An anti-climactic race in China ahead of F1’s return to Europe

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After the furore of the exhilarating Bahrain Grand Prix two weeks ago, expectations were high in China. Nico Rosberg was keen on avenging his defeat at the hands of Lewis Hamilton under the lights in Sakhir, whilst the likes of Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel were hoping to be in a place should disaster strike the German team.

Practice also suggested that it wouldn’t be such an easy weekend for Mercedes, who had literally not put a foot wrong in Bahrain. FP1 saw Fernando Alonso finish fastest, and although Hamilton hit back to top FP2, he complained that the car was still not to his liking.

A wet FP3 gave Daniel Ricciardo a chance to finish quickest as most chose to limit their running, and although he qualified an excellent P2 in the spray later on Saturday, he still trailed pole-sitter Hamilton by six-tenths of a second. With rain threatening to hit during the race and questions about how Hamilton was feeling with the car over the weekend, it appeared that there could yet be another stunning race on the cards.

However, all of these storylines were pretty much diffused within the first few laps of the race on Sunday.

Nico Rosberg made a poor start to drop down to seventh place, and the rest of the grand prix was largely about his fightback. One by one, he picked off the cars ahead to eventually bring his car home in second place behind race winner Hamilton. Fernando Alonso had ran well to fend off the squabbling Red Bull drivers and secure Ferrari’s first podium finish of the season.

In fact, the biggest talking point of the race came when Sebastian Vettel appeared to flout team orders and refuse to give way to Daniel Ricciardo at first, telling his team it was “tough luck.” He eventually saw sense and put up little resistance to the Australian driver, and eventually finished over 20 seconds down in P5.

A number of drivers went largely unnoticed on Sunday but did have a good race. Nico Hulkenberg and Valtteri Bottas came home in P6 and P7 respectively, whilst Sergio Perez bounced back from a disastrous qualifying to make up seven places and finish ninth. Daniil Kvyat also continued his good start to the season, picking up points for the third time in four races.

In fact, it was such an anti-climax that an embarrassing error with the checkered flag that inadvertently ended the race two laps early went without too much of a protest, with Kamui Kobayashi being the only driver to lose a position because of the mistake.

The teams now have three weeks to regroup ahead of the first European race of the season in Spain at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona. At this race, we should see the first set of major upgrade packages and developments for the teams, which could once again alter the pecking order.

However, the way things are going, it’s set to be a to-and-fro battle between either side of the Mercedes garage for the 2014 Formula 1 drivers’ championship.

F1 Paddock Pass: United States Grand Prix post-race (VIDEO)

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As Lewis Hamilton took another step towards his fourth Formula 1 World Championship Sunday at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas, plenty of other topics of discussion emerged in the wake of Round 17 of the season from Austin.

Hamilton’s win came as his Mercedes AMG Petronas team claimed its fourth consecutive Constructor’s Championship, Scuderia Ferrari came up short once again despite a valiant effort in second and third, and Max Verstappen’s penalty after the race was the major talking point.

Elsewhere Valtteri Bottas struggled again, the Sahara Force India twins continued to pick up points, Carlos Sainz Jr. made a major positive impact in his first start with Renault, Brendon Hartley impressed on debut at Toro Rosso and Romain Grosjean and Haas F1 Team endured a tough weekend on Haas’ home soil.

Check out all the recap from the latest USGP in the latest post-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass with NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton, below.