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Lewis Hamilton boldly christened himself “brave warrior” after winning the Chinese Grand Prix but the three-time world champion will have more than just title rival Sebastian Vettel to contend with this week in Bahrain.
As Hamilton celebrated a third Shanghai victory in four years with his Mercedes team, he unveiled a new tattoo on the left side of his ribcage bearing the Chinese characters “Brave Warrior” and “Love”.
But the Briton’s thunder had already been stolen by a jaw-dropping drive from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who finished third behind Ferrari’s Vettel after starting near the back of the grid.
The 19-year-old Dutchman began in 16th after an engine misfire in qualifying and tore past nine cars on the first lap alone, suggesting fears that the sport’s new rules had made overtaking harder were premature.
Both Hamilton and Vettel, who himself produced two breath-taking passes, will be casting nervous looks in their rear-view mirrors at Verstappen.
“He is right up there with all the best drivers,” said Red Bull team boss Christian Horner, who noted that Verstappen’s odds of reaching the podium after qualifying stood at 33-1.
“If it had not been insider trading, I’d have had a flutter. Max has a sixth sense in the wet. He is fearless. He explores all the boundaries of the track to find where the grip is.”
Verstappen’s aggressive approach has quickly made him a fan favourite and he has been compared with Formula One great Ayrton Senna, particularly after a seat-of-the-pants drive in Brazil last year when he stormed to third in pouring rain.
By the same token, he has ruffled feathers since making his F1 debut two years ago at just 17 with Ferrari’s Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen both letting rip.
But Hamilton, who recognises a kindred spirit in Verstappen, retorted: “This young dude has been a real breath of fresh air for everyone.”
Wider cars and fatter tyres were supposed to make overtaking a dying art, but Verstappen and Vettel went some way to exploding that myth in China.
On a track still slick after morning drizzle, Verstappen pulled off an audacious piece of skill to pass Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, braking late to lunge inside on turn six.
Equally as impressive were Vettel’s pass on Raikkonen after early frustration, and his wheel-to-wheel clash in overtaking Ricciardo, which recalled the days before one team dominated the sport.
Mercedes have enjoyed a stranglehold over Formula One for the past three years, the German team winning all but two races in 2016.
Before that, Vettel won four successive titles with Red Bull on a streak so monotonous he was repeatedly booed on the podium.
But Formula One suddenly has a title race with Vettel and Hamilton heading to Bahrain tied on 43 points after the German’s stunning victory in the season opener in Australia.
Verstappen is placed third on 25, with Valtteri Bottas on 23 for Mercedes, Raikkonen on 22 and Ricciardo 12, adding spice to this week’s dust-up in the desert.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has backed Lewis Hamilton to exact swift revenge at Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix after a chastening defeat in Formula One’s season opener in Australia.
Sebastian Vettel’s comprehensive victory for Ferrari has put Mercedes on red alert ahead of the Shanghai race weekend but Wolff insists Hamilton has the steel to strike right back after finishing second in Melbourne.
“Lewis is the best Lewis that I’ve seen in the last four years — both on and off the track,” said the Austrian. “He’s become a pillar of this team and he proved that in Melbourne.
You need to be careful to manage your own expectations.
If you think you are going to cruise to victory in the future, based on a track record of success, you’ll be proven wrong very quickly. You need to put the finger in the wound, identify your weaknesses and then respond.”
Triple world champion Lewis Hamilton looked for positives at the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix on Thursday after a five-place grid penalty wrecked his hopes of a third successive pole position this season.
The Briton, who has won at the Shanghai circuit for the past two years, collected the penalty after Mercedes decided to change his car’s gearbox ahead of Sunday’s third round of the season.
“For me a challenge is an opportunity to rise,” said Hamilton, who has the words ‘Still I rise’ emblazoned on his helmet and tattooed across his back.
“I love racing so I get to race this weekend rather than be at the front and have less of a race,” he told reporters.
Hamilton qualified on pole in Australia and Bahrain but suffered poor starts in both races, which were won by German team mate Nico Rosberg who now has a 17 point lead in the standings.
The reigning world champion has not won a race since he clinched his third title last October in Texas, with Rosberg now chasing his sixth successive victory, and had to fight back from seventh at the end of lap one to third in Bahrain.
Hamilton recognised it would be a tough weekend but said fighting through the field reminded him of his karting days, when others had better equipment and he had to make the difference.
“Actually, the last couple of races, being a little further back has been really exciting,” he added.
Mercedes have won 34 of the last 40 races and, with Hamilton starting no higher than sixth, Rosberg will be favourite to add to the tally and stretch his overall lead.
The German will needed no reminding of 2014, however, when he was 29 points clear of Hamilton at one stage but still lost out to his team mate in the end.
“It hasn’t really changed my approach at all,” Rosberg said of the Briton’s setback. “A Hamilton that starts sixth is still going to challenge for the win and we know that.”
Mercedes said Shanghai, a circuit where Hamilton has won four times and more times than any other driver, was the best place to take the penalty after the gearbox was damaged in Bahrain.
A driver must use a single gearbox for six consecutive events or take a mandatory penalty.
Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton will be hit with a five-place grid penalty for Sunday’s Formula One Chinese Grand Prix due to a gearbox change, his Mercedes team confirmed on Thursday.
“This weekend is going to be tough,” Hamilton said on photo sharing site Instagram alongside a picture of fans welcoming him at the Shanghai airport.
“I will start with a five-place grid penalty due to a gearbox change but because of you guys I feel energised, motivated, and confident that we can regain ground lost.”
The news was later confirmed by his Mercedes team, who said on Twitter they had thought Shanghai was the best place to take the penalty after the gear box was damaged in Bahrain and needed to be changed.
A driver must use a single gearbox for six consecutive events and the penalty means the highest Hamilton can start Sunday’s race is from sixth on the grid.
That puts Hamilton on the back foot heading into a race in which he hopes to score his first win of the season and end team-mate Nico Rosberg’s run of five-successive victories.
Hamilton trails Rosberg, winner of the opening two races of the season, by 17 points in the standings.
He last won at the U.S. Grand Prix in October, when he also clinched his third world championship.
Fernando Alonso hopes to be racing for McLaren at this weekend’s Chinese Formula One Grand Prix but the Spaniard says he is taking nothing for granted ahead of a fitness test at the Shanghai circuit.
The double world champion fractured his ribs in a crash at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix on March 20 and the governing FIA’s medical team then ruled him out of the subsequent race in Bahrain.
He will undergo more tests at the Chinese circuit on Thursday before the third round of the 21-race season.
“It was disappointing to be told I couldn’t race in Bahrain, but I fully respected the decision of the FIA medical team,” he said on Tuesday in a team preview for the race.
“While I hope I’ll be back in the cockpit on Friday (for practice), until I get the all-clear from the doctors to race, whenever that may be, we cannot assume anything.
“But I’m continuing to prepare for the race weekend as normal.”
The Spaniard was replaced in Bahrain by the team’s Belgian reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne, who ended up 10th to score McLaren’s first point of the season after team mate Jenson Button failed to finish.[nL3N1760CU]
The Belgian remains on standby for China.
Alonso had stayed on at the Sakhir circuit to assist Vandoorne on his debut, and watched the race unfold from the pitwall.
“It was positive to see that both cars ran quite strongly during the weekend,” he said.
“It was also interesting for me to see the race weekend unfold from a different perspective, which helped me to understand everything that goes into getting the cars on track and learn a lot about the different processes.”
Alonso has won twice before in China, once with Ferrari and once with Renault.
Formula One teams might adopt aggressive strategies for Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix because track conditions could lead to heavy wear of the supersoft tyre that has not been used in Shanghai before, Mercedes technical head Paddy Lowe said on Monday.
The supersoft tyres are the quickest of the three types available for the race but also rapidly lose performance.
The Chinese race is heavier on tyres than tracks in Melbourne and Bahrain, where the supersofts have been used previously this season.
Drivers will spend some 80 percent of the Chinese circuit negotiating turns and high-energy corners and the unpredictable weather in Shanghai could also affect tyre degradation.
“It’s the first time we’ll see the supersoft compound used at this track … and that will likely create a more extreme example of what we saw in Bahrain, where the best qualifying tyre is unlikely to be a great race tyre,” Lowe said.
“Every team is bound to want to qualify on the supersoft, but if it grains (wears) in the race, we could see cars stopping in the first five laps.
“There will be plenty of analysis to do on Friday and we could see some interesting calls on qualifying and race strategy,” he said in a Mercedes team preview.
Mercedes has dominated both Formula One races this season, with triple world champion Lewis Hamilton the fastest qualifier in Australia and Bahrain but losing to team mate Nico Rosberg on race day.
Winners of 34 of the last 40 races, Mercedes have also locked out the front row for eight successive races.
Formula One drivers are allowed 13 sets of dry-weather tyres over a race weekend and have supersoft, soft and medium to choose from in China, as selected by supplier Pirelli.
That can lead to variations within a team as well as between teams, mixing up strategies.
Pirelli said Williams, McLaren and the new Haas team had gone for the most extreme selection with their drivers all choosing seven sets of the supersoft compared to Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s five.
Williams’ Felipe Massa and Haas’s Romain Grosjean, who has scored in both of the team’s first two races, have made the most aggressive choices with just one set each of the medium tyres.
Hamilton has opted for four sets of the medium and four of the soft while Rosberg, who leads the championship with a maximum 50 points, went for three medium and five softs.
Hamilton won last year’s race in China from pole position, with Rosberg second.