Daniel Ricciardo finally found his feet at Renault in China, but there’s still reason for the Australian to be cautious moving forward.
Meanwhile, Charles Leclerc continues to pose in the Ferrari garage an awkward situation, for which there is no end in sight.
Here are five things we learned from the Chinese Grand Prix.
HAMILTON A FITTING WINNER FOR LANDMARK RACE
Lewis Hamilton, the man who has dominated Formula One for the best part of the last decade, claimed victory in the 1000th-ever grand prix and he was a fitting champion in China.
The Brit, who incidentally also won the 900th race, led from the first corner to the last when he went past teammate Valtteri Bottas as the lights went out and never relented as he built a commanding lead.
Formula One will be happy with the result too, given how much they have built-up and publicised their landmark moment, to have the biggest name in the sport to win it will fit in perfectly with their PR drive.
But it is so much more than that for Hamilton, the win means it is not only his second of the season, but it also puts him at the top of the championship for the first time in 2019 and it’s difficult to see him letting that slip right now.
That’s because of Mercedes’ total domination of the season so far, claiming one-twos in Australia, Bahrain and now in China.
He has been on the podium in every race and if he continues that run throughout the season he will equal the record set by Michael Schumacher – and will likely be one championship closer to his ultimate record too.
RICCIARDO RELIEF BUT RENAULT STILL WARY
Daniel Ricciardo managed to ease yet more Renault woe during the Chinese Grand Prix with his best performance of the season by finishing in seventh place.
But Renault will still be scratching their head and holding their breath in the lead up to the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku in two weeks’ time after Nico Hulkenberg’s mysterious retirement after 18 laps.
The German reported the problem himself to the team but while it is thought to be a mechanical failure that ended his race, it is unclear whether it is the same problem that has blighted Renault’s season so far and led to the retirements of Hulkenberg and Ricciardo in Bahrain last time out.
That sent pulses racing in Ricciardo’s side of the garage as the possibility of a repeat of Bahrain became scarily real.
However, the Aussie held his nerve, as did his power unit, to carry him through a fairly uneventful race where he was never in a position to either overtake or be overtaken.
He will celebrate his first points of the season nevertheless and the added accolade of ‘best of the rest’ after proving he is starting to get to grips with a car he himself has admitted he had been “overdriving”.
LECLERC STILL SACRIFICIAL LAMB
Despite Charles Leclerc’s heroic performance in Bahrain, where he had secured pole and led the race expertly until an engine fault cost him his lead and the first win of his career.
In the end, he was forced to settle for just the first podium of his career but it looked like a star was born in Sakhir as the young gun shone while Sebastian Vettel’s mistake cost him and Ferrari a podium.
Question marks were being asked of the German but clearly not from inside the Ferrari garage, who in the build up to the 1000th race in Shanghai insisted Vettel would still be favoured in 50-50 situations.
And they didn’t take long to prove it.
Leclerc was ahead of Vettel but the four-time world champion was seemingly going quicker. Leclerc was warned to speed up or let his teammate pass before being told the decision was made to let the German through.
He complained but agreed and it wasn’t long before he was complaining again as Ferrari pitted Vettel first on what was an initial one-stop strategy for both.
That gave Vettel the advantage before Ferrari switched their strategy to a two-stopper, leaving Leclerc out while his teammate was on fresh tyres as he got picked off by Valtteri Bottas.
Despite knowing his role as the No.2 driver in the team, the team orders will still frustrate the 19-year-old who is desperate to prove what he can do at Ferrari, but will feel he wasn’t given the chance this time around.
ALBON KNOWS HOW TO MAKE AMENDS
Alexander Albon was arguably the driver of the day after snatching the most miraculous of championship points.
The Toro Rosso driver was, quite frankly, lucky to be on the grid after putting his car into the wall during Saturday practice and leaving his vehicle strewn in a million pieces across the track.
He walked away unharmed but was forced to start the race from pit lane given he was unable to compete in qualifying.
Then came the magic. The 23-year-old charged through the field, taking advantage of the monster back-straight to execute several overtakes. He also made a one-stop strategy work at a track known for its high degradation levels.
Albon credited his traineeship his Formula 2 for his ability to extend the life of his Pirelli tyres and execute a tricky one-stop strategy.
“F2 itself is a really good stepping stone for F1 because tyre management is directly related to F1,” he said.”
“We’re on the same tyres [in F2] … and then it’s just about learning the tricks. From there it carries over directly.”
GASLY GETTING USED TO BEING ON HIS OWN
Pierre Gasly could be in for a long, lonely season.
Red Bull is still fighting to keep touch with Ferrari and is a long way behind Mercedes, but is also miles ahead of the best of the rest.
The 23-year-old doesn’t appear to be in the same class as teammate Max Verstappen, or he is, at best, still coming to grips with the car.
The end result is set to be him regularly running races all by himself in sixth position – as was the case in China.
But there’s a silver lining to the lonely existence that was on show on Sunday.
Given the lack of competition behind and the big gap in front, Gasly was able to make an extra stop for soft tyres to have a crack at the race’s fastest lap.
He pulled it off in Shanghai to snatch an extra championship point. That might be about as entertaining as it can get from Gasly’s perspective.