by clicking the arrows at the side of the page, or by using the toolbar.
by clicking anywhere on the page.
by dragging the page around when zoomed in.
by clicking anywhere on the page when zoomed in.
web sites or send emails by clicking on hyperlinks.
Email this page to a friend
Search this issue
Index - jump to page or section
Archive - view past issues
GP Week : Issue 112
BREATHLESS The Chinese Grand Prix was a classic edge-of- your-seat spectacle, and Lewis Hamilton’s brilliant drive has helped fan the flames of a proper championship battle. Red Bull were quick ... but not quick enough. Peter Windsor looks back. ANALYSIS Peter Windsor F1 Columnist F1 CHINA >> Bythetimeyoustrippedawayallthe gloss – the six different race leaders, the mid-field spats, the heavy smattering of pit stops for new Pirellis – the bare elements were these: Red Bull Racing again had the quickest car but on this occasion could finish only second and third; Lewis Hamilton sacrificed a quick Q3 run to give himself a race-winning extra set of Pirelli options; and Mercedes (fifth and eighth) and Ferrari (sixth and seventh) are not that far away. RBR first – because it seemed almost inconceivable, after Albert Park and Sepang, that anyone was going to beat Seb Vettel and the RB7 this side of 2012. The bottom line is that they went into this race thinking that Pirelli’s two-stop plan was probably correct but not something to which they would actually commit until the race (or 1. 2. 3. the first phase of the race) unfolded. Sauber came into the results in Australia by under- stopping; and fewer stops were better than more stops in Malaysia. If China was going to be a toss-up, then, the safer option for the guys with the best car would be to go for the strategy with the smallest downside. Spoiled for choice? That’s the penalty you pay for leading the championship.... In fairness to Christian Horner, RBR anticipated before the start of the year that many of these Pirelli races were going to be cut-able a number of different ways. China proved to be a classic example of that: Seb finished second, beaten by a three-stopped McLaren-Mercedes; and Mark Webber finished third after starting 18th, again on a three-stopper. By rights – by logic, and by all things that come under the heading of “that couldn’t happen, could it?” – Webber should have won the Chinese Grand Prix. He again set fastest lap (always a statement) and he could pass virtually everyone, virtually everywhere (save the outside of the very quick Turn 7!). If Mark had qualified, say, fourth – a conservative prediction, you’d have to concede, if you’d been sloping around RBR’s Shanghai office as the sun fell on Thursday – he would probably have driven the same three-stop race and would therefore have been pretty near Lewis and Seb as the chequered flag fell. That’s what having two quick drivers is all about: when the options are close, split the strategy. True: the only upside to Mark’s Saturday was the sight of those three new sets of Pirelli ‘options’ stacked up behind his garage. Mark had used only primes in Q1 (as is now normal for the very top runners) and so now he at least had everything he needed with which to race on Sunday. He started on primes because the early phase was always going to be messy (Mark gained only three places in that first stint) and so he stopped relatively early – lap 10 – for the first of his three new sets of options. Mark thereafter was able race everyone hard, to run off-line when he needed to and to pitch the car around as he loves to. We saw Mark Webber the racing driver (as distinct from Mark Webber the frustrated qualifying driver who lost lots of time on Saturday morning with an electrical problem and could never get his primes up to temperature in Q1). There was certainly some needle on the RBR pit wall early in qualifying, when it became increasingly obvious that Mark was in trouble, but still no-one thought that it would be worth his using up a set of options in Q1. Mark would scrape through to Q2. Surely. Visually, Mark looked very different in the car to Seb during practice and then qualifying – but then he always does. This was particularly noticeable at the exit of Turn 13, the extremely important and fast right- hander leading on to the back straight. Vettel, like Jenson Button, was never more than half a metre from the white exit line for at least the first 50m after the corner. Mark’s natural tendency is to ‘jink’ the car a little towards the centre of the road on exit – and this he did out of Turn 13 on his critical lap in Q1. You could also see this at the exit of Turn 10, where he flicked the car towards the centre to avoid (I think) a bump; and certainly it was obvious out of the last corner. As Mark crossed the timing line he was straddling the white marks for the right- hand-side of the grid, his car angled towards the middle of the road. Vettel, at the same point, was to the right of the marks, with his car still pointing absolutely straight. Another driver to follow the Vettel path was Pastor Maldonado, the Shanghai rookie who beat Webber by 0.347 and thus excluded Mark from Q2. (Both Williams drivers made Q2 and actually finished this race.) When you’re out there racing, however, and the guy in front is defending, none of that detail is significant. Bottom line is that Mark raced as brilliantly in China as he so often does. He maximized his tyre advantage and he out-braked a passive Jenson Button on the penultimate lap to take third place, 7.5 sec behind the wining McLaren. That margin, as I say, will spell ‘Mark Could Have Won It!’ when the debriefs seriously begin next week. Vettel, though, could not have beaten Lewis without adopting a three-stop strategy; that was clear from the way the race ran out. Seb, with 12 laps to go, was struggling with grip front and rear. Lewis, who had stopped for his third set of options on lap 38, with 18 to go, was by now driving a different sort of racing car. The Red Bull is better currently in terms of overall downforce; the McLaren- Mercedes, via strategy, was in much stronger shape late on the racing day. Just when Seb least expected it, Lewis dived inside before the very fast Turn 7. Seb acquiesced. Looking back, Seb’s race was blighted only in the first phase: despite the use of KERS, and probably because the pole side is not particularly clean in China, he was out- 23