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.

Race Notes: Chinese Grand Prix 2009

Apologies for the delay, I’m in the final phase of studying so there will be frequent delays on the blog until mid-June. Sorry! I watched this race live albeit away from my computer so I did not take notes live – I am watching this again on Friday night with a beer.

2009 Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix
Circuit: Shanghai International Circuit
Location: Shanghai, China
Coverage: BBC One (via iPlayer)
56 laps

Anchor: Jake Humphrey
Analysts in the paddock: David Coulthard and Mike Gascoyne (standing-in for Eddie Jordan)
Race commentary: Jonathan Legard and Martin Brundle
Pit and paddock reports: Ted Kravitz and Lee McKenzie

** Disclaimer – These are notes taken during the race. They may or may not make any sense and I have only edited them for brevity, punctuation and grammar. **

BBC coverage is GO with classic opener, The Chain!

Unexpected rain in China! Rain was forecast to arrive some time after the race and here we are and it is wet.

Jake Humphrey the tallest TV anchor ever is live in the empty-looking Shanghai pitlane with David Coulthard and Mike Gascoyne, famed F1 car designer and possibly the shortest man in F1.

Light rain and fairly heavy gusts of wind as the guys talk and recap the points.

Top Drivers:
Button 15
Rubens 10
Trulli 8.5
Glock 8

Top Teams:
Brawn 25
Toyota 16.5
BMW 4
Renault 4

Crazy half-points awarded last time out in the rain-shortened Malaysian GP. First time we’ve done the half-points thing in 20 years or something. I forget the exact number of years.

Qualifying report with Lee McKenzie. Highlights:
– It wasn’t raining then.
– Kubica out in Q1.
– Hamilton thanks the team for improving the car, “we’re gradually catching up”.
– Vettel on pole, Alonso 2nd.
– Alonso is light.
– Start order:

Vettel, Alonso
Webber, Rubens
Button, Trulli
Rosberg, Kimi
Lewis, Buemi
Heidfeld, Kova
Massa, Nakajima
Bourdais, Piquet
Kubica, Sutil
Glock (penalty), Fisi

Onboard with Vettel on his one and only lap in Q3, his pole lap described by Martin Brundle. Seb is on fire, brilliant lap.
Recorded segment with Coulthard talking to Webber and Vettel – Seb is in David’s old seat!
Seb: “We did not expect we would be that strong in qualifying.”
Mark: “I spoke to an aerodynamicist and he was in tears at the qualifying result, they had such a hard job over the winter.”

Back with Jake and DC says he’s extremely proud of the team, he had four seasons working with them and developing the cars.

The pitlane is getting busier as we go to Ted and a news roundup:
– Ron Dennis out of the McLaren F1 team, moves over to the ‘automotive’ side.
– Martin Whitmarsh saying they are changing the culture of the business.
– Diffuser update: Now they are legal, McLaren and Renault have brought some to test in China.
– Ferrari: 2 races, zero points. Kimi has given up on the WDC but thinks they can win races later in the year. No KERS for Ferrari in China after reliability issues in Malaysia.
– BMW will not have KERS because they don’t think it provides enough benefit in China.

Wow look at all that news, Ted rocks!

Package: Martin Brundle talking tyre terminology. Graining, marbles. Oh only 30 seconds? BBC going for 101 short and sharp packages before the race. Straight into a recorded chat with Jake and Jenson Button. If they are going too quickly to note it down, how are we supposed to listen to it?

This section is quite long actually. JB says they tested the car pre-season – later than everyone else – and it was fastest by six tenths, “which was quite nice”.

David Coulthard and Mike Gascoyne both agree that JB will win the title this year. Mike says Jenson has matured a lot in the years since he drove for Mike at Renault in 2002.

Martin’s Track Guide but you can go back to my China Preview to see an onboard so I’ll save some space here.

Jake, Martin and Mike are walking along pitlane and through the gate on to the grid. Walking and talking at the same time! These guys are talented. There are 30 minutes until the race starts and the cars are now leaving pit lane.

The main grandstand is full. I’m not sure if that’s a good sign or if the organisers bussed them in – it has been known at this venue in the past.

Gascoyne mentions that ‘Alonso is very light, could be Flav going for some attention.’ (paraphrased) I laugh because Mike used to work for Flav!

Martin Brundle is on the grid and joins the trio. He was hiding under an umbrella while the guys are unprotected. They joke.

Martin: These installation laps to the grid are the first laps they’ve done in the wet all weekend. There is no practice or warmup before the race these days.
DC: I’d want to do an extra lap of prep if I had the fuel available to do so.
Mike: Did your engineer ever tell you to ‘stay cool baby’?
DC: I never had that intimate a relationship with my engineer.

I already think Mike should permanently replace EJ in this role.

Lewis on his out-lap to the grid. A LOT of spray and standing water.

Martin collars DC and they BOTH do the Gridwalk!!

MB: There’s a Renault guy here with Red Bull because they supply engines, where do his loyalties lie?
DC: With Red Bull because he works for Red Bull, he supplies the engine. They’re delighted with pole. Renault are very fair with their supply. The guys trying to butt in on Kai Ebel of German TV who is interviewing Vettel! Kai backs out.
SV: We have the fuel on board, everyone knows. We are in quite early compared to others.
(A Premiere mike appears.)
DC: Why do you name your cars? Your cars are female I presume?
SV: Yes they are always female. You should have a good relationship.. I don’t know. You respect her and you try to treat her well, anyway you are the man for when it comes to women, so..
Martin pulls DC away before he can reply and they make a beeline for Alonso’s Renault.

Martin trying to pushing his way through and interrupts some other language broadcaster who is waiting her turn patiently. “We booked months ago, honestly!”
FA: We have a completely different race now in these conditions. We go for some points, we see how many.

Martin doesn’t like the qualifying system. Fuel-corrected Barrichello is on pole because if you adjust it for the weight they carried, he was fastest.

Guys darting from car to car looking for people, asks Steve at McLaren (ex-Autosport man) where Lewis is. He’s in the garage. DC – it means he’s in the toilet doesn’t it.

That was The.Best.Gridwalk.Ever. I hope someone capped it on to YouTube, I will look for it later.

Ted reports on his analysis of when everyone will stop which is fantastically awesome for a dry race but I really don’t think it means anything in a wet race.
Back live and Ted has found that Toyota have elected to start Glock from the pitlane. May as well, they were at the back after a penalty for a gearbox change. Briatore doesn’t look happy.

Ted with Pat Symonds of Renault – we have a Safety Car start due to the wet conditions. He says it’s the worse thing that could have happened to them because they were light.

Ultra-rapid editing turnaround as we get a montage of cars and personnel on the grid. I’ve never seen editing as fast as these little packages before we hit the World Feed. Stunning.

WORLD FEED – we join Jonathan Legard and the FOM-supplied pictures

JL: In the year of the ox, how appropriate is it that there’s a Red Bull in a China shop?

Lots of water streaming off the main buildings.

We have a Safety Car start so there will be NO FORMATION LAP. When the green light is lit we will be on lap one immediately.

MB – Bit underwhelmed to get up to the comm box and see it is a Safety Car start quite honestly, these are the best drivers in the world. The car I want to be in is the Red Bull, it seems the best balanced for the conditions.

We missed the Chinese national anthem, I think we were in the gridwalk at the time. No mention in the coverage. I’m not fussed about anthems per se, I just like to hear it as part of the atmosphere of the event and the build up to the race, as if you were in the stands. I guess being on the grid is just a little bit more interesting so I won’t complain 🙂

START ORDER
Vettel, Alonso, Webber, Barrichello, Button, Trulli, Rosberg, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Buemi, Heidfeld, Kovalainen, Massa, Nakajima, Bourdais, Piquet, Sutil, Fisichella
Electing to start from pitlane: Kubica and Glock

GREEN LIGHT
Bernd Maylander in the Mercedes AMG Safety Car leads the field away from the grid. Under wet start rules we are now GO Go go in a very underwhelming manner.

56 to go (56/56)
(I’m doing laps to go this week, usually I take the current lap from the live timing counter but I’m watching this on Friday!)

Onboard camera inside the SC, all smiles in there. Guys make the point that if you rode with Bernd you’d get out breathless, it only looks pedestrian compared to F1 cars.

One SC lap gone. Martin says they’ll bring it in pretty soon. Legard says conditions aren’t getting better but they are not getting worse.
Martin says the issue here is aquaplaning, skimming over the water not in control of the car.
Button radio – visibility is very very bad, got aquaplaning.
Ted Kravitz – both Williams drivers can’t conceive of the SC coming in yet.

We can only see three cars coming down the straight at any one time, so much spray. Not Fuji 2007 levels but pretty bad. Similar to Malaysia without the darkness!

54/56 – JL congratulates to Kovalainen for completing a lap!
Vettel radio – there is water on the track but it is okay, we’ve had worse in the past.
Martin agrees but also says the F1 aero and downforce doesn’t work until 70mph so the spray isn’t clearing as well and car temperatures are down. Massa went off track.

53/56 – Rosberg radio: aquaplaning on the main straight.
Martin calls up Mike in the BBC area of the paddock, what’s going on at the pitwall?
“The guys light on fuel haven’t got long left so shall I rejig my strategy and pit now? Those front 3 cars I’d think about pitting now.”
52/56 – Force India are in the pitlane as Sutil pits. Gets a pit stop out of the way when it doesn’t cost them anything. Kimi runs off track at the last corner.
Alonso on the radio: If we start running quick the water will disappear.
Martin: That message is not for us, it’s coded well not at all actually, it’s for Charlie Whiting.

51/56 – Rosberg pits. Hamilton’s radio says it will rain for 30 minutes at least.
Ted comes on and tells us Rosberg was on a 3-stopper, they switched him to a 2.

50/56 – Martin: “We should be motor racing now. Sorry if I sound like a stuck record but we should be getting on with this now, surely.”

49/56 – Alonso pits from 2nd. He should join the back of the pack and we get a message saying the Safety Car will come in at the end of this lap. Let’s see if we can see what’s going on in the spray on this start.

GREEN FLAG

This is the first hot lap in wet conditions for the whole weekend.

Hamilton takes Raikkonen! Kimi tries to hang on but Lewis pulls away around turn 13 and may have hit KERS down the following straight.

47/56 Buemi takes a look at Kimi but thinks better of it, and then again on the straight, still no, then Seb runs very wide at the last turn. Lots of runoff so he gets away with it.

46/56 Heidfeld is off wide at turn one.
45/56 A Brawn and Hamilton went wide at the last turn as well, Martin says that must be where there is a lot of standing water.
Buemi takes Raikkonen! Now Hamilton is slow! Buemi and the two Ferraris pass Hamilton but it baulks Kimi allowing Massa by him as well. Now Bourdais is on Hamilton’s tail.
Replay: Hamilton spun, full 360. Actually quite impressive that he managed to end up pointing the right way!
44/56 Buemi now passes Trulli! Swiss Seb is on a charge.
Massa is now lined up behind Trulli.

Replay: Piquet and Fisichella have a little tap. We go live just as Glock’s front wing taps Heidfeld into a spin.

43/56 Massa passes Trulli. Replay: Glock and Heidfeld, Glock didn’t know he was there. Replay: Nice move from Massa on Trulli.
42/56 Webber pits from 2nd. He’s out just in front of Trulli. Legard says he’s in front of the Trulli Train! The train gets a mention on TV!
41/56 Vettel pits from the lead. This is lap 15. Slow away. Nice clear track waiting for him.
Replay: Hamilton passes Raikkonen… again. He passed him, spun, then passed him again. Kimi slow in the wet, Lewis quick but hanging it on the edge..
Kovalainen passes a Toyota and someone follows him. We’re struggling to see who, may be Bourdais.

40/56 Button leads from Barrichello but neither have stopped. Glock starting at the back has caught Trulli who is slow in the wet. Martin says Lewis had a slow lap (on the timing screen) and lost the place to Kimi again.

39/56 Ted: When Vettel’s engineer saw the lap time of the Brawns his head dropped…
As Ted speaks we see a Toyota with no rear wing! Meanwhile a BMW is in with a new nose. Replay: Kubica hits Trulli hard! Completely destroys the rear wing of the Toyota. Trulli slow into the last turn, Kubica at full speed..

SAFETY CAR
It deploys immediately and picks up the first car which is Glock, not the leader Button. I don’t like that. Hold the SC at pit out until Button appears.

Glock slow without a wing on the backstraight. Button pits before he catches the SC. Pits don’t close any more, remember.
Now Buemi’s front wing is damaged.. Barrichello is in. I believe Vettel now leads.
Replay: Glock slow on the backstraight, Vettel slows down because he doesn’t want to pass a car under yellow and Buemi tags Vettel. Vettel proceeds past the damaged car (this is allowed).

36/56 Mike Gascoyne: Vettel is lighter than Button behind him. Ferrari and McLaren have not stopped and they can only be 7-10 laps from their pit window.

Massa has stopped on the circuit. Marshals run to his car. Three races, zero points. Replay: he just loses drive.
Ted says Vettel has no damage.

35/56 Hamilton radio: This is lap 22 we expect you to get to 33.
SC in this lap. Bourdais spins before the restart.

34/56 GREEN FLAG
Barrichello is losing places. Hamilton passed Raikkonen somewhere, we didn’t see it. Alonso passes Nakajima.
Replay: Hamilton just drives around the outside of Raikkonen!
Vettel 4 seconds faster than Button on that lap..

33/56 Top order: Vettel, Button, Webber, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Kovalainen, BuemiBarrichello
Glock’s front wing is at a strangle angle, he pits. Toyota have a nice little trolley carrying the front wing, little time-saving measure..
Vettel is just driving away from everyone else and making it look easy.

30/56 Button radio: Vettel is only quicker due to the fuel effect.
Nakajima and Glock both run off independently of each other. Martin, are you a fan of the big runoff areas?
MB: Yeah, it keeps them in the race doesn’t it and I’ve hit enough catch fences and posts that I’m quite jealous actually.
Nakajima off the road again a lap later. Rejoins.
Piquet has wiped the nose off his car. Eventually rejoins, all the nose debris is in the gravel. Replay: Took out the polystrene braking marker!
Replay: Sutil wide.

28/56 Piquet pits for his new nose but it’s taking a while.
Webber has passed Button somewhere: replay: Button brakes too late at the end of the long straight and Webber just takes the normal line to pass him.

26/56 In these conditions to only have two drivers out (Trulli and Massa) is quite remarkable. A wet race like this is normally a race of attrition. Impressive.

25/56 Button repasses Webber! Replay: Webber ran off track at the last turn.
Webber is coming back at him and retakes the position! Excellent! He did the same thing as Hamilton earlier, same place.
Button weaving and warming his tyres at racing speeds..

23/56 Hamilton pits. He should get fuel for the rest of the race, where does he come out? He’s 8th on a clear track with good visibility.
Everyone has stopped apart from Kovalainen in 4th.

22/56 Kovy is in now. Kubica’s nosecone is at a funny angle. Has he hit something else or did they not fit this one properly?
21/56 Alonso pits from 5th, looks like he’s out in 9th. Kubica pits for another nose.
20/56 Bourdais is doing donuts on the grass. Martin: What do you give that, 5.9? Oop another 180, that’s the full 6.

French Seb isn’t getting on well with F1 cars, is he?

19/56 German Seb pits. Button retakes 2nd and Vettel is now 3rd. Webber leads but needs to stop.
A slow Renault of Alonso. Up to speed again. Did he spin? Replay: it comes around on him at turn 13.
18/56 Vettel is catching Button. Good traction out of 13 on the onboard.
17/56 Webber pits from the lead. Vettel sets fastest lap. Webber is 3rd just ahead of Barrichello.
Glock takes Raikkonen for 11th.

16/56 Vettel takes the lead! He pulls out from behind Button in the spray and dives by at the end of the long straight.
15/56 Rosberg pits for intermediate tyres! That can’t be the right choice.
Replay: Alonso passes Raikkonen for 11th. I think that might be wrong because Glock was 11th a second ago.
14/56 Button pits, Vettel FL. Full wets for Button. Martin says Rosberg is going pretty well on the inters.
13/56 Barrichello pits and takes full wets, drops to 5th.
Vettel, Webber, Button, Buemi, Barrichello, Hamilton, Kovalainen, Sutil(!)
Martin says Rosberg is 2 seconds off the pace on his intermediates now.

12/56 Nakajima parks it in the garage.
11/56 Martin: I’d love to see that Force India get a point.
He’s doing a good job to stay ahead of Heidfeld and Glock.
10/56 Piquet spins at pit entry. May not have intended to go down the pit entry road.
Martin: I don’t want to beat up on the kid but he’s had three 17th slots on the grid, he’s going to have to raise his game.

9/56 Hamilton runs off the road where he went off earlier, doesn’t spin this time but it lets Kovalainen through.

8/56 Despite the McLarens being in close contact they are catching Barrichello. Replay: Rosberg loses it on the wrong tyres. Sutil is 7th now, I thought he was 8th. Martin says Heidfeld and Glock have passed Buemi because Buemi pitted, I’m guessing Sutil did too. Vettel, Webber, Button, Barrichello, Kovalainen, Hamilton, team by team..

7/56 Rosberg pits for full wets. Hamilton 360 in the last corner, Sutil passes him for 6th!! Very nice drive from Adrian, he’s proving himself a good wet weather driver.

6/56 Oh big accident! Wheels go flying. Must be big because it broke the tethers. Ah shit, it’s Adrian Sutil. Of all the guys to go off.. Onboard replay, can’t see a thing but it just twitches on him. He corrects it and it takes him by surprise.

No SC as yet, I hope that wheel got clear. The car is in the gravel, should be okay if nobody else goes off there.. Adrian is okay it seems.

4/56 No SC, I’m guessing if this had been lap 20 we would get one but since we only have four left they aren’t doing so. Martin says we are very close to SC conditions here with that car in that position, it is a judgement call.

3/56 Double-waved yellows while they recover Sutil’s car. Martin says that’s a close call, the drivers should be really backing off under double-yellows. Needless to say.. they aren’t.

2 to go – Everyone is just trying to make the end now.

Final Lap

SEBASTIAN VETTEL WINS!

What a fantastic drive. He really is excellent in the wet. A 1-2 finish as Webber comes in 2nd. I feel bad for Mark because he’s worked hard for several years only to have Seb come in and take the first RBR win from him – but Seb drove the better race and deserved it on the day.

Cool-down lap.
Parc Ferme.
Replays of the win.
The applauding grid girls!
The podium drivers are met by Joe Bauer

Podium!

German national anthem for Vettel.
British national anthem for Red Bull Racing – erm, don’t they race under an Austran licence in deference to the owners? Should be the Austrian anthem!
Trophies.
Champaaaaagne!

We’re all done. BBC are out of here on the main coverage, they continue on the interactive feed with the F1 Forum. I’ll leave that this week as I am on the replay and can’t find it.

Race Result

1. Vettel 56 laps [10pts]
2. Webber + 10.970s [8]
3. Button + 44.975s [6]
4. Barrichello + 1:01.704 [5]
5. Kovalainen + 1:05.102 [4]
6. Hamilton + 1:11.866 [3]
7. Glock + 1:14.476 [2]
8. Buemi + 1:16.439 [1]
9. Alonso + 1:24.309
10. Raikkonen + 1:31.750
11. Bourdais + 1:34.156
12. Heidfeld + 1:35.834
13. Kubica + 1:46.853
14. Fisichella + 1 lap
15. Rosberg + 1 lap
16. Piquet + 2 laps
17. Sutil + 6 laps
Nakajima – Not classified
Massa – Not classified
Trulli – Not classified

I had no idea the Red Bulls were so far ahead of everyone else at the end there. Other than RBR and Button it was actually a fairly tight finish for F1 with 30 seconds separating 4th from 10th. That’s not bad.

Drivers Championship

1. Button 15+6 = 21
2. Barrichello 10+5 = 15
3. Vettel 0+10 = 10
4. Glock 8+2 = 10
5. Webber 1.5+8 = 9.5
6. Trulli 8.5
7. Heidfeld 4
8. Alonso 4
9. Kovalainen 0+4 = 4
10. Hamilton 1+3 = 4
11. Rosberg 3.5
12. Buemi 2+1 = 3
13. Bourdais 1
(no other scorers)

Button and Barrichello strengthen their positions at the top as Vettel jumps straight into 3rd position with his win. Glock and Webber look good for the fight for 3rd, maybe Trulli too.

Constructors Championship

1. Brawn Mercedes 25+11 = 36
2. RBR Renault 1.5+18 = 19.5
3. Toyota 16.5+2 = 18.5
4. McLaren Mercedes 1+7 = 8
5. BMW Sauber 4
6. Renault 4
7. STR Ferrari 3+1 = 4
8. Williams Toyota 3.5

RBR make big gains and take 2nd position. Brawn have a healthy lead already and Toyota are going extremely well for them. McLaren finally get a semi-respectable score while amazingly Ferrari remain as non-scorers – their worst start in points since 1981.

* * *
Bahrain is up next and we’re part way through that weekend already. I will have notes ready on Sunday evening. I plan to post my previews on Saturday morning and the Long Beach notes on Saturday night.

F1 Preview – Chinese GP 2009

FIA Formula 1 World Championship
– 2009 Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix (3/17)
– Shanghai International Circuit
– Shanghai, China
– 56 laps
www.formula1.com
F1.com track map / Allianz track map
Live timing (Java required, free registration required, worth it)

Event History
Perhaps unbelievably the first F1 Chinese GP was held in 2004, my hasn’t time flown? I suppose that impression is furthered because the 2008 edition was only held last October and five months between races isn’t very much at all – however it means we have an interesting twist. This race should provide us with the starkest comparison yet between the cars as they were at the very end of the “aero era” with the beginnings of this new generation of car at the early stage of their development – I think qualifying 2 will be interesting for the laptime comparison, and the race will be interesting to see if the drivers can race with the cars and throw them about a bit more.

Normally we have to wait a full 12 months so let’s take the positives from this. The 2008 event was a very tedious affair which was panned worldwide for being boring – let us hope the new aero, the slicks, the diffusers and the KERS all combine to bring us some good racing action, as they have at the first two races of the year. It could go either way really – the KERS or diffuser guys may be able to drive past everyone else on that huge straight, so it seems odd that so many are opting not to use KERS this time.

I have to say I don’t remember a great deal about the previous races here. This may be down to my poor memory which is highly likely, or the races were genuinely not very memorable. Of the 5 races held so far Ferrari has taken 3 wins (Barrichello, Schumacher, Raikkonen) with Renault (Alonso) and Mclaren (Hamilton) taking the other two. It was in 2007 of course that Hamilton threw away his title chances on the pit entry, coming in far too hot and sliding into the tiniest gravel trap in the world. He made up for it by winning the race last year.

There has never been a huge attendance at this event. The main grandstand sees a decent size crowd but we are led to believe by some that many of these people are bussed in by the organisers. The rest of the circuit seems positively lacking in spectators – notice the large stands at each end of the long straight.

Circuit
Much is made of the fact that Hermann Tilke (and/or his design group) laid out this track in the shape of the Chinese symbol ‘shang’, as in Shanghai. The reality is that other than one of the longest straights on any racetrack in the world, the ever-tightening first corner and a similar ever-expanding turn on to the backstraight, there isn’t much to say about the place. The bulk of the circuit is made up a technical section linking turn one with the long back straight and that’s about all that can be said of the race track itself.
The biggest landmark are the two huge buildings overhanging the pit straight, one of which acts as the media centre (thus making it a very long journey for the hacks trying to get interviews) and I believe the other is corporate hospitality.

The teams are based in large huts behind the wide pitlane. Again, these are so far from the pitlane buildings it looks as though you’d need a taxi to get from the huts to the pits.

Here is Martin Brundle, then of ITV and now with the BBC, describing Barrichello’s pole lap of 2004, the inaugural event:

Here is David Hobbs of SPEED describing Hamilton’s pole lap of 2007, note the addition of further grandstands at turn one and elsewhere and the change in engine note:

Form
You’ve got to say BrawnGP really, haven’t you? And I’m not just saying that because I bought a cap! I’m tipping Button for another win and I reckon Barrichello may run him a bit closer this time, if not nick it for himself. I also expect Vettel, Glock and Webber to show well once more. I think both Ferrari and McLaren are still distracted by their respective off-track diversions with their management changes and we won’t really hear much from them until the Spanish GP. This is an ideal time for the likes of BMW, Williams, Toyota and RBR to score valuable points before the F1 giants get their acts together.

UK TV

Q: BBC One will air Qualifying live at 6am BST Saturday, session begins at 7am.
R: BBC One will air the Race live at 7am BST Sunday, race starts at 8am.
H: BBC Three will air 1hr Highlights at 7pm BST Sunday.

US TV

Q: SPEED will air Qualifying semi-live at 2am EDT Friday night.
R: SPEED will air the Race live at 2:30am EDT with the race to start at 3am. Rerun at 4:30pm.
– Canada should get coverage on TSN featuring BBC commentary but you may find Speed is blacked out.

Note about qualifying for US viewers: Speed builds in a delay during qualifying coverage in order to fit in as many advertisements as possible. This completely screws up your chances of following it online via live timing or joining in with Twitter / Live Commenting discussions. Complain! Make a fuss! Tell them which decade this is!

Live Comments
I will be at Sidepodcast.com for qualifying and the race. Fire up the Live Commenting Live..Thing at the appointed time, join the appropriate thread at the top of the screen, enter your name and then just type away! You’re welcome to join us as long as you keep the sweary stuff away.

I will not be on Twitter for this race as I will be watching at my Dad’s place, on his 42″ screen!

Support events
Porsche Carrera Cup Asia; Aston Martin Asia Cup;

Racenotes: 2008 Sinopec Chinese Grand Prix

2008 Sinopec Chinese Grand Prix
Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China

Coverage from ITV1, their penultimate event before the rights switch to the BBC.
Paddock anchors: Steve Rider & Mark Blundell
Commentary: James Allen & Martin Brundle
Pitlane: Ted Kravitz & Louise Goodman

Coverage started at 7am, I’m coming in at 7.30am although I wasn’t really paying attention for five minutes or so while I was starting Notepad and FIA live timing. I did mean to get up at 7am but I don’t do mornings very well.

I think Sinopec is a fuel company. Yesterday we were told the circuit is 40 minutes to 2 hours from central Shanghai depending on time of day and levels of traffic.

7.45am, Martin is on the grid, this is he:
“Hamilton can secure the driver’s title and Ferrari the constructor’s.
There’s a stadium effect here, between the grandstands and the buildings over the track, one is hospitality and the other is the media centre.
We’ve seen in the support races the drivers who can hang on around the outside of turn one are in the ideal position for turn 2.”

I’ve woken up now I’ve started typing.

Martin talks to Norbert Haug of Mercedes before heading down the grid – but he says not a single driver is near their cars at the moment. Finds Pat Symonds (Renault): “There’s going to be some shenanigans going into the first corner. Let’s keep out of trouble and have a good race.”
Martin throws to Louise with Mark Webber.

Webber: “My fuel load is probably a little lighter than the guys around here because of Q3. Taking a penalty 5 rows back and you’re gone basically.”

Now she’s with Kovalainen: “All we can do is aim to take maximum points. We’re going to be positive, let’s not worry about what might happen.”
Louise: “Enjoy the rest of your birthday.”

The gridwalk is a bit early today so maybe that’s why nobody is around. They go back to Steve & Mark for a bit.

STARTING ORDER
Q3 Hamilton, Raikkonen, Massa, Alonso, Kovalainen, Vettel, Trulli, Bourdais, Heidfeld *
Q2 Piquet (9th), Kubica, Glock, Barrichello, Rosberg
Q3 Coulthard, Webber**, Nakajima, Button, Sutil, Fisichella

* Heidfeld was P7 but penalised 3 places for holding up DC in qualifying.
** Webber was P6 but penalised 10 places for an engine change.

5 minutes to go, FIA graphics, we go to James Allen and Martin Brundle and at *precisely* this moment the live timing updates – it was showing qualifying results, now it has cleared the timing data and shows the starting order.

Formation lap – this will be a 56 lap race and there is a chance of rain towards the end.
As I write that BMW get on Kubica’s radio to say there could be rain in 20 minutes.

Martin – it’s a longer lap than Fuji, more chance to get the brakes up to temperature, they need to be 700 degrees to work effectively.

Hamilton is on hard tyres, the two Ferraris are on soft tyres. Alonso in 4th on hard tyres.
Cars arrive on the grid, lots of tension..

5.4.3.2.1.GO!

Hamilton takes the lead, Kova around the outside, crash at the back.
Kovalainen is still alongside Alonso. Heikki bags him. Top 3 are as they were on the grid.
On to the back straight and Alonso goes alongside Heikki, and outbrakes him at the end of it. Important move, and interesting that he could pass with horsepower.

Lap 2 – not seen a replay of the start crash yet. On timing it looks like Trulli is the only car damaged and he pits now.
Alonso is pulling away from Heikki.
Ted is at Toyota – the whole right-hand sidepod is flapping everywhere, completely destroyed, it’ll lose him a load of downforce. James suggests he may have hit Bourdais who is now 18th after starting further up.
Replay – Heidfeld drivers around a few cars. Trulli turns in on Bourdais (not again Sebastien!).
Replay of Alonso passing Heikki who got it slightly wrong leading on to the straight, thus losing speed.

L3 – Trulli pulls the car in after letting the leaders through. The car must be too damaged.

L4 – Hamilton pulling away. Webber vs Barrichello, Rubens covers the inside.

L5 – first ad break
Timing shows Webber has taken Rubens for 10th. Hamilton is still faster than everybody, Ferrari next up with Alonso, these are in a race of their own. Kovalainen can’t stay with them and leads Heidfeld and Vettel.

L8 – back from ads
Heikki is 1.2 seconds per lap slower than Lewis and we saw Heikki’s brakes smoking on the grid, Martin says too much temperature in them. It could be hurting him now.

Louise is with Trulli, ‘not the first time you’ve had contact with Bourdais at the start’: “I mean this guy has to cool down a little bit. I had a hit on the rear right and my car was damaged.”

L9 – Webber is all over Piquet, takes him up the inside but too fast, Piquet comes back and they stay together – Piquet has to back out. Radio: “You know he’s light Nelson so don’t worry.”

L10 – Kimi now sets fastest lap. Ted tells us Vettel (P7) will stop a lot shorter than Kubica (P8) but Robert needs to stay within 7 seconds of him.

L13 – Rosberg passes Glock at the hairpin. Webber pits from 10th, James says the leaders are due in shortly. Rosberg’s radio says ‘qualifying laps until you stop’.

L14 – Piquet ran a little wide at the last corner. Webber is now running 18th and has to pass all those guys again, though he’s hoping most of that will come when they pit.
L15 – Massa and Alonso pit. Massa stays on soft tyres, Alonso stays on hards. Massa is 8th behind Kubica, Alonso is 10th behind Piquet.
Adrian Sutil has parked in a little run-off at the last corner.
L16 – Hamilton and Raikkonen pit. Both are on the hard tyres. Hamilton gets out ahead of Vettel with Raikkonen just behind Vettel. Kovalainen leads.
Replay of Sutil’s engine smoking as he pulls over.

L18 – Heidfeld is in.
L19 – Kovalainen and Vettel pit. Hamilton is now in the lead again. We go to an ad break.

Hamilton, Raikkonen, Kubica (not stopped), Massa, Piquet (not stopped), Alonso, Kovalainen, Heidfeld

L21 – Back from break.
L22 – Alonso radio: “Heikki is 6 laps longer than us.”
Lots of marbles on the side of the long straight.

L23 – Ted at McLaren: “Lewis says the car is a lot better and more stable after a half a turn of front wing at the stop.”

Everything is pretty stable right now on the timing screens, they are all matching each other up front.

L25 – Piquet comes in. He beats Vettel and Nakajima. Martin says he tried to pick up a fuel hose the other day and it was very heavy, he struggled with it and that was with no fuel, says it is a very hard job!
L26 – Kubica pits from 3rd. He’s out in 8th behind Coulthard who hasn’t stopped yet.
Replay of Kubica’s stop – they left the tyres on, added fuel and adjusted the front wing. Not often you see tyres left on in F1.

L28 – another ad break, return on L30.
Raikkonen lost 1.4 seconds trying to lap Fisichella.

Hamilton, Raikkonen +7.5, Massa +14.6 from Hamilton, Alonso +21.7, Kovalainen +29.7

L32 – Coulthard and Bourdais having a fight, Sebastien takes the place. Nakajima and Webber pit.
L33 – Glock is in. Massa lost a second passing Fisichella.

L36 – Kovalainen has a puncture! McLaren had been getting ready for him, we saw the mechanics already in the pitlane. They pushed it a little too far. Now he has to run the length of the long straight with it.
Ted: “This is brake-related. We saw them smoking on the grid. Then at the stop there was a lot of black dust, all the team breathed it in.”
Heikki pits and comes back out in 17th. Big news in the Constructors’ championship, McLaren needed him to score.

L37 – Alonso pits.
L38 – Massa is in, he switches to hard tyres. Webber gets on the marbles and runs through the car park.
L39 – Hamilton pits and switches to the soft tyres. Raikkonen is right behind him taking . He’s out just ahead of Massa. Hmmm I wonder if he’ll mysteriously begin to slow down soon and let Massa through..

L40 – Heidfeld is in, he’s out in 6th.
L41 – Kubica pits from 4th, he’s now behind Vettel again. There’s talk of McLaren turning the revs back a bit on Hamilton’s car, they need to take this engine to Brazil whereas Ferrari will have two new engines.

L42 – another ad break. Timing shows Vettel pitting.
L43 – back from ads, James says “this has not been a vintage grand prix”. No kidding. They are all driving away from each other.

L45 – 12 laps to go and I can’t believe Kimi won’t let Massa through. He’s letting him gain a couple of tenths each lap.
L46 – wow we’re going to another ad break already. Rumours on forums say they have to take 5 breaks per race.. Won’t miss this next year on the Beeb!
L48 – back again.
L49 – Kimi completely backs off into the hairpin, Massa is now 2nd. Sensible move given the title situation.

L50 – Kovalainen pits! Did he not take enough fuel when he had the puncture? Maybe not, he parks it in the garage. James and Martin speculate they may have decided to save the engine for Brazil. Ted gets on the phone and says “no, its definitely the brakes, it became undriveable. The man from the brake supplier is here looking very worried.”
Martin – when they get too hot the wear rate goes up exponentially.

L52 – Hamilton, Massa, Raikkonen, Alonso, Heidfeld, Kubica, Glock, Piquet
Alonso is catching Raikkonen. Kubica and Glock are catching Heidfeld. The gaps seem to have come down a little everywhere but nobody is close enough to do any racing.

L55 – Martin: “Interesting isn’t it, 33 starts but only 2 fastest laps for Hamilton.”
L56 – Good drive from Barrichello in 11th in that shitbox of a Honda. Martin suggests Bruno Senna will be testing for Honda soon, maybe he’ll be racing the car next year.

L57 – Hamilton Wins!

Massa 2nd, Raikkonen 3rd, Alonso 4th, Heidfeld 5th, Kubica 6th

Martin: “We’ve had some thrilling races this year, this wasn’t one of them, Hamilton won’t care will he?” He gives ‘driver of the day’ to Hamilton.

Congratulatory radio calls.

ITV sells us some more products as the cars head to parc ferme.

Drivers are in the little waiting room now having a bit of a chill out.
To the podium!
British anthem for Hamilton and McLaren. Dreary little ditty not suited to a celebration at all.

Trophy-giving, a bit fell off Hamilton’s trophy! Massa does not look happy, he’s very down. Martin: “Lovely man is Felipe Massa, a man you’d sit beside on an aeroplane or have around for dinner.”

Champagne!

Steve and Mark are in pitlane, behind Mark a throng of people pack out the start/finish straight.

After more adverts and a results review we go to the press conf.

Lewis: “Team have done a phenomenal job. I owe so much to the guys, the car is a dream to drive.” Peter Windsor suggests it was an easy win. “It was quite straightforward actually, made a great start, one of the best we had this year. Fortunately we were very consistent therefore I was able to create a gap. After my second stop we were just trying to look after the engine and tyres.”
Lewis seems quite quiet and understated today as well.

Felipe: “For us the hard tyre was not quick, difficult to drive, the soft was the only option. At the start I had a bit of wheelspin, then we just stayed in the same positions. Lewis was pulling away 3 tenths per lap, we were on the limit. Lewis had the better car. I think for the drivers championship it was not fantastic but for the constructors it was very good.”

Kimi: “We won as a team, its normal in these situations. The car was handling quite nicely but it wasn’t fast enough. Every time when I was faster it was too late. I got traffic three times and it cost me a lot of time. 2nd and 3rd was the best we could do but hopefully next race we can challenge a bit more.” Pete asks the inevitible team order question. “I know what the team expects, I have nothing to lose I’m driving for the team.”

Lewis again. Peter says: “7 points was your lead last year, 7 points is your lead this year into the last race in 2008*”
Lewis: “I know going to Brazil will be much different to last year, we know we’ve got to do a good job, these two will be pushing hard.”

Long conference today, longer than I’ve written down, thanks to ITV for sticking with it.

Steve & Mark briefly review the race with replays. A crowd has gathered to watch them! That’s funny!

Results
01. Hamilton 56 laps in 1h31m57.403s [10 pts]
02. Massa +14.925s [8]
03. Raikkonen +16.445s [6]
04. Alonso +18.370s [5]
05. Heidfeld +28.923s [4]
06. Kubica +33.219s [3]
07. Glock +41.722s [2]
08. Piquet +56.645s [1]
09. Vettel +64.339s
10. Coulthard +74.842s
11. Barrichello +85.061s
12. Nakajima +90.847s
13. Bourdais +91.457s
14. Webber +92.422s
15. Rosberg + 1 lap
16. Button + 1 lap
17. Fisichella + 1 lap
DNF Kovalainen (brakes)
DNF Sutil (engine?)
DNF Trulli (crash damage)

Fastest Lap: Hamilton 1m36.325

(results from Autosport.com who had them online unbelievably quickly)

World Drivers’ Championship
01. Hamilton 94
02. Massa 87
03. Kubica 75 (eliminated from title race)
04. Raikkonen 69
05. Heidfeld 60
06. Alonso 53 [+1]
07. Kovalainen 51 [-1]
08. Vettel 30
09. Trulli 30
10. Glock 22 [+1]
11. Webber 21 [-1]
12. Piquet 19

Hamilton extends the gap by 2 points and now leads by 7. All of the top six scored today. That top six now includes Alonso who has passed Kovalainen.

World Constructors’ Championship
01. Ferrari 156
02. McLaren 145
03. BMW 135
04. Renault 72
05. Toyota 52
06. Toro Rosso 34
07. Red Bull 29
08. Williams 26
09. Honda 14

Ferrari have a 9 point lead with 16 available in Brazil. McLaren will need Kovalainen to bring a better game to that race to pick up as many points as possible on a track were Ferrari are always strong.
Red Bull will need to score well to avoid the embarrasment of being beaten by the B-team!

The title-deciding race will be at Interlagos, Sau Paulo, Brazil on November 2nd. Not only is a Brit in the running, this will be ITV’s last race for the forseeable future so their coverage may be a little emotionally charged.

Bernie and ITV will be happy that it has gone to Brazil because that race gets away at 6pm here – prime time Sunday ratings!

Preview: 2008 Sinopec Chinese Grand Prix

To the 4th Chinese GP, and the Space Station Shanghai for the penultimate race of the 2008 season. Following some strange calls from officials last week in Japan let’s hope this week’s on-track action doesn’t end up in front of the stewards.

If you’ve seen this race before you’ll know why I refer to it as a space station. The media centre and offices are HUGE and straddle the track like some alien ship has landed at the circuit for a day at the races. Or it could be in orbit somewhere. You can imagine smaller craft docking with it – or maybe I need to get out more.

This is another of those tracks designed by the ubiquitous Herman Tilke, who says he modelled the layout on the Chinese character ‘shang’ (from Shanghai). I guess he ran out of ideas that week so copied the promoter’s letterhead.

Obviously the teams don’t fly the trucks halfway around the world so at the ‘flyaways’ the circuit owners lay on special facilities. This week the teams are based in tranquil-looking huts at the back of the pits, set among waterways and plants and stuff. It looks nice. No such luxury in Brazil in a couple of weeks.

One year ago Lewis Hamilton and McLaren blew his first shot at the World Championship by destroying his tyres and not calling him in for new ones, respectively. When he eventually pitted, he threw it into a little gravel trap set just off the pitlane entry. Okay you can argue they were waiting to see which way the weather would go, it had been raining on and off for a while and they needed to know whether to go for dry or intermediate tyres. Hindsight is a wonderful thing yet I remember thinking they should at least pit him for something. The tyres were delaminating. Raikkonen was 17 points back before China ’07 and 7 behind after it. Kimi then won the title.

This year Hamilton can confirm himself as Champion by scoring 5 points more than Massa. Massa can take the fight to Brazil by closing that gap, and ideally needs to beat his opponent by a couple of positions. Both men are under tremendous pressure to perform well and you can easily argue both cracked in Japan. Can they regroup in China? How effective will their team-mates be in helping take points from the other team’s contender?

Both Alonso and Kubica are on form at the moment – can they steal a win? Alonso especially is on a roll at the moment and has made public comments that he is in it to support Massa. After his year alongside Hamilton I would expect nothing else…

Kubica is an interesting one. Aside from Hamilton and Massa, Robert is the only other driver not mathematically eliminated from the title fight. He’s still some way back and will have to score well with the others (esp. Hamilton) having problems – yet Lewis and Felipe have both struggled to score decent points lately while Robert has been notching up the points finishes. Don’t count him out just yet.

We may also hear news of Sebastien Bourdais’ movements – if any – for 2009. I hope STR see sense and keep him around.

Event Times
Qualifying is on Saturday at 2pm local / 7am UK / 2am US EST.
Racing starts on Sunday at 3pm local / 8am UK / 3am US EST. Check your listings for TV coverage start times.

If you are watching live remember to make use of the live timing at http://www.formula1.com, a link is on the main page (remember to ‘load in big window’).

F1 News – Update
Further to my post yesterday, Formula1.com now has official video from multiple positions on each of the three contentious decisions from the Japanese GP. See my previous post for the video link and my comments.