Lotus F1 Team
So Close, Yet So Far – Chinese Grand Prix, Race Report
Another promising but ultimately frustrating weekend for Lotus F1 Team saw Romain produce a fine display of finesse to pick up his first points of the season, while Kimi was unfortunate to fall foul of the infamous tyre cliff
A warm but overcast start at the Shanghai International Circuit was a much more welcome sight after the cooler conditions that had hampered the E20’s performance throughout the weekend thus far. With both cars starting in the top 10 the team were eagerly awaiting the start.
When the lights went out, Kimi got a flying pull away from the line passing Kobayashi into turn 1, but was then immediately usurped by the flying Button around the outside of the first corner dropping the Finn back to his starting position of P4.
A good getaway from Romain was undone as he got boxed out by the two Ferraris into turn 1, forcing him to lock up and fall one place to P11. Once things had settled down, Kimi was taking the challenge to Button in P3, while Romain was left tussling with Massa for P10.
In the early stages Kimi was right on the pace of the leaders, being narrowly shaded my Rosberg and swapping times with the McLarens and Red Bulls around him. The team decided that the 2007 World Champion was being held up by the McLaren, and brought him in for his first stop on lap 10 to make the switch onto the medium tyre.
As his E20 dropped from the jacks, Kimi found himself side-by-side with Hamilton in the pit lane, who had the line and took the place as the pair re-joined the track. Webber, who had pitted earlier, also managed to jump the Finn but the battle did not end there.
An intense duel ensued throughout the following lap between the Finn and the Australian, with amazing skill on display from both drivers as they came within millimetres of each other at times, Webber first darting down the inside into turn 3 only for as Kimi to come back around the outside, before finally conceding the place.
One lap later Romain came in for his first set of medium tyres, and with the retirement of Schumacher found himself back in the points. With the order reshuffled following the pit stops, Kimi sat in P5 while Romain had jumped 2 places to P8.
The Frenchman showed great pace after the first round of stops, often running quicker than his team more experience team-mate and charging straight up to the back of Kobayashi, where he would agonisingly remain for a number of laps, forming the meat in a Sauber sandwich with Perez behind.
By lap 20 Romain was putting severe pressure on Kobayashi for P7, and with Kimi sandwiched between Webber and Alonso it was looking like a frustrating stage of the race for the team. Webber finally pitted on lap 22, releasing Kimi to stretch the E20’s legs.
Both drivers remained on track for long second stints, with Romain in particular doing a great job to maintain his tyres at a manageable level. Kimi was unfortunate to be passed again when he pitted on lap 28, this time by Alonso.
Romain meanwhile was clearly far quicker than Kobayashi at this stage of proceedings, but being held up and unable to get past proved costly. The Japanese driver pitted earlier than the Frenchman, allowing Vettel to also get the jump in the next round of stops on lap 32.
When the order shook out after the second tyre changes, Kimi sat in P5 with Romain in P9 as differing strategies created a very unpredictable order. On a 2 stop strategy, Massa had been holding a train of cars up in his wake, including both Lotus F1 Team drivers, until he finally pitted on lap 41.
Now released from the shackles of the Ferrari, Kimi put in his personal best time on lap 42 and found himself promoted to P2 after opting to run deep into his stint. Similarly, Romain had jumped to P5 on another long run.
Webber put a good move on Romain on lap 45, and as the Frenchman tried to come back at him he ran wide onto the marbles and lost places to Hamilton and Senna. Subsequently being passed by Maldonado into the hairpin, Romain hit back with a brave move on the exit of the corner and regained his place, quickly pulling away from the Venezuelan driver.
With both drivers now having converted to a 2 stop strategy, the remainder of the race was all about tyre management. On lap 48 Kimi ran deep into turn 3 as Vettel made his move, with Button following through. With dirt on his tyres The Finn then went wide and onto the grass as his tyres faded away, subsequently being passed by 7 cars in 1 lap including Romain who moved up to P6.
With his Pirelli rubber now well and truly finished, Kimi dropped to P14 – where he would eventually finish – as even his abundant skills struggled to keep the car on track.
Romain, having benefitted from his team-mates issues, drove a superbly smooth and calculated last few laps to bring his E20 home in an impressive P6, and in doing so mark up his first finish and indeed first points of the season.