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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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.