Lewis Hamilton dominates Chinese GP en route to fifth Shanghai victory


Lewis Hamilton kept calm through changeable weather conditions in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix to clinch his first Formula 1 win of the year for Mercedes.

After losing out to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in Australia two weeks ago, Hamilton was able to deliver the perfect response by dominating proceedings in Shanghai, finishing over seven seconds clear of the German driver to leave them tied on points at the top of the drivers’ championship.

In a race that went a long way to debunking the myths about the difficulty to overtake in F1 this year with the new cars, Max Verstappen charged from 16th on the grid to finish third for Red Bull, acting as another stand-out display for the sport’s young star.

With the pre-race rain dying down in the lead up to lights out, drivers were left unsure whether to start the race on intermediate or slick tires. Caution prevailed for most, with Carlos Sainz Jr. being the only driver to roll the dice and fit a set of super-soft tires for the start.

Pole-sitter Hamilton managed to make the best getaway from the grid, retaining his lead ahead of Vettel and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas. As the drivers began to dial in on the track, most opted to make the switch to slick tires, with Vettel being one of the earliest drivers to come in, taking advantage of a Virtual Safety Car called following a crash that eliminated Lance Stroll early on.

Vettel’s early stop backfired when a full safety car was called just a few laps later after Antonio Giovinazzi smashed into the wall on the main straight, playing into the hands of the front-runners who had stayed on intermediates. Hamilton was able to take a free stop and retain his lead, with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo running second ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and teammate Max Verstappen, who put on a remarkable charge in the opening stages from 16th on the grid.

Hamilton continued to lead upon the restart on Lap 8, but a train of cars quickly emerged with the Red Bull and Ferrari drivers behind. Verstappen’s charge saw him slip past both Raikkonen and Ricciardo in quick succession, moving up to second and quickly ditch the chasing cars as he set off in pursuit of Hamilton at the front.

With an engine issue preventing Raikkonen from getting close to Ricciardo in third, Vettel opted to take matters into his own hands on Lap 20, diving down the inside at Turn 6 to relieve his teammate of fourth place. The German was able to quickly crawl over the back of Ricciardo’s car ahead, before producing a stunning overtake around the outside of the same corner he passed Raikkonen to move up to third place, before then immediately putting in the fastest lap of the race, setting his sights on Verstappen ahead.

With Verstappen struggling to keep his super-soft tires alive, the soft-shod Vettel was able to quickly close up on the back of the 19-year-old as the race hit half distance. Unlike Ricciardo, Verstappen was not able to force Vettel into a brave overtake, with a lock-up at the hairpin causing the Dutchman to drop behind. His tires now at the end of their life, Verstappen pitted one lap later, emerging in sixth place on another set of super-softs.

With fresh boots, Verstappen quickly began to create a problem for the lead drivers. Hamilton and Vettel had planned to go to the end without stopping, yet as the Red Bull youngster lapped as much as two seconds per lap faster, they had little choice but to come in. Vettel pitted on Lap 34, coming back out just three seconds ahead of Verstappen, with Hamilton then mirroring the call two laps later, staying in the lead.

After Raikkonen made his long-awaited second stop on Lap 40, Vettel and Verstappen moved up into the podium positions, with Hamilton still leading by around eight seconds. Vettel tried to put some late pressure on Hamilton, turning up the wick with 15 laps to go, forcing the Mercedes driver to react and up his own pace, stabilizing the gap.

Hamilton was able to round out the final few laps with ease before crossing the line to clinch his fifth Chinese Grand Prix victory, and get Mercedes off the mark in 2017.

Vettel finished a comfortable second as Verstappen struggled for pace in the closing stages, leaving him to battle with Red Bull teammate Ricciardo for the final podium position, only to hold on with a fine defensive move on the final lap.

Kimi Raikkonen was left frustrated in fifth place, with his late pit stop costing him a chance of finishing on the podium, while Bottas recovered from his early setback to finish sixth in the second Mercedes.

The first slick-runner, Carlos Sainz Jr., battled his way up to seventh for Toro Rosso, while Kevin Magnussen scored his first points as a Haas driver in eighth place. Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon rounded out the top 10 for Force India.

Romain Grosjean fought back well from his grid drop to finish 11th for Haas ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, who was hit with a time penalty for speeding behind the safety car. Renault teammate Jolyon Palmer was 13th ahead of Felipe Massa, who suffered an issue late in the race that caused him to fall to P14. Marcus Ericsson was the last classified finisher for Sauber in 15th.

McLaren had a race to forget as Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne were both forced to retire. Alonso had spent the grand prix battling in the points, taking advantage of the changeable conditions to rise as high as seventh, only for a driveshaft failure to force him to retire. Daniil Kvyat was another retiree for Toro Rosso, joining Giovinazzi and Stroll on the sidelines.

F1 returns next weekend with the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Heart of Racing program aims to elevate new generation of women to star in sports cars

women sports cars
Mike Levitt/LAT Images/Heart of Racing

(Editor’s note: This story on the Heart of Racing sports cars shootout for women is one in an occasional Motorsports Talk series focusing on women in racing during March, which is Women’s History Month.)

Heart of Racing driver and team manager Ian James says his daughter, Gabby, isn’t so interested in auto racing. But she is interested (as a New York-based journalist) in writing about the sport’s efforts and growth in gender equality

It’s a topic that also was brought up by James’ wife, Kim.

“They’re always saying, ‘Hey, you manage all these guys, and you help them, so why not a woman?’ ” Ian James told NBC Sports. “And I feel like there are a lot of women that haven’t had a fair crack at it in sports car racing.

Our whole DNA at Heart of Racing is we give people opportunities in all types of situations where there’s been crew personnel or drivers. And I felt like we hadn’t really addressed the female driver situation. I felt like there was a void to give somebody a chance to really prove themselves.”

During the offseason, the team took a major step toward remedying that.

Hannah Grisham at the Heart of Racing shootout (Mike Levitt/LAT)

Heart of Racing held its first female driver shootout last November at the APEX Motor Club in Phoenix, Arizona, to select two women who will co-drive an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 in the SRO SprintX Championship.

The season will begin this weekend at Sonoma Raceway with Hannah Grisham and Rianna O’Meara-Hunt behind the wheel. The team also picked a third driver, 17-year-old Annie Rhule, for a 2023 testing program.

The Phoenix audition included 10 finalists who were selected from 130 applicants to the program, which has been fully underwritten by Heart of Racing’s sponsors.

“We didn’t want it to be someone who just comes from a socio-economic background that could afford to do it on their own course,” James said. “We can pick on pure talent. We’re committed to three years to do this and see if we can find the right person. I’m very hopeful.”

So is Grisham, a Southern California native who has been racing since she was 6 in go-karts and since has won championships in Mazda and Miata ladder series. She has several victories in the World Racing League GP2 (an amateur sports car endurance series). The last two years, Grisham has worked as a test driver for the Pirelli tire company (she lives near Pirelli’s U.S. headquarters in Rome, Georgia, and tests about 30 times a year).

Starting with the Sonoma during SprintX event weekends (which feature races Saturday and Sunday), she will split the Heart of Racing car with O’Meara-Hunt (a New Zealand native she got to know at the shootout).

“It’s huge; the biggest opportunity I’ve had in this sport,” Grisham, 23, told NBC Sports. “Now it’s up to me to perform how I know I can. But I’m super lucky to be with such an amazing team and have a good teammate. The Heart of Racing has a family vibe and energy to it that’s really amazing. It’s super exciting. It’s hard to put into words.”

Grisham is hopeful that a strong performance eventually could lead to a full-time ride with Heart of Racing. The team has full-time entries in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and won the GTD category of the 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona with the No. 27 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 piloted by James, Darren Turner, Roman DeAngelis and Marco Sorensen.

James said “there’s no guarantee” of placement in an IMSA entry for Grisham and O’Meara-Hunt, but “if they prove themselves, we’ll continue to help them throughout their career and our team. The GT3 program is an obvious home for that. If they get the opportunity and don’t quite make it, we’ll be looking for the next two. The next three years, we’ll cycle through drivers until we find the right one.”

Grisham described the two-day shootout as a friendly but intense environment. After a day of getting acclimated to their cars, drivers qualified on new tires the second day and then did two 25-minute stints to simulate a race.

Hannah Grisham reviews data with Heart of Racing sports car driver Gray Newell during the team’s shootout last November (Mike Levitt/LAT).

“Everyone was super nice,” she said. “Once everyone gets in the car, it’s a different level. A different switch gets turned on. Everyone was super nice; everyone was quick. I feel we had an adequate amount of seat time, which is definitely helpful.

“It’s always cool to meet more women in the sport because there’s not too many of us, even though there’s more and more. It’s always cool to meet really talented women, especially there were so many from all over the world.”

IMSA has celebrated female champions and race winners, notably Katherine Legge (who is running GTD full time this season with Sheena Monk for Gradient Racing). The field at Sebring and Daytona also included the Iron Dames Lamborghini (a female-dominated team).

The Heart of Racing’s female driver shootout drew interested candidates from around the world (Mike Levitt/LAT).

James believes “a breakout female driver will be competing with the best of them” in the next five years as gender barriers slowly recede in motorsports.

“It’s been a male-dominated sport,” James said. “It’s still a very minute number of women drivers compared to the guys. I’m sure back in the day there were physical hurdles about it that were judged. But now the cars are not very physical to drive, and it’s more about technique and mental strength and stuff like that, and there’s no reason a girl shouldn’t do just as well as a guy. What we’re just trying to achieve is that there isn’t an obvious barrier to saying ‘Hey, I can’t hire a guy or a girl.’ We just want to put girls in front of people and our own program that are legitimate choices going forward for people.”

“There’s been some really good female drivers, but a lot of them just haven’t been able to sustain it, and a lot of that comes from sponsorship. I think (with the shootout), there’s no pressure of raising money and worrying about crash damage. We’ve taken care of all that so they can really focus on the job at hand.”

Funding always has been a hurdle for Grisham, who caught the racing bug from her father, Tom, an off-road driver who raced the Baja 1000 several times.

“I don’t come from a lot of money by any means,” she said. “So since a young age, I’ve always had to find sponsorships and get people to help me, whether it was buying tires, paying for entry fees, paying for the shipment of a car to an actual race. Literally knocking on the doors of people or businesses in my town.

“So yeah, it’s definitely something I’ve always struggled with and held me back because the sport revolves so much around money. So again to get this opportunity is insane.”

Rianna O’Meara-Hunt was one of two women selected by the Heart of Racing to drive in the SRO SprintX Championship this year (Mike Levitt/LAT).

Grisham credits racing pioneer Lyn St. James (an Indy 500 veteran and sports car champion) as a role model who has helped propel her career. She was hooked by the sights, smells and sounds of racing but also its competitive fire.

“There’s a zone you get in, that subconscious state of mind when you’re driving. It’s like addictive almost. I love it. Also I’m just a very competitive person as I think most race car drivers are.

“For sure I want to stay with the Heart of Racing. Obviously, I’m still getting to know everyone, but it’s a super family vibe. That’s how I grew up in the sport with just my dad and I wrenching on the cars. That’s what I love about this sport is all the amazing people you meet. And I think this is one of the most promising teams in this country. For sure, I want to learn as much as I can from them and hopefully continue. I feel so lucky and grateful to be one of those chosen.”