Shanghai turn 14

Shanghai turn 14, Photo by P

Even after qualifying the two McLarens were still the favourites to win the race, despite their relatively lowly grid positions of 5th and 7th, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton were expected to use their better race pace to come through the field while the Mercedes were meant to sink without a trace.

 

In the end the McLarens did manage to make their way through the field, Jenson getting most of the job done by the first corner. The Mercedes though surprised everyone by not destroying their tyres and having a race pace that seems to come from nowhere based on where they had been in Australia and Malaysia: it seems the pace was always there and it was purely a setup issue with Ross Brawn admitting after the Chinese Grand Prix that they had been greedy going for maximum top speed in the first two races and getting the balance wrong.

 

What the Chinese Grand Prix means for the rest of the season is unclear but with China having been a dry race on a proper race track you can expect Mercedes to now be fast all year: though maybe not quite so strong as the long back straight probably gave them an advantage, even though Rosberg rarely needed to use his DRS.

 

Rosberg’s win and its margin are a credit to him though at the same time the margin could have been a lot less so McLaren shouldn’t lose faith just yet and it could be that it will be McLaren and Mercedes who will fight tooth and nail for the rest of  the season now: with hints having been that McLaren might have dominated in 2012 neutral fans can only hope.

 

Schumacher dropped out of the race on only lap 12 and not due to any fault of his, his front right being left without a nut at his first pitstop. Perhaps this was just as well for Schumacher in some ways as Rosberg was already dominating him and getting more out of the tyres, if Schumacher had continued and not found some pace he could have been a long way behind Rosberg, instead people are speculating over whether Mercedes next win will be his.

 

Rosberg led away from the front and pulled out a few seconds quickly on Schumacher who did the same to Button who had gained two vital places at the start. As for Lewis Hamilton he gained places as well and found himself in 5th behind Raikkonen almost straight away. Kobayashi who had started third dropped to sixth.

 

The Red Bulls didn’t seem to have great pace early on in the race and Vettel dropped right back to the lower mid field where he had to defend against a Caterham. Vettel’s battle back through though to take fifth showed determination and good overtaking skills that some people doubted he had.

 

The race got really interesting as the second stops happened, Button had got the jump on Schumacher but Michael soon pulled off the circuit into retirement. Webber had been one of the first to pit pushing him onto a definite 3 stop strategy. The top ten had kept close together with Rosberg still only a few seconds ahead of Button who was keeping pace with him and catching at times.

 

Button was then put on to a three stop strategy though and ended up on new tyres chasing Rosberg on older tyres who had stopped once less. When Rosberg did take his second stop it looked like he may have been forced to go on to a three stop strategy but as it became clear that Mercedes intended for him to go to the end; as  Button was due to pit a third time the question was over whether Button would be able to catch Rosberg on his fresher tyres and whether he would then be able to pass Rosberg, whose Tyres could become quite bare by the last few laps.

 

It looked like being a thrilling climax and predictions of Button reaching Rosberg with two or three laps to spare were being bandied around by teams and commentators but then we were deprived of that action when Button’s  final pitstop was delayed as the left rear wouldn’t go on.

 

McLaren had called it perfectly to get Button out in fresh air in front of a train of Massa, Raikonnen, Veteel, Grosjean, Webber, Senna , Maldonado, Hamilton, Alonso and Kobayashi and Perez a little further behind.  Instead though Button lost time and filtered out into this train behind Grosjean, Vettel and the slower Massa(slow but soon to pit) and Raikkonen: himself on a 2 stop strategy and trying to nurse his tyres, yet doing some fantastic defending too.

 

Button would lose too much time to chase down Rosberg and instead found himself having to pass Vettel and Raikkonen if he wanted to even take second. We may have been deprived of Button battling Rosberg but what we did get to enjoy for the last twenty laps was fantastic racing with both McLarens coming through but also side by side racing between the Red Bulls, Ferraris, Williams, Saubers and Toro Rossos all fighting for points places. Webber, Raikkonen and Alonso all made mistakes and lost places while Hamilton showed brilliant poise and patience to make his way through and take opportunities when they presented themselves; Hamilton’s performance to finish third in fact is probably his most impressive performance China last year.

 

At Red Bull Vettel was unlucky not to take fourth with his tyres not being able to keep up the pace to keep Webber behind, who himself had a solid race. The Red Bulls are consistently scoring points at the moment though and this means if they can get their car working, as Mercedes did, they could still be challenging for the championship.

 

Next up Bahrain so we hope you enjoyed the overtaking while it lasted, although we are of course yet to see whether DRS can fix the far from perfect Bahrain Sakhir circuit that will be run on the older configuration rather than that used in 2010.