Formula One's Rain Man and brightest light of the sport's youth movement, Sebastian Vettel, gave Red Bull wings Sunday, winning the Grand Prix of China without putting a wheel wrong even as almost all behind him slid and slithered around a...
Formula One's Rain Man and brightest light of the sport's youth movement, Sebastian Vettel, gave Red Bull wings Sunday, winning the Grand Prix of China without putting a wheel wrong even as almost all behind him slid and slithered around a sodden Shanghai International Circuit in a race begun behind a pace car.
The ginger-haired German won from pole in a day-long rain just as he did last September for Scuderia Toro Rosso in Italy. Also as with Red Bull's junior team, Vettel, 21, delivered the popular energy drinks-sponsored team's first victory. Teammate Mark Webber followed him to the checkered flag for the Australian's best F1 career finish.
"I'm extremely happy," Vettel said. "Second time now in the wet I've won a grand prix so, I mean, now we can probably have some more rain. The car was fantastic. It's definitely necessary to mention that the team did a really, really good job in preparing the car. Yesterday, in qualifying we did a good job but, nevertheless, we were struggling a bit with reliability. But we were able to fix it overnight. I think that speaks for the quality of our team. Everybody was just trying to fix it. We succeeded. Both cars finished the race and even heading a top two, a double win for Red Bull is incredible. I'm extremely happy."
The Red Bull duo took points ahead of Brawn GP runners Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, McLaren Mercedes' Heikki Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton, Toyota's Timo Glock and rookie Sebastien Buemi of Toro Rosso, arguably the day's second winner. In scoring his third point of the season, and looking good doing it, Buemi landed on the points table ahead of both Ferrari drivers, Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen, who have not scored in three races this season.
Having qualified on light fuel, the Red Bull runners, who started first and third, needed a quick getaway to put distance on the field and gain a time advantage for pit stops. Instead, the race was a water parade for eight laps before the safety car pulled off.
"I think, first of all, it was the right decision to start behind the safety car because there was quite a lot of standing water," Vettel said. "Basically, it was OK at some point but some corners every lap had a lot of aquaplaning, sometimes less, sometimes more, depending upon the rain. It was very, very difficult throughout the whole race. Basically, I knew, I think we both knew, Mark and I, that we were on a short strategy, so we had to push in the beginning to get away from the pack, in which we succeeded. And, yeah, I mean, it was a very difficult race. A lot of aquaplaning. At times you were just catching the car and keeping it on the circuit. I think I had the best conditions because I had no car in front of me for the whole race."
Webber, a veteran from the Jaguar team that bought out Stewart Racing in 2000 owns an F1 career that has been plagued by equipment failure.
"Our team have been through a lot," Webber said. "A lot of results have slipped through our fingers and today both Sebastian and I capitalized on a car that worked quite well, but I think we pushed each other quite hard as well in the race. It was very, very tough conditions for the whole grand prix. It's extremely rewarding to get this result. Personally, for myself, it's the best result of my career and I hope to go one step better in the future, and this is a long way towards it. It's an incredible result for Red Bull." Webber applauded the effort of his boss, billionaire Dieter Mateschitz, whose extensive, worldwide support of racing includes the clearly hot Red Bull Racing Development program. Scott Speed embarrassment aside, the program has delivered two of the most exciting F1 racers of the century, Vettel and Buemi, who has stepped into Toro Rosso with the same verve that Vettel showed. That said, Vettel and Buemi had a coming together from which both emerged mostly unscathed, a testament to the strength of Adrian Newey-designed cars.
"This was the most difficult race of my life," Buemi said. ""here was so much water. You couldn't see. To finish the race is just very good."
Biggest loser was front-row starter Fernando Alonso of Renault who pitted just before the safety car came in after the race started under caution. The Spaniard was last on track when proper racing began. He worked his way to fifth, pitted and dropped to ninth then spun to 12th before working back to ninth, just out of the points. Behind him were Raikkonen for Ferrari, who endured another dreadful day in an increasingly dreadful season; Sebastien Bourdais of Toro Rosso, who was among the many who spent the day on and off track; BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld, who had an early coming together with Glock, and Heidfeld teammate Robert Kubica, who started from the pit lane and was the final runner on the lead lap, reappearing after apparently knocking himself and Jarno Trulli out of the race on Lap 18.
Force India's Giancarlo Fisichella finished a lap back in 14th. Behind him came Williams F1's Nico Rosberg, who took the first set of intermediate tires and earned a lurid slide at speed, also a lap down. Two laps back was Renault's Nelson Piquet, who was off track and into course markers a number of times. Second biggest loser was Force India's Adrian Sutil, who with five laps left was sitting in sixth place, on target for the team's first points, when he went off, spearing a tire wall and blowing both front tires off the car.
Not finishing were Williams F1's Kazuki Nakajima, who was off track often before puling into the garage on Lap 43, Massa, who swam a few puddles before his F60 stopped altogether on the backstraight on Lap 30, and Trulli, who started from sixth spot and dropped through the field like a stone until Kubica ran up the back of his TF109, tearing off the rear wing and scattering a debris field that brought out a second safety car.
As Vettel led away to a famous victory, lots of dicing took place throughout the field. Buemi held off Alonso, at least for a couple laps, and passed Raikkonen. Hamilton, who fancies himself a great rain runner, made lots of passes for having to regain places lost to spins after he wore out his tires in the first half of the race. Even Hamilton's teammate finally passed him during an off to earn his first completed laps of the season.
Perhaps the best passing involved Button and Webber. As the Red Bull drivers demonstrated a willingness to supplant Brawn GP's guys from their newfound status as the sport's top guns, Button and Webber waded through a series of exchanges in the later laps that looked more confident than the drivers themselves.
"For me, I was just pretty much out of control," Button said of a series of passes that must have had English and Australian fans chanting, "Bring on the Ashes." Webber concurred that conditions precluded where or in front of whom one might expect to appear after slithering off.
"I think everyone was struggling with the aquaplaning out there," Button said. "It was pretty crazy conditions. Into the last corner, it was just a lake. You couldn't actually brake for the corner. I was really struggling with the tires shuddering. They shudder because you can't get temperature into them. Fronts and rears. It was a difficult race. On every lap, you thought you were going to throw the car off. You really did. To finish the race is an achievement, and to come home on the podium is also great. We couldn't challenge these two guys today. They were immensely quick. Cheeky."
Cheeky season. Button continues to lead the drivers' championship with his team ahead on the constructors table. Ferrari, the defending constructors' champion, has yet to score. New rules have let fresh blood reach the surface and breathe the air success.
The circus stays in Asia but moves west next weekend to record the next surprises in Bahrain.