• The Final Stint - Chinese Grand Prix

Vettel no longer Red Bull's golden boy

Laurence Edmondson and Nate Saunders
April 21, 2014

After Mercedes continued to press home its advantage in China, ESPNF1 rounds up the good, the bad, and the downright ugly from the 2014 Chinese Grand Prix.

Sebastian Vettel did not hold off Daniel Ricciardo for long in Shanghai © Getty Images

Tough luck for Vettel

Sebastian Vettel and team orders is a story made in heaven for F1 fans. By ignoring them he plays up to the role of villain he assumed to many fans through his domination of the sport for the past four seasons. His response of "tough luck" to Red Bull's request to move over for Daniel Ricciardo in Bahrain is a soundbite that enhanced that reputation and one we are going to hear again and again this season. That he did eventually move over will be slightly irrelevant to many watching on, his slightly petulant response on the radio has become the story and only served to heighten the intrigue about his current situation alongside Ricciardo, as well as his own state of mind.

As part of the team's young drivers programme Vettel himself graduated from, Ricciardo has backing from Red Bull in a way Mark Webber never did. It is certainly hard to imagine Red Bull issuing the same instruction for Webber during the five seasons he was alongside Vettel, who now has to contend with the challenge of a team-mate who has adapted far quicker to the RB10. It is a huge test of what the world champion is made of.

Drawing on his days at the back of the grid with HRT and Toro Rosso, Ricciardo is excelling in a car lacking the downforce and stability Vettel is used to from the blown-diffuser era. But for all those wanting to see Vettel explode in a rage in public have so far been disappointed. He is struggling to adapt his driving style to this year's car, but so far he has not fuelled the story further by publicly losing his cool. For a driver who has been Red Bull's golden boy since 2009, how he continues to handle the exciting young pretender alongside him could develop into the story of the season. NS

A shade of class at Ferrari

The new Ferrari team principal, Marco Mattiacci, made a good impression on his first weekend on the job. On Friday morning he was at the centre of the media's attention but opted to reflect the glare of the spotlight with a pair of designer sunglasses during the early practice sessions. When he was ready to meet journalists on his own terms, he removed the eyewear and projected an air of confidence that only someone without a background in F1 could manage when facing a job as daunting as his own. The podium finish on Sunday provided an extra boost of confidence for Mattiacci, even though the man who made it happen was not sitting on the pit wall but in the cockpit of the No.14 Ferrari.

On Sunday night Kimi Raikkonen admitted he could not get his F14 T to work properly this weekend, yet Fernando Alonso - as he has done so consistently for the past four years - crossed the line in a position much higher than his Ferrari deserved. Mattiacci's first task, therefore, will be to forge a relationship that feeds Alonso's ego but does not make his driver the de facto team boss. That may prove to be easier said than done, as Alonso appeared to lack enthusiasm for his new boss's arrival when questioned about him on Thursday. If both know what is best for Ferrari they will work together, but if the upcoming circuits are not so well suited to Alonso and the F14 T then cracks could start to appear. LE

War games at Mercedes

Nico Rosberg's championship lead disguises a losing battle with Lewis Hamilton © Getty Images
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It's all getting rather interesting between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Off the track, at the start of the weekend both were asked about reported talks between the pair following their exciting duel in Bahrain, where Rosberg was frustrated by Hamilton's defensive driving on one occasion. While Rosberg confirmed the drivers had discussed "driving limits" since Bahrain, when asked the same question Hamilton casually denied the meeting had ever taken place. Whether this was a mind game or just another example of Hamilton saying the bare minimum to a journalist, something he is becoming increasingly good at, we don't know, but it is a glimpse at how the rivalry is developing.

But on track Hamilton isn't holding anything back. Of the eight qualifying and race sessions so far this season, Hamilton leads Rosberg 6-2. Rosberg's consistency and the fact he did not encounter problems like Hamilton did in Australia, which handed him one of those victories on a platter, means he is top of the drivers' standings, but it does not take a psychology expert to see the one-sided nature of the rivalry so far is weighing on his mind. Rosberg's body language from the beginning of the weekend in China suggested he was tense and slightly agitated. Rosberg was completely resigned to Hamilton waltzing it after qualifying, where he was 1.2s slower than the Brit, and clutched at his championship lead as consolation in the post-race interview. Championship lead or not, a Rosberg fightback is desperately needed in Spain. NS

Red Bull still F1's ugly duckling

Red Bull has always been the odd one out in the paddock. When the team first arrived in F1 it gave the impression that it was happy to party the night away while others slaved over camber settings and wing angles. However, as it became more successful it was clear that it was just as serious an operation as any other and it produced four titles to prove it. The success under the old regulations not only brought trophies and money, but also a huge amount of power within the sport. That power has made the team increasingly isolated within the paddock and it was no surprise when it was one of the first to break ranks from FOTA.

The attitude is very much that Red Bull does whatever is best for Red Bull, and the rest of the sport can sort itself out. Sadly that attitude appears to have won out in F1 with FOTA disbanding earlier this year and the development of an F1 Strategy Group that allows the six biggest teams to lord it over the bottom five. It has also resulted in conflicts between teams, such as Mercedes' involvement in Red Bull's appeal and the legal action being taken by McLaren over aerodynamicist Dan Fallow's sudden decision to remain at Red Bull. What this means for the sport remains to be seen, but fighting between teams is no longer restricted to the race track. LE

Early flag could have spelled disaster

It will go down in history as a mere footnote to an otherwise uninspiring Chinese Grand Prix, but the chequered flag waved on lap 55 of 56 could have made the sport look very stupid. Imagine if Daniel Ricciardo had managed to haul in Fernando Alonso for third place before the regulation 56 laps. He felt another lap would have been enough to pass the Ferrari, but an additional second at a pit stop for Alonso earlier in the race could have put him in range of a podium within the regulation lap count. If the race was then classified at 54 laps he would have had his second podium of the year stripped away from him, and in this case it would have been grossly unfair. LE