Three reasons why Hamilton's run to a sixth world title won't be a procession

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Three races into the new season and already Lewis Hamilton has clinched two wins.

The Briton is hunting a sixth world title this year, which would take him just one behind the legendary Michael Schumacher.

After securing a fifth world crown with ease last season, the Stevenage man has enjoyed a strong start to the year and still only looks like he is operating in second gear.

In Bahrain, he took a lucky victory after engine trouble in the dying stages denied Charles Leclerc a first F1 win, and last weekend in China, he delivered a crushing triumph after beating team-mate Valtteri Bottas with a quicker start.

Although it’s still early days in the championship, here’s our three reasons why Hamilton’s charge to a sixth world championship won’t be a procession.

Bottas 2.0

Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate has proven he is refusing to play a bit part in the title fight by sealing a win in Australia and securing podiums in Bahrain and China.

Fastest all weekend in Shanghai, the Finn secured pole, but had a poor start and had to settle for second behind the Briton.

Still, the 29-year-old has looked a different driver to the one that struggled for large parts of the 2018 season and could really have a crucial say in this year’s championship.

Out of contract in December, the former Williams man has nothing to lose. He just needs to go out and push hard in every race, getting the best out of his vast potential.

With development driver Esteban Ocon in the paddock and probably set to replace him at the season’s end, a few wins and a consistent run of podiums is still not going to guarantee him an extension for another two years.

But a strong campaign, with more bite on race weekends, could put Hamilton under pressure and stretch the title race until the depths of the year.

Ferrari yet to show full hand?

Pre-season testing suggested that Ferrari had the quicker car, but that has not translated into victories over the first three races.

In Bahrain, Leclerc was on the cusp of clinching a maiden victory but an engine problem with nine laps remaining saw him drop down to third.

Still, after showing their speed in the Gulf, they struggled in China with Vettel finishing third and Leclerc in fifth.

The straight-line speed of the car is impressive and can really threaten Hamilton and the Mercedes, but it’s slowness on the corners seems to be affecting their competitiveness.

Having been more than a decade since the Italian marque tasted world championship success, with Kimi Raikkonen back in 2007, the pressure for the Prancing Horse to perform has never been higher.

The Scuderia have some work to do, with some internal issues like the aerodynamic window, but it would be harsh to count them out this early, especially with 18 races remaining.

Watch this space.

Verstappen to improve as season progresses

Max Verstappen has been touted as a future world champion for three years now, and could really challenge Hamilton at the top of the standings if Red Bull can improve the car as the season develops.

After splitting with French manufacturer Renault, Red Bull looked to have made significant strides with the new Honda engine during pre-season testing.

Verstappen wants to race at the front, but even with the positive developments in the off-season, more work needs to be done to get to know the engine better and this takes time.

It’ll be a work in progress for the Red Bull. But strategy wise, they have certainly looked sharp in both Bahrain and China.

In the three races so far, Verstappen has finished third, fourth and fourth – and has been miles ahead of team-mate Pierre Gasly.

If Christian Horner and his team can deliver as the season progresses, the aggressive and confident 21-year-old should be in the mix to secure podiums in most races.

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Ferrari defend decision to let Vettel pass Leclerc in China

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Ferrari have stood by their decision to hand Sebastian Vettel preferential treatment in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.

As Lewis Hamilton moved into the lead of the championship for the first time this season, by virtue of winning Formula One’s 1,000th race, Charles Leclerc found himself under instruction to relinquish third place to his more experienced team-mate.

Leclerc, in just his third outing for Ferrari, had been reluctant to move aside for Vettel, and later dropped behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, too, after the Dutchman stole a march with an early stop for new tyres.

The Monegasque, who has now been issued a team order by Ferrari at each of the opening three rounds, admitted he was frustrated with the decision and wanted an explanation.

But Mattia Binotto, the rookie team principal for Ferrari, insisted they delivered the correct call in favouring Vettel, the four-time world champion and winner of 52 grands prix.

“We made the right choice,” he said.

“It was not easy to give the order, and I thank Charles for the way he behaved and showing he is a good team player.

“We tried everything we could not to lose time on the Mercedes cars ahead and that was among the only chance we got at the time. So, we tried. It didn’t work. It was right to give Seb that chance.”

Hamilton finished ahead of Valtteri Bottas as Mercedes secured a hat-trick of one-two finishes from the opening three rounds.

The Englishman, a six-time winner in Shanghai, is already 31 points clear of Vettel in the championship as he chases a sixth title.

Leclerc is a point further back.

“We definitely didn’t expect to have three one-twos, but I’m proud to have been part of the work that everyone has done and to be a part of these results,” said Hamilton as he celebrated his 75th career victory from 232 starts.

Hamilton, who is now just 16 wins shy of Michael Schumacher’s win record, jumped pole-sitter Bottas with a fine getaway.

“The start was where I made the difference,” he added. “After that it’s history.”

Provided by Press Association Sport

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Lewis Hamilton delivers crushing performance to win Chinese GP

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Lewis Hamilton delivered a crushing performance to win in China as Ferrari used team orders to help Sebastian Vettel finish on the podium.

Valtteri Bottas followed team-mate Hamilton home for Mercedes to secure their third one-two finish in as many grands prix.

But Hamilton’s superb lights-to-flag victory was overshadowed by the intra-team politics which threatens to destabilise Ferrari’s season.

Hamilton roared off the start line in Shanghai to dash past pole-sitter Bottas to the opening bend.

From there, he ruled the race to secure his second win in succession and assume the championship lead for the first time this season. He is six points clear of Bottas.

Vettel crossed the line third, with Max Verstappen fourth for Red Bull, and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc fifth.

The young Ferrari driver will have every right to feel frustrated.

Heading into Formula One’s 1,000th race, the question was whether Vettel would remain as Ferrari’s number one following Leclerc’s strong display last time out in Bahrain.

On lap 11, Ferrari delivered their answer.

Leclerc had got ahead of Vettel at the first turn, but with Vettel less than a second behind the young Monegasque, and claiming he would be able to match leader Hamilton’s times, Ferrari instructed Leclerc to move out of his team-mate’s way.

Unlike in previous regimes at Ferrari, Leclerc made his feelings clear. “But I’m pulling away [from Vettel],” he protested, before reluctantly moving aside.

Vettel had clear air to catch the Mercedes duo, but failed to make any impression on the leaders.

Indeed, Leclerc remained on the rear wing of his four-time world champion team-mate with Verstappen closing in on both red cars.

“I am losing quite a lot of time,” said Leclerc. “I don’t know if you want to know or not.”

Vettel was given the hurry-up message. Verstappen was then the first of the leading five to stop for fresh rubber.

For the second time, Ferrari reacted by favouring Vettel. He was called in on the following lap for new tyres, and emerged just ahead of the Red Bull car.

The gung-ho Verstappen then launched a move down the inside of Vettel at the penultimate corner – the scene of their collision here last year – but Vettel got the better exit and just about kept Verstappen at bay.

All the while, Leclerc was losing valuable speed on ageing tyres. He pitted four laps later than his team-mate, but by this time he was in no-man’s land, and he rejoined the circuit an eye-watering 11 seconds behind Vettel and Verstappen in fifth.

Leclerc was promoted to second when the leaders stopped again, and Ferrari may have hoped that he would get to the end. Yet after a brave, but fruitless defence against Bottas, before Vettel sailed by, Ferrari pulled him in with 14 laps to run.

Out front, a peerless Hamilton was never challenged, and on a weekend dominated by numbers, the five-time champion became the second driver in history after Michael Schumacher to lead 4,000 laps.

It was his sixth win here and 75th in all. Vettel failed to trouble Bottas, finishing seven seconds behind the Finn.

Three races in, Hamilton and Mercedes remain the class of the field.

Elsewhere, British teenager Lando Norris retired after a dramatic first-lap collision. Norris was an unwitting bystander as Daniil Kvyat sent him airborne, and temporarily onto two wheels, after he first barged into Carlos Sainz’s McLaren.

The Russian was penalised with a drive-through penalty. Norris stopped for repairs, and limped on, but was unable to make it to the chequered flag.

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