F1 Reaction: Chinese GP 2012

What a brilliant race! It had passing, big groups of cars in battles, strategy calls and tyre changes throughout including a mid-race strategy change from 3 stops to 2 for many, and a popular first-time winner for a marque which hadn’t won outright for over 5 decades – even if the team itself had only gone winless for the 3 years since the season as Brawn GP.

There was enough action to forget the margin of victory, which normally would’ve led to cries of boredom from the peanut gallery. For this race such cries only came from those who only watch racing to see who wins, those who don’t care for the twenty other stories which happen in any race and would still find a reason to complain even if they’d just seen the best race in the world.

This wasn’t the best race in the world, but by F1 standards it was a cracker and by the standards of most other series it was pretty good too.

Runaway Success

Nico Rosberg didn’t win this race through chance. He put in a race-winning drive all day, the strategy was perfect and for once this year the car didn’t let him down, didn’t drop him into the pack as the tyres wore out. I’m not sure what Mercedes GP found since Sepang, both cars were competitive and it was only a pitstop mistake which forced Michael Schumacher to retire. Could it be that the Mercedes team will be the one to challenge McLaren for race wins for the rest of the season?

The Mercedes W03 works its tyres harder than other cars, at least up until now. It meant they were good for one-lap pace (great for qualifying) but ate the tyres much sooner than the opposition (useless in the race). Either the conditions in Shanghai suited them and worked against the other teams, or the team has found a solution to the problem and are a very credible contender for further race wins this year. If the former is true it could explain why Ferrari were slow – perhaps they car works better in different temperatures to the Mercs and that hurt them as compared to Malaysia.

Competition

Had Jenson Button’s pitstop not gone awry he would’ve been much closer to Rosberg at the flag – perhaps not enough to challenge outright, just enough that the race didn’t seem like the complete whitewash it will appear in the record books. The McLarens were fast throughout and were able to pass

The race for 2nd place was so closely balanced, even though some cars were faster than others their strategies meant some were conserving tyres and some were going all out. It was clear Alonso’s late stop was planned for two reasons: to use fresher rubber to make passes, and to cover the early two-stoppers whose tyres should’ve fallen off with a lap or two to go – as it was he didn’t have the top end speed for the former, and the latter only happened to Kimi Raikkonen despite potentially affecting several others.

The season-long battle between Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus is fascinating, it seems each are better in different temperature conditions and each uses tyres differently. Each are also throwing upgrades at the cars all the time. Sadly it isn’t the fight for the championship but it is closely poised and could go in any direction!

Red Bull’s fall from recent grace is an oddity, and I wouldn’t put it past them to return to race winning form by midseason. Mercedes could just as easily sink back down as win another race, so unpredictable. Ferrari are all over the shop. Lotus seems a smidge behind on race pace but don’t count them out at all. What’s more, Williams is only a little way behind this group now.

It’s great to see both the team from Enstone and the team from Grove regularly in the points again. Raikkonen is feisty but his tyres fell off just slightly too early for him. Maybe the best thing about Lotus so far is the way Grosjean has been going, okay not his finishing record which has been awful, but he’s been fast and racy and that’s what we like to see. At last he was rewarded with a good points finish.

Sauber returned to their normal level as we mostly expected. Force India seems to have turned as invisible as Felipe Massa, I really don’t remember anything from their recent races apart from Paul di Resta’s helmet camera. See also Toro Rosso and Caterham.

Result

Chinese GP
Jiading, Shanghai, China

1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes W03 Mercedes
2 Jenson Button McLaren MP4-27 Mercedes
3 Lewis Hamilton McLaren MP4-27 Mercedes
4 Mark Webber Red Bull RB8 Renault
5 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull RB8 Renault
6 Romain Grosjean Lotus E20 Renault
7 Bruno Senna Williams FW34 Renault
8 Pastor Maldonado Williams FW34 Renault

Not a Ferrari engine in sight! What a contrast to the 1-2 at Sepang. Norbert Haug looked very pleased on the podium not only with the win but also a top three for his engines!

I think the improvement of Williams is in no small part down to the switch to Renault, much as Caterham’s was when they caught the main field.

Drivers Championship

1 Lewis Hamilton 45
2 Jenson Button 43
3 Fernando Alonso 37
4 Mark Webber 36
5 Sebastian Vettel 28
6 Nico Rosberg 25
7 Sergio Perez 22
8 Kimi Raikkonen 16

Hamilton holds the lead with a run of three straight 3rds, which beats Button’s 1st, 2nd and DNF. It looks as though the McLaren drivers are the ones to beat in the championship this year at this early stage.

The only drivers not yet to register a top ten points finish are those from Caterham, Marussia and HRT….. and Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. This can’t in any way be an acceptable position for the Scuderia.

Constructors Championship

1 McLaren 88
2 Red Bull 64
3 Ferrari 37
4 Sauber 31
5 Mercedes 26
6 Lotus 24
7 Williams 18
8 Force India 9

McLaren hold the early advantage, Red Bull aren’t far away but they will need to work on their race pace or hope for unreliability among the silver cars. I expect the fight for 3rd to be between Ferrari and Mercedes.

Next Event

This weekend: Bahrain Grand Prix, Sakhir, Bahrain

I’ll be writing further thoughts on Bahrain tomorrow.

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