The Chinese Grand Prix somewhat failed to live up to the hype surrounding Formula 1’s milestone 1000th race, but it did serve up plenty of talking points.

While the pre-race predictions weighed heavily in Ferrari’s favour following its strong performance in Bahrain last time out, it was Mercedes who once again ended up on top as Lewis Hamilton beat teammate Valtteri Bottas off the line to bag his 75th career win, while Ferrari was left chasing once more.

Here are some of the main themes to emerge from the Chinese Grand Prix…

Tension building at Ferrari

For the third time in three races, Ferrari resorted to using team orders in a bid to strengthen its championship position.

New recruit Charles Leclerc had already been instructed to hold station behind Sebastian Vettel in Melbourne, before he ignored a similar call and passed his teammate in Bahrain - a race he was destined to win until late engine issues thwarted him.

In China, Leclerc had been narrowly outqualified by Vettel on Saturday but snuck up the inside of the German to snatch third at Turn 1 on the opening lap.

With the pair dropping back from the leading Mercedes duo, and running nose-to-tail on track, Ferrari took the decision to impose team orders once more, this time telling Leclerc to allow Vettel - who appeared faster – through after 10 laps.

Despite claiming that he was beginning to pull clear, Leclerc obliged and got off the throttle along the start-finish straight to let Vettel by.

While team orders always proves a controversial topic, the call would have made sense barring one fundamental issue - Vettel was unable to pull clear in free air, and Leclerc was quick to remind his team of that.

“I’m losing quite a lot of time,” Leclerc radioed in to Ferrari. “I don’t know whether you want to know or not, but just so you know…”

Vettel failed to make significant progress, not helped by locking up his brakes on multiple occasions, while Mercedes romped clear out front. The Ferrari duo lost more time with Vettel some way off matching the laptimes being posted by Valtteri Bottas in second.

Leclerc’s race was truly compounded when he began to fall into the clutches of Max Verstappen. Red Bull rolled the dice and pulled off a successful undercut strategy that resulted in the Monegasque dropping to fifth, where he would ultimately finish as Vettel ended up third.

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto had already make it clear that Vettel would be prioritised in “50-50” situations due to his greater experience as a four-time world champion, but Leclerc has already shown he is capable of challenging Vettel.

The pair are now separated by just one point in the drivers’ standings and it has been Leclerc, not Vettel, who has looked more likely to record Ferrari’s first win of the season.

Vettel already finds himself 31 points down on Hamilton and Ferrari theoretically could have been in a stronger position had it let its drivers race. If Leclerc continues to match and outperform Vettel, Ferrari will face a big conundrum in who it should back.

Leclerc was clearly frustrated by the latest team orders call and Ferrari must tread carefully as the season progresses to avoid signs of intra-team tensions bubbling into an all-out war.



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