Scuderia Ferrari started the 2017 Chinese Grand Prix as leaders in the Formula 1 Constructor Standings, as a result of Sebastian Vettel‘s victory in Australia and the race in Shanghai could have marked another first place finish for the German driver, if not for a poorly timed Safety Car on the track.
After two races from the 2017 Formula 1 season, the prospects of a close battle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are already obvious, but the Scuderia Ferrari driver could have had the opportunity to create a small advantage over his rival in better circumstances at the Shanghai International Circuit.
A virtual safety car period in the opening stages of the Grand Prix, caused by Lance Stroll’s vault off Sergio Perez’s front wheel into the gravel trap, created an opportunity for a fast change to slicks. Only Sebastian decided to take the gamble, convinced that this move would pay off in the end. If that was the case we will never know, because Seb’s plans were unfortunately compromised by Antonio Giovinazzi’s crash, which brought out a full safety car, giving the leaders the chance to head straight into the pits. Frustratingly for Vettel – and for any hopes we had of seeing the German driver once again on the highest step of the podium – the location of the wrecked Sauber also meant that all following cars were funnelled into the pitlane.
The leading cars should have been in the pits changing tyres, while Vettel headed down the main straight already using the slicks. Instead the top five were in effect protected, so Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo (who didn’t actually change tyres until the second trundle down the pitlane), Kimi Raikkonen, Max Verstappen and the other Mercedes driver, Valtteri Bottas (after loosing three places with a pitstop issue) came out in that order.
Sebastian Vettel was therefore forced to follow them out in sixth place and try to make up on the track the lost time in the pits: “The safety car came just when I was about to start to feel that the dry tyre was a lot quicker. So I couldn’t use the momentum, the advantage, and I lost a lot of positions.” – the Scuderia Ferrari driver confirmed at the end of the 2017 Chinese GP.
If we take into consideration the pace and speed showed over the rest of the afternoon, it would have been very interesting to see how things have turned out had Antonio Giovinazzi not crashed his car at that moment in order for the Race Director to deploy the safety car and offer Lewis Hamilton a decisive advantage in the fight for victory.