Scuderia Ferrari driver Kimi Räikkönen landed on the podium in third after a hard-fought battle at the Formula One Chinese Grand Prix over the weekend, earning most of the team’s points at the race after his teammate, Sebastian Vettel, crossed the finish line in eighth. Vettel, who had led for much of the race, had his chances of making it onto the podium erased when Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen hit him in the hairpin corner at the back end of the track. Verstappen served a 10-second penalty for his reckless passing attempt, but that did nothing to improve Vettel’s chances.
That Verstappen was able to close the gap with Sebastian Vettel enough to make contact was all thanks to a safety car that allowed him and teammate Daniel Ricciardo to pit for fresh Pirelli Soft tires without surrendering more than one position apiece. The extra grip made all the difference as the two went about reeling in Ferrari’s and Mercedes’ drivers, who elected to stick to their one-pit strategy.
The safety car came out roughly halfway through the race, after Scuderia Toro Rosso‘s Pierre Gasly collided with teammate Brendon Hartley. As soon as racing resumed, there was a notable difference in pace between the frontrunners, and little seemed to stand in the way of Verstappen or Ricciardo as they aggressively made their way up the field. Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas was in the lead, ahead of Vettel, Hamilton, and Räikkönen, but nipping at their heels were the two surging Red Bull Racing cars.
Over the next ten laps, Ricciardo managed to pick off Räikkönen, Hamilton, Vettel, and Bottas, landing in the lead. Verstappen was similarly able to outmaneuver Ferrari and Mercedes thanks to his fresher tires, although he ran off-track attempting to pass Hamilton on Lap 37, forcing him to wait for a more opportune moment to pass. He eventually made his way around the four-time F1 champ, and only six laps later, collided with Sebastian Vettel. That took the German driver out of contention for a top-five finish, but it also slowed Hamilton, who had to take evasive action to avoid the two cars. Räikkönen was able to close the gap, and went on to pass Hamilton for third.
“I think we made a good start and then got, unfortunately, blocked a bit and passed in the first corners,” Kimi Räikkönen said after the race. “I struggled a little bit following people in the beginning. On my own I wasn’t too bad, but far from ideal at the start of the race and then obviously we stayed very long out. A little bit of luck with the safety car. I had good speed on the Mediums but in the end we would have needed the Soft tires to really go for it.
“I think I was kind of OK in the end, but once I got close I had much more speed than Valtteri but once you get close it’s so difficult to follow people, to get a good run you need much better tires to get that proper run and you can kind of offset yourself. But I’ll take what I got, because at one point it didn’t look good at all.”