In the next of our awards for the 2017 F1 season, we look at how one driver ended misconceptions that he cannot overtake once and for all.
After four years driving for the dominant Red Bull team, Sebastian Vettel unfairly gained a reputation as a driver who couldn't overtake. Season after season of leading from the front in the best car on the grid led an increasingly large group of fans to believe that the German, while undoubtedly quick, was lacking something when it came to wheel-to-wheel combat. However, in China this year that misperception was put to bed once and for all.
A damp start to the race had left drivers and pit walls deciding when to make the switch from intermediates to slicks in the opening laps. That decision was made more tempting when a Virtual Safety Car was deployed to allow for the safe removal of Lance Stroll's Williams, which lay stationary with a broken suspension at Turn 10 after a first lap collision with Sergio Perez. Vettel was among the cars that took the gamble, sacrificing second place on the road in the hope of gaining an advantage when normal racing resumed. Crucially, Daniel Ricciardo opted not to, moving him ahead of Vettel.
Vettel's early stop might have paid off had it not been for Ferrari reserve and Sauber stand-in driver Antonio Giovinazzi losing the rear of his car on a wet patch under one of Shanghai's giant bridges over the pit straight. The resulting safety car offered an even better opportunity to swap to slicks and the remainder of the leading cars took it and emerged ahead of Vettel, who had dropped to fifth as the cars prepared for a restart.
Racing resumed on lap eight, with Hamilton retaining his lead and Max Verstappen finding a way past Kimi Raikkonen on the inside of Turn 6 for third place behind Ricciardo in second. By lap 10, just 3.2 seconds covered the top five and the battle for position was heating up. Verstappen, who by that point had already made up 13 positions from his grid position, looked to be closest to the pace of the lead Mercedes but was bottled up behind Red Bull teammate Ricciardo. Never one to wait for an invitation, on lap 11 he barged past Ricciardo on the inside at Turn 6 to take second place. A fine move, but only an appetiser for what was to come.
Ricciardo, who was complaining of understeer at the time, then started to hold up the two Ferraris with Raikkonen unable to find a way past while Vettel got frustrated behind his teammate in sixth. At this stage of the season, Raikkonen was in no mood to play the team game and with no orders coming from the pit wall, Vettel had to dive up the inside at Turn 6 to assert his authority as the quicker Ferrari driver on lap 20.
Next for Vettel was his old Red Bull teammate Ricciardo, and that's when the fun really started. The Red Bull driver was wise to the Turn 6 opportunity and on lap 22 blocked the inside line as Vettel came up behind. Undeterred, Vettel took to the outside of the corner and somehow found enough grip to hang on to the left-hand side of car No.3 as they exited Turn 6. The Australian had no intention of making life easy for Vettel and as they approached the high-speed Turn 7, the pair touched wheels producing a puff of blue tyre smoke at over 100mph.
The contact wiped the writing off the sidewalls of the tyres, but Vettel kept his foot on the throttle knowing he had the inside line for the next corner. By that point Ricciardo could only attempt to take a wider line to open up the corner, but Vettel had the move sealed and hung to the inside to emerge ahead of the Red Bull as they passed the apex.
"When I was behind Daniel I saw him blocking down the inside [of Turn 6] because I had a good run out of Turn 4," Vettel explained after the race. "I said 'OK, you have to try it around the outside, brake really late and hard'. Fortunately he didn't lock up. I had him in the mirror, checking, otherwise I have to open immediately before he would make contact. Then on the exit I was a bit compromised, a bit in the dirt, getting a bit of wheel spin, but then I got a bit my elbows out. Yeah, he really squeezed me, but it was good fun and I had the inside for the next corner."
The move had everything: an aggressive setup heading into Turn 6, immense skill to hang the Ferrari around the outside and incredible bravery as the cars banged wheels before the apex. This was just the second race of F1's bigger, faster and ultimately more-difficult-to-race 2017 cars and Vettel had pulled off a move for the ages. In a year of impressive overtaking moves, that stood out above all else.