Hamilton made it 3 wins in a row for the first time in his Formula One career by dominating the Chinese Grand Prix. Has he got the measure of his opposition and the 2014 season or is it the mistakes of others that are allowing his awesome form to shine through?
Hamilton went into the weekend with momentum from one of his best races ever in Bahrain, some arguing his all time greatest, so all eyes fell on the Brit to produce another performance that would see him control the race and come away with the gold.
FP1 saw Ferrari top the time sheets with Alonso getting his weekend off to a good start with an up turn in his form, while Hamilton was 8th. Mercedes seemed to think Ferrari may be te team to watch out for as Alonso is good around the Shanghai circuit and if the conditions and the car is set up correctly you can never rule out an inspired drive from the Spaniard.
I don't know what is wrong at Ferrari but they just don't seem to have th same hunger to compete as the likes of Mercedes and Red Bull. In past seasons, 2012 in particular, the car wasn't a pace setter but Alonso managed to drag it way up the field and keep the championship battle alive right up until the last race. He had to do the same thing this weekend as shown by his struggling team mate who never looked like a threat to the top 5, let alone the podium positions.
Raikkonen is a great driver, a proven force to be reckoned with, but he has been accused of being lazy in the past which is why I feel Alonso edges him as an overall package. He trains hard and where he may not always be pushed to look for more pace in himself and the car, he can leap forward from a race start and read a sitation as well if not better than anyone else to continue to maintain his position or battle his way forward.
Hamilton said himself that it was the Ferrari resurgence he felt they needed to watch out for most of all although he did send a clear message back to the Italian team by going top of the timesheets on FP2.
Ricciardo was the other driver that could have caused an upset, topping FP3 and securing a front row start with another good performance in qualifying. Qualifying on the front row alongside Hamilton is an accolade in itself, he has taken every pole position available to him this year so far and no one seemed to have an answer for him again on Saturday.
Saying that I am not taking anything away from the other drivers and especially Ricciardo. I have been very impressed with him so far this year, even if he has been hit with some very unlucky decisions he has really stepped up and taken the fight to Vettel. Grosjean was also impressive this weekend I felt, although he wasn't fighting for big points and actually didn't finish the race he did make it into Q3 and is beginning to get some sort of reliability and speed out of the Lotus car. I think he is a quick driver and he proved that towards the back end of last season so let's hope Lotus dial in that car and they can begin to move forward again. I still feel that to move forward in bigger strides they should have gone with a different driver pairing though, Maldonado is not big team material, he has managed to flip another car and drive clean into a gravel trap at very low speeds in the space of 2 weeks. When you look at the other driver that had been linked to the seat, Hulkenberg, he has put in some good perfomrances already this season and the Force India car is looking overall pretty good with one podium finish courtesy of Perez in Bahrain.
Vettel doesn't seem to have an answer for him just yet but I would bet it isn't too long before Vettel dials himself in and begins to really fly again-maybe Barcelona is the circuit that can offer him the stage to do just that.
This weekend though didn't go Vettel's way, he didnt look overly happy the whole weekend and being asked to let his team mate through again can't have gone down well. Overall Red Bull still came away with a good amount of points and moved up to second in the constructors championship. Force India have been demoted to 3rd now while the leaders of the constructors championship back in Australia, McLaren, are nowhere to be seen.
McLaren have dropped off at an alarming rate, even if they don't have the fastest car I can't see how they have gone from finishing in the top 10 with both cars, even fighting and finishing on the podium in Australia to having no answer on how to score points in China and being the slowest of the Mercedes powered teams. The drivers look and sound downbeat all the time now and if they aren't careful the other teams around them will assert themselves in the top 10 comfortably, making it hard for McLaren to bounce back.
I am sceptical of Button's words after Bahrain, saying he feels he could have challenged for the podium but if that was the case they need a few weekends where they can do just that again to rekindle some sort of glory.
Mercedes are on fire at the moment, if Hamilton hadn't retired in Australia they would probably have the maximum points available to them but even with one retirement to Rosberg's 0, Hamilton has already closed back to within 4 points of his team mate in the championship standings. Rosberg didn't have a good weekend really, his qualifying wasn' great and after a sloppy start he had to battle back up to the front by which point Hamilton already had his eyes firmly set on his 3rd consecutive victory.
THe race as a whole I felt was a bit processional, there were some good battles up and down the field and I still think this new look Formula One offers more than the 2013 season but this race didn't make headlines the way Bahrain did. Hamilton is the man to try and stop at the moment, he hasn't really put a foot wrong and his Chinese Grand Prix drive showed his rivals yet again who they are dealing with.
Everyone around him seems to be making the odd mistake that makes his performances even more impressive. Rosberg dropped the ball this weekend, a slow start meant he just couldn't close down his team mate and finihs ahead of him which I think he needs to just settle him again. In Malaysia no one seemed to have the same pace even when in the same machinery, and again they all fought each other allowing Hamilton to drive away. In Bahrain Rosberg again should have probably won if you look at all the factors, he had DRS to help him pass and the quicker tyres but he kept overshooting corners when trying to pass and Hamilton defended superbly to finish ahead of his team mate again.
One of the odd mistakes of the race was the waving of the chequered flag a lap too early, not that anyone was going to catch Hamilton but it let him wind down earlier to reflect even though he spotted the mistake. I thought it was very poor to see a professional racing circuit make a slly mistake like that and it did cost the odd driver a place in the final order. Kobayashi springs to mind, even though it doesn't move Caterham ahead of Marussia in the standings he did pass Bianchi on the real last lap although it wasn'tcounted due to the premature chequere flag.
The likes of Rosberg, Vettel, Alonso and co. need to have the sort of 'perfect' weekends that Lewis seems to be currently enjoying to close the gap and finish ahead of the speedy Brit.
Let us hope that some of the other teams can find some form again coming into the European races and we see some great close racing again with some surprise results as we go.