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
a ccelerated off the line by Jenson and then muscled-out by Lewis. Nico R even tried to nudge down the inside into T2 but Seb kept his head, didn’t flinch and ran Nico wide. Seb then drove the first stint in the wake of the McLarens, conserving his tyres, thinking now of a two-stopper – but then stopped surprisingly early (for that two-stopper) – on lap 14. I suspect that the RBR management had not totally committed themselves to a two-stop strategy before the race but that the positioning of the McLarens made the decision for them: in their minds, at that point, the RB7’s biggest advantage was going to be the way it used its tyres. Even so, it was strange that they did not leave Seb out there longer, particularly as Felipe Massa had managed 25 good laps on Pirelli options on Friday. The RB7 was in theory going to be easier on its tyres than any other car in the race (particularly if it’s pace was being controlled by the two McLarens) and so you could argue that it was right here, in this early phase, that Sebastian lost the race. On his second set of options, Seb could then only race through to lap 31, his style cramped somewhat by being led for eight laps in that 17-lap stint by Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes. That left him with a long third stint – 25 laps on primes; it was a stint about seven laps too long, in terms of sustained, Lewis- beating performance – seven laps that he could possibly have added from stints one and two. Which brings us to the nub: make a slight error in strategy – a few laps too few in one stint (as described) – or suffer a minor glitch – no radio, as was also the case with Seb Vettel – and, three races into the season, after a desperate winter test period – Lewis Carl Hamilton is going to jump in and spoil the party, even if his McLaren isn’t yet a Red Bull-beater in terms of single-lap performance. Lewis on race day was nothing less than the fantastic racing driver he has always been, even though he had to be ultra-patient on Saturday (only one set of options in Q3, compared with two for Jenson) and then just before the race, when his car wouldn’t start. Pete Vale and the boys magically traced the issue to fuel-flooding in the air vent and released Lewis into the pit lane only 30 sec before closure. Brilliant stuff – the fabric of which F1 is made. Lewis had to sustain that mental discipline into the race, too. His first set of options went off earlier than Jenson’s, which dropped him to fifth after the first pit stop, behind Rosberg, Vettel, Button and Massa. In that traffic he remained through to his second stop (lap 25) but in stint three, which took him through to lap 38, Lewis maximized his newer options, passed Jenson in a lovely piece of clean racing and emerged from his final pit stop in a solid third place. Ahead: two guys on tired rubber – Felipe Massa and, leading, Seb Vettel. Felipe was no problem; Seb he shadowed for a while, darting this way and that – and then he zapped him into Turn 7. There were but five laps left to run. Lewis thus led only six laps of the UBS Chinese Grand Prix (Button, Vettel, Alonso, Rosberg and Massa also led) but they were the laps in which a quality three-stopper was always going to beat a two-stopper. McLaren, from the midst of a dark European winter, had achieved virtually the impossible. Plaudits to Paddy Lowe, Neil Oatley and all the design and development team. Jenson, for his part, looked great in practice and qualifying – and in the early phase of the race, when he was leading with aplomb. At his first pit stop, though, with Seb Vettel in his mirrors, he went into brain-fade mode by nearly stopping in Seb’s pit rather than his own. The RBR mechanics waved him on (Seb was right behind!) and Jenson did just thus, embarrassingly pulling up in the correct location a few seconds later ... but it was an odd cameo, you can say that. Jenson was quick to point out afterwards that the incident hadn’t affected his race result (Jenson would eventually finish fourth, his tyres shot in the closing laps) but it was a reminder of the time when Jenson was at Honda and, for several seconds or so, he had failed to move away from a grid for the formation lap. When asked later what had happened, Jenson had replied, “just for a moment I completely forget what I was supposed to do – which buttons to press and so on!” That was McLaren, then: Lewis (relative to Jenson) raced with an extra set of new options – but then he did have to recover from deep within the traffic. Either way you look at it, this was a great grand prix win. WithSebonthattwo-stop,andJenson making that error in the pit lane, it was young Nico Rosberg who audaciously took the lead of the Chinese GP, maintaining it convincingly from laps 17 to 24 and then again (after the second stops) from laps 34-39. The Mercedes was definitely a quick car in China, particularly in the hands of the ever- smooth Nico, who demonstrated its newly- found additional downforce by qualifying it a great fourth ahead of the two Ferraris (and Michael, down in 14th place). We never got to see how it was all going to end, however: a mysterious fuel consumption problem hit both Mercedes factory cars and obliged both Nico and Michael to cool it in the closing stages. If anyone was going to have a Mercedes fuel issue, you would have thought, it would have been Lewis (after his problems pre- race) but not a bit of it. Nico could finish only fifth, and Michael, for his part, offered a flip- side: after another disappointing Saturday, he fought traffic all day to finish eighth. He said after the race that he loved it all: that’s great, but it would have lovelier still to have seen him up there with Nico, racing with the serious players. Ferrari,meanwhile,didjustabout all they could have done, given the circumstances of their car. They haven’t made the progress in downforce-generation we’re seeing at McLaren and Mercedes and so they were conservative again in qualifying (options in Q1) and in the race (two-stop strategies). For all that, Felipe Massa drove really well, I thought, all weekend. He matched Vettel’s pace for much of the race and, pit stops aside, he was always ahead of Alonso once Turn 1 was out of the way. Like the two McLaren drivers, Fernando and Felipe recorded virtually identical lap times in qualifying – a sure sign that the car’s limit was accurately achieved. And that qualifying limit said that they are currently 1.5 sec lap away from the Red Bull, 0.7 sec away from the McLaren and 0.5 sec away from the Mercedes. It is very easy to look at the results post- race and say that Ferrari could have had an even better race if they’d run three stops per car. I don’t buy that: in Vettel’s case, with the fastest car in the race, I think he would have won with three stops (just as Webber could have won if he’d qualified top four). In Ferrari’s case, given their speed deficiencies, they needed to go for a different strategy to that of their main opposition – and they did that very well. Just before half-distance, and deep into an 18-lap stint, Massa was impressively quick – just as he had been on his long run on Friday. At the end, Felipe finished only nine seconds behind Webber and 11 behind Vettel in a car that is/was demonstrably slower. To me, that adds up to the right strategy, given their baseline starting point. Morethananything,then,Chinawasa reminder in several dimensions that qualifying and racing can be two, very different, breeds. Who needs to qualify well when you can drive a race like Mark Webber’s? What price the Red Bull’s pace when Lewis Hamilton’s three-stopped McLaren is all over it in the closing phase? And look at Nico Rosberg and the Ferrari drivers, maximizing race conditions and making qualifying seem an age away. Look at the 2011 F1 season in general: three races old, and it is both tense and unpredictable. Next stop: the European swing. Turkey. Turn 8. Istanbul Park. Seb was out- accelerated off the line by Jenson and then muscled-out by Lewis 24