After Saturday’s tactics, it was always anticipated that today’s race was set to be a classic. We were not disappointed as the split strategies kept everyone firmly on the edge of their seats. With sublime race pace throughout, it was Fernando Alonso who claimed his first win of the season; his second at the Shanghi International Circuit. The rest of the field was full of superb performances and bitter disappointments, making for some interesting conclusions.
Fernando is famous for making fast starts and this was once again the case today. He managed to jump up to second before turn one, courtesy of compromised clutch bitepoint settings cost Raikkonen a poor getaway. It was not long before Fernando, (and teammate Massa) were challenging Lewis Hamilton for the lead. Both managed to topple the Mercedes and from this position, Alonso never looked back. In each and every stint, the Spaniard extended his lead, controlling the pace, with additional speed available on demand. It was an ominous Ferrari victory.
While the Ferrari’s had impressed during practice, they seemed to be more suited to the soft compound. Subsequently, it was slightly surprising to see Fernando’s stunning speed on the medium compound. Alonso reflected on the performance, stating, “It couldn’t have gone better than this today! I hadn’t won since Germany and this has a special feeling because it was a tricky race full of action. Along with the second place I got in Australia, this result shows that the car is competitive and that we are working in the right direction to always be in the fight for the podium.” Fernando is known for being consistent. Even when supplied with an unstable car (the F2012), Alonso managed to stay well within contention for the championship. His competitors will no doubt fear him throughout this season, especially considering that the F138 appears to be well balanced with low levels of tyre degradation. While it is traction limited, Fernando and Ferrari have proved that they are a force to be reckoned with this season.
Meanwhile, Mercedes experienced an underwhelming Sunday, despite Lewis Hamilton finishing in a respectable P3. Nico Rosberg suffered a rear anti-roll bar failure, which forced him to retire at around half distance. The German reported, “The race was tough for me today and with my set-up I had an unexpected level of understeer which made it difficult to drive. After my second pit stop, the feeling got worse and I had one front wheel in the air during the corners. The rear anti-roll bar, which influences the balance of the car, had broken so unfortunately we had to retire the car.” Despite another DNF, Nico is already looking ahead to Bahrain, hoping for an improvement in reliability. It’s a shame and I’ve had a difficult start to the season with two DNFs. But it’s good to have the next race in just seven days’ time so hopefully we can put this result behind us with a strong weekend in Bahrain. It was great for the team to get another podium today.”
Lewis’ podium no doubt raised spirits. The Brit came under huge pressure from a fast charging Sebastian Vettel at the end of the race, who used his soft tyres to good effect at the end of the race. The German managed to close Hamilton by 13 seconds in four laps on the fresh options, yet the Mercedes just managed to hold onto the position. Lewis will have expected more from pole position, yet being disappointed with P3 is symbolic of how far Mercedes have come in the past few months. Hamilton stated, “It was a good race for me today and whilst I would have loved the win, I’m really happy with third place and being on the podium for the second race in a row. Fernando and Kimi were just a little bit too fast for us during the race and my tyres were shot at the end trying to keep ahead of Sebastian. I could see his car getting bigger and bigger in my mirrors so it was nice to be able to hang on for the third place.”
Kimi Raikkonen’s race was yet another controlled performance, where the Finn managed to hold off Hamilton despite having significant damage to his front wing. After a collision with Sergio Perez, (which was perceived as a racing incident), the Lotus completed the race without the cascade and turning finn on the right hand side of his front wing.
Nevertheless, Raikkonen’s pace was very efficient and without the damage, he may have been able to challenge Alonso for the victory. In typical fashion, Raikkonen stated, “Second wasn’t quite what we wanted, but in the circumstances it was the best that we could manage today. I’m not 100% happy because we didn’t win, but it is what it is and second place is a good result after a bad start and the incident with Sergio Perez. It was quite difficult out there; obviously the car is not designed like that otherwise we would use it all the time, but I was surprised how good it was still. Of course there were some handling issues which was not ideal, but we just had to try to live with it and we still had pretty okay speed.” Lotus may well be able to challenge for the win once again in Bahrain, considering that it is a traction circuit. Raikkonen has made a solid start to the championship and will no doubt get the maximum out of the car at each and every weekend.
Meanwhile, Esteban Gutierrez has done nothing to silence his critics today after a rookie error ended his and Adrian Sutil’s race. At the end of the first lap, the Sauber locked up heading into the hairpin and collided with the back of Sutil while out of control. Esteban has received a five place grid drop for the Bahrain Grand Prix and it is certainly a justified punishment. The young Mexican stated, “I tried my best to stop, but didn’t succeed. It was definitely my fault, and I apologise to Adrian Sutil and to his team. It’s not a good feeling to finish a race like this, but we have something to encourage us to keep going and to keep pushing. We had a good pace, and let’s keep moving forward.”
Meanwhile, Mark Webber’s weekend went from bad to worse today. The Aussie stopped on the first lap, to switch from the soft compound to the medium. The clean air at Webber’s disposal meant that he was able to reach a net P6 after the first round of pitstops. Unfortunately for Webber, the right rear was not fitted correctly to his car and it soon became evident. While he aimed to return to the pits slowly, the wheel finally made a bid for freedom at the hairpin and Webber’s weekend went from bad to worse. A disgruntled Aussie stated, “The start of the race was going okay; we elected to get rid of the soft tyre quite quickly and then came back through the field pretty well. Regarding the incident with Jean-Eric, I was coming from a reasonable distance behind, Jean-Eric was really wide, but when we came close to the apex he wanted to hit it, which he is entitled to do, but by then I was committed to the inside and the incident happened. It was a couple of laps before our pit stop window, so I had to come in early. The guys thought the tyre was fixed when we left the stop, but it came off on the out lap. We have had a few problems this weekend; I think we could have done something from our start position today, but it wasn’t meant to be.” After the race, Webber’s misery was further compounded when the stewards issued him with a three place grid penalty to be served in Bahrain, as punishment for his collision with Jean Eric Vergne.
Just hours later, news broke that Mark Webber will be leaving the sport at the end of the season, to join the Porsche GT Endurance Team. After the events of the previous few weeks this is hardly surprising.
The Chinese Grand Prix has been a fantastic spectacle. The large crowds on all three days have been treated to a magnificent show, with strategy adding significantly to the excitement. Criticism of Pirelli may be justified on Friday’s and Saturday’s but Sunday’s are a very different matter.