villain tweeted me afterwards to say: “A serious lack of overtaking compared to last season, us fans want more overtaking”

He’s not a happy bunny then, but is he right? Was there a serious lack of overtaking compared to last season and do us fans want more?

Roughly we had about a third of the overtakes this year than 12 months ago in Shanghai but was that a serious lack of overtaking and should fans feel short changed by it? Should fans feel short changed by what transpired in Australia a fortnight ago, or are we seeing a bit of a pattern develop here? Overtaking might not be as plentiful this season, but whilst the quantity may have diminished, the quality might just have got even better.

China 2017 - Pit Straight (resize)My overriding feeling after the race had finished was that we have been treated to some breathtaking overtakes, Sebastian Vettel’s move on his former team mate Daniel Ricciardo, banging wheels as they slugged it out, was proper gladiatorial combat. Verstappen charging through the field from 16th to 3rd, an obvious delight to watch, as was Fernando Alonso a little further down the field. No reward for the Spaniard once again, despite another weekend where he showed just why McLaren need his skills so desperately at the moment.

What we didn’t see much of, and I don’t think we will be seeing as much of this year, are the easy, DRS assisted passes of recent times, and I can’t say that they’re going to be missed. Even Sebastian Vettel stated that he liked the new way of overtaking, hard earned, well thought out and not simply by pressing a button and opening up the DRS.

Speaking to Max Verstappen at the airport on Sunday night it was clear that he feels it’s still very, very difficult to run closely behind the car in front, although his team mate managed it without complaint and that battle gave us plenty of tension in the closing moments. I see what he’s saying about the blue flags possibly needing to be shown a little earlier, but my view on the subject has always been that we should get rid of them, so I can’t agree with him there!

And I don’t agree that quantity is what the majority of fans want, although you’re more than welcome to correct me on that. Surely we all want to see are amazing moves, not just moves for the sake of it? The filet mignon? Or an all you can eat buffet of the cheapest cuts? Pass me the steak knife please.

What we had in Shanghai was a race to savour, a podium full of smiles, drivers having to earn their corn and being happy to do so. It was always going to be an improvement on Australia but the next weekend is the acid test. Bahrain can be less sympathetic for overtaking and there won’t be any rain to help make it interesting. If we can have a race on a par with Shanghai then we’re in for a good season. What is for sure is that we have a two team title battle on our hands, with Red Bull a little further adrift. The first tie at the top since 2012, let’s hope it stays that close.

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