By Sean Kelly, C4F1 statistician
No matter how you sliced it, Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix was the 1,000th event to count toward the World Championship of Drivers since the format’s inception in 1950.
The nomenclature tripped up more than a few people, erroneously describing it as the 1,000th Grand Prix, the 1,000th Formula 1 race, or even the 1,000th World Championship Grand Prix. The addition of 11 Indianapolis 500s from 1950-60 and 17 races run to Formula 2 regulations in 1952-53 meant that only one definition was truly accurate this weekend.
With that in mind, it was numerically fitting that Lewis Hamilton, the most successful driver on the current grid, won the race by leading from start-to-finish. Hamilton took the chequered flag from Alain Prost, the most successful driver in attendance who was not actually racing – Prost and Hamilton now account for 126 of the 1,000 victories in series history.
We got the 1000th. China, thank you for the incredible support and atmosphere, I’m so happy guys . Huge thanks to everyone in the team, let’s celebrate!! #P1 #TeamLHChina #Race1000 #ChineseGP @MercedesAMGF1 pic.twitter.com/KqvwoDush4— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) April 14, 2019
Along the way to victory on Sunday, Hamilton led the 4,000th lap of his career, a plateau only previously reached by the most successful driver of all-time. Michael Schumacher’s 5,111 remains the record.
Teammate and polesitter Valtteri Bottas could not live with his Hamilton in race trim, and second place cost him the lead in the world championship, but it also gave the Mercedes team their 47th 1-2 finish, tying McLaren for second all-time, with only Ferrari now ahead (83).
Not only that, but it means Mercedes are now enjoying their best-ever start to a season, becoming the first team since Williams in 1992 to claim 1-2 finishes in the opening three races. The pace is added to their supreme reliability – Hamilton and Bottas both have a 15-race finishing streak, the longest run on the grid.
This is all bad news for Ferrari, who are now most definitely on the back foot after a dominating preseason, and seeing a winning position slip through their fingers in Bahrain. They were never truly in the fight for victory in Shanghai, and while Sebastian Vettel scored his first podium of 2019, he ends the decade in China having led fewer laps there from 2010-19 (44) than he managed when he won the 2009 race alone (49).
Despite being by far the most successful team in championship history, Sunday also continued the oddity that Ferrari have never won a championship event that ended with a double zero. The Scuderia drew a blank in the 100th, 200th, 300th, 400th, 500th, 600th, 700th, 800th, 900th and now 1,000th race, despite being the only constructor present on every occasion.
Of more pressing inconvenience to Ferrari was that they appeared to make a mess of Charles Leclerc’s afternoon, with questionable strategy calls resulting in him falling behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen by the end of the day, with Verstappen fourth and Leclerc fifth.
Verstappen has not finished lower than he started since Hungary last July, but Leclerc must be wondering how he is only fifth in the championship after such a relatively strong showing so far in 2019.
The other Red Bull of Pierre Gasly again had an underwhelming weekend, starting when he qualified fully 0.841s slower than his teammate, as they filled row three behind the Mercedes and Ferraris. It was part of an almost-unprecedented grid that saw the first five rows each filled by two cars from the same team. This had only happened once before in the previous 999 races (Singapore 2011).
Gasly’s Sunday was no better than his Saturday, finishing the race over a minute behind his teammate, albeit with the caveat of a late late pitstop for new tyres to set the fastest lap. It was just the second time a Frenchman has achieved a fastest lap in the last 23 years – Romain Grosjean last achieved it at the 2012 Spanish GP.
In the best-of-the-rest division this week, honours definitely went to Renault after qualifying 7-8 on the grid, with 2018 race winner Daniel Ricciardo then finishing seventh in the Grand Prix itself, maintaining his 100% finishing record of 8 Shanghai starts, while also seeing the flag for the first time since joining Renault.
“We will look at the weekend as a whole and our focus switches to the next race.”— Renault F1 Team (@RenaultF1Team) April 14, 2019
And now a word from the boss
Full report https://t.co/SwtJoSCMSB#RSspirit #ChineseGP #Race1000 pic.twitter.com/oXFxEFyyZx
Eighth place was a best-ever Shanghai finish for Sergio Perez on a historic weekend for the Racing Point team. Sunday was the team’s 500th Grand Prix under all five of their names (Racing Point is the successor to Force India, who had been known as Spyker, Midland and Jordan before that). Conversely, having won the 700th championship event (Brazil 2003) under the Jordan name, it means that Racing Point have now gone exactly 300 races without a win under any name – a longer wait than any other team “franchise” in Formula 1.
"I’m very happy to score four points today. This was never going to be our strongest track, so it’s important to take opportunities such as today. I think we have the potential to be stronger at the next race in Baku." ️ @SChecoPerez#F1 #ChineseGP #Race1000 #MakeItCount pic.twitter.com/xzckNwKFWQ— SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team (@RacingPointF1) April 14, 2019
The first-ever world championship event at Silverstone in 1950 saw Alfa Romeo dominate and finish 1-2-3, so it was appropriate that the returnee Italian manufacturer scored points in the 1,000th edition courtesy of Kimi Raikkonen, for whom this weekend marked the first time he’d failed to reach Q3 since the 2016 Hungarian GP, ending a 53-race streak.
Alexander Albon’s Chinese GP was a tale of redemption, as the Thai driver fought back from a hefty shunt in FP3 that caused him to miss qualifying altogether. Albon’s Toro Rosso team were celebrating their 250th Grand Prix this weekend on the same circuit at which their predecessor team Minardi made their 340th and final start back in 2005, and a point for tenth place was his reward.
Albon’s Toro Rosso teammate Daniil Kvyat was one of only two retirements on Sunday. On the track where his “torpedo” persona was truly born back in 2016, Kvyat was in trouble early on when he was in a chain reaction collision with the two McLarens, leading to a slightly harsh drive-through penalty. In his last four starts in China, Kvyat has three retirements and a podium finish.
So China 2019 was not exactly a classic, but Lewis Hamilton is unlikely to care. He will go into race #1,001 in Baku in a fortnight’s time with only teammate Valtteri Bottas able to deprive him of the championship lead.
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