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GP Week : Issue 218
18 GPWEEK.com // 18 GPWEEK.com // F1 >>> CHINA PARTNERS: the start and found himself racing McLaren's into the first turn while later in the race he was well below his best when battling with Marcus Ericsson. Worse for Red Bull is the fact there were more engine problems. Ricciardo had an Internal Combustion Engine changed while Kvyat's race ended after just 15 laps with smoke pouring out of the Red Bull. Max Verstappen's Renault engine was the reason for the safety car under which the race finished, his car skidding to a halt on the pit straight just four laps from home - while the Dutchman was in a points paying position. If tensions were strained between the Austrian drinks company and the French manufacturer before one expects there will be some fiery discussions (no pun intended) in the very near future. To that point, Verstappen had been driving a splended race. He was in the points while his bravery on the brakes allowed him to overtake from seemingly impossible positions. In just three races he has routinely upstaged more experienced drivers, many in better equipment, and with Kvyat failing to fire in the main team is already staking a serious claim to being promoted next season. Such is Verstappen's form that Carlos Sainz has been largely forgotten, though the young Spaniard has done everything one could rightly expect of a rookie driver. He has done a solid job, but alongside Verstappen that is simply not enough, and his piroette early in the race certainly didn't help matters. It was a harmless spin, one you'd expect to see from a driver with just two grands prix underneath him, but against his faultless teammate it stands out like a sore thumb. So did Force India. Though Sergio Perez came within touching distance of the points the team struggled all weekend. After Manor, which was predictably the slowest team on track, and McLaren which came as something of a surprise, Force India was the third weakest team in China. Nico Hulkenberg, a man who has scored pole positions, was eliminated from the first phase of qualifying while in the race Perez found himself racing a McLaren as often as not. With McLaren's well documented problems it was a poor showing for the team, but one which seemed to be expected. It's already talking up the B-Spec car (see separate story) due in Austria, almost writing off the first part of the season. The danger there is that, should the new car be no better, it will quickly be overtaken by the improving McLaren which in the last two races has shown glimpses of potential. Like Malaysia, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button showed promise during practice. The team was genuinely enthusiastic about its potential heading into qualifying and was disappointed to have been knocked out so early. In the race both Honda engines went the distance while Button was able to race wheel to wheel with Pastor Maldonado deep into the race. That they reached the finish is encouraging, that Button nudged Maldonado (for which he received a 5-second penalty post-race) is too. It's strange to think that crashing into another car is a positive but for the Woking squad it is a sign of competitiveness. In Australia it was woefully off the pace signalling the battle with Maldonado as a measure of progress. That squabble though was the highlight of the race which, if we're honest was rather uneventful. The suspense at the front between Ferrari and Mercedes quickly disappeared at the first round of stops. While the Ricciardo and Ericsson duel amused for a time the race was rather processional. Of the three races we've seen so far only Malaysia proved any different suggesting something about the 2015 ruleset is making it more difficult for drivers to race with and pass oneanother. Perhaps that will change in Bahrain, a circuit which last year produced one of the most thrilling battles of the season. With a seemingly back on form Nico Rosberg challenging the championship leader perhaps it is there that the championship will come alive.