Hannah Taylor, F1 correspondent
First win for Mercedes works team since 1955
As the Shanghai International Circuit played host to the ninth FIA Formula One Chinese Grand Prix, there was a surprising result as Mercedes driver, Nico Rosberg converted his maiden pole into his first career victory in the sport. Today’s win by the German added to the works team history as it marked the first victory for Mercedes since 1955 when Juan Manuel Fangio crossed the Italian GP finish line in the silver arrows.
Rosberg expressed his feelings after the exceptional performance he put in this weekend. “This is a very special moment for me. The whole weekend went perfectly. My first pole position, now my first win in Formula One – it really is fantastic. But it’s not only this; it’s the first win for the new Silver Arrow and for this great team. This is really special for me. Thanks to everybody in the team, here in China and in our factories in Brackley and Brixworth” commented Rosberg.
Norbert Haug, vice-president, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport commented: "What a sensational victory from Nico and our team! It was unbelievable how Nico drove and controlled the race from lap one to 56. A big thank you to everybody in Brackley, Brixworth, Stuttgart, Fellbach, Unterturkheim and Mohringen for all their relentless work and their belief in our capabilities and that we can make it.”
McLaren’s Jenson Button recovered from a pit stop problem to cross the line in second place. The string of success in the race continued for McLaren as Hamilton’s last minute manoeuvre on the penultimate lap, led him to take the final step on the podium to pick up third place overall.
As the race got underway the eventual winner and pole sitter, Rosberg got off to a good start and maintained the lead until he made his first pit stop for a tyre change on lap 13. Before his visit to the pits the need to do so became clear just prior to this and Rosberg had a slight wobble as he ran wide at Turn 6. However, he soon recovered from the mishap and re-joined the race in third place. However, his team mate and fellow countryman, Michael Schumacher was not quite so lucky. The seven time World Champion held onto his second place from the start of his 289th Grand Prix. Unfortunately, following his pit stop for a tyre change prior to Rosberg’s, the former Ferrari driver appeared to have problems with the front right tyre going on.
Consequently, Schumacher’s participation in the proceedings soon came to an end on lap 13. He was seen off the track and looked to be going nowhere fast as he bowed out of the action, making it the second race this season that he has failed to finish. Therefore, he missed out on the opportunity of possibly fighting to pick up his 92nd career victory as well. The incident in the pits which led to Schumacher’s exit from the race, evidently caught the attention of the race stewards. Schumacher and the team were then under investigation for an unsafe release from the pits. However, it has not yet been announced whether the team will have to face any consequences.
Meanwhile, Rosberg was then the sole Mercedes remaining in the Grand Prix and left flying the flag for the team. Other than having to climb back up to regain the lead with the likes of Sauber’s Sergio Perez, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa in front and Button then became the frontman on lap 35, Rosberg was the man of the moment with the finish line in his sights. After taking back first place on lap 41 he did not yield to his closest rivals and left them trailing behind him all the way until the 56 lap marathon came to an end.
Although Button finished in second place when the chequered flag waved, the 2009 World Champion had a mixture of ups and downs in the race which led to a positive outcome in the end. The Englishman managed to promote himself from fifth to third place on the first lap. As a result of his first pit stop around lap 11, the Englishman dropped down to seventh place then. Between his first visit to the pits and his next tyre change arriving around lap 25, Button appeared to steadily progress in the race and was mixing with some of the midfield drivers.
He experienced competitive scraps for position at this stage of the proceedings with the likes of Williams’ driver Pastor Maldonado, Massa and Hamilton. In terms of an in-team battle and getting one up on Hamilton, it was Button that conquered first as he managed to pass Maldonado. Meanwhile, Hamilton was still left behind Massa and the pair are famous for the previous battles in races that took place last season. Therefore, it was inevitable that today’s race featuring a head to head between the pair would be just as heated. However, Hamilton had the initial upper hand as he picked up enough pace to pass the Brazilian driver at Turn 6 around lap 25.
As well as making successful manoeuvres on the likes of the Williams duo, Maldonado and his Brazilian team mate Bruno Senna, Button also took on Perez during another midfield scrap for position. However, on lap 30 the Englishman was still very much at the heart of the action, as his next opponent on the track was one of his Championship rivals, Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel. The two World Champions put their winning formula into practice, but Button’s proved to be the more successful on this occasion. He passed the reigning World Champion with ease on lap 30. Over the few laps that followed this encounter, Button appeared to pick up the pace and was in good form as indicated by his lap times. He was the fastest man on the track on lap 33 as he topped the timesheets with a 1:40.908secs from second place.
Due to some of the other front runners having to make their necessary pit stops at this stage in the race, Button found himself leading the pack on lap 35. Nevertheless, his time soon came to pit for a tyre change which led to a shuffle in track positions once again. Despite being in a good place prior to visiting the pits on lap 39, Button’s race temporarily turned upside down at this point. There appeared to be a delay during his pit stop as there was reportedly a problem with the left rear tyre being fitted. Consequently, this caused the Briton to lose several track positions, with the likes of Lotus Renault’s Romain Grojean getting ahead of him for the time being. On the other hand, as more of the front runners had to make their pit stops for a tyre change, and by putting some more overtaking manoeuvres into practice, Button managed to climb back up the field again. When the closing stages of the race approached for Button he was still very much in the limelight. On lap 52 he faced Vettel again and found a window of opportunity to pass by and take second place from the German which Button held all the way until the end.
While Button appeared to have a fairly positive weekend, Hamilton had his fair share of problems before qualifying even began yesterday. The 2008 World Champion had to have a gearbox change, which even before he secured a grid slot in qualifying, this meant that his starting position would see him drop down five places as a result to start the race. Nevertheless, Hamilton appeared to make the best of the situation and climbed his way up the field from seventh place as the Grand Prix began. After an early group battle for position with the likes of his team mate, Button, Lotus Renault’s Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Massa, the Englishman then had a pit stop race with Raikkonen on lap 11. The pair went head to head and narrowly missed any contact as they emerged from the pits. However, Hamilton re-joined the race in front of the Finnish driver. Red Bull’s Mark Webber also muscled in on the action as he made his pit stop when Hamilton and Raikkonen were battling for position. Webber then got close enough to Raikkonen with an opportunity to pounce. The pair were side by side at one stage as they went into Turn 6. Remarkably they avoided any contact by a whisker and Hamilton was able to pass both drivers in the process.
After making a necessary pit stop for a tyre change around lap 23, Hamilton re-joined the proceedings in 13th place and in doing so was in front of Massa. Following a previous scrap for position already in the race with Massa, Hamilton continued to make his way through the field. Around lap 25 Hamilton’s next target became Force India’s Paul di Resta, as Alonso was out of the way when he made his pit stop. While Hamilton appeared to make easy work of his overtake on di Resta, the Scotsman soon found himself falling down the field. Webber was the next man to take di Resta on, and inevitably the Australian was able to get ahead without any problems. When Hamilton was attempting to put Perez’s third place under threat on lap 33, he was soon at risk himself as Webber got on his tail. The pair had an extremely close encounter at Turn 6 on lap 34 and Webber appeared keen to pass. However, there was not quite enough room for Webber to make the move stick at the time. Suddenly, on lap 37 the pressure of wanting to overtake Hamilton appeared to affect Webber. He ran wide at the exit of Turn 13 which saw him go on the grass and end up in mid-air temporarily. Once Webber found his feet again and got back on track. The scrap for position between he and Hamilton resumed. On lap 48 the pair swapped places simultaneously, and Webber managed to get in front of Hamilton.
Meanwhile, when Raikkonen had a slight wobble and ran wide on lap 48, which led Button to pass him, Hamilton followed suit and was also able to sneak in front of him again. Towards the end of the race when Button got ahead of Vettel, Hamilton was also on a mission and in close proximity to the pair. Even though the action was getting closer to finishing, the action on the track during the penultimate lap did not disappoint and led the race to end on a high. On the penultimate lap, Hamilton managed to catch up with Vettel, and the drivers suddenly went head to head for position. As they made their way through Turn 14 and into the last corner on the circuit, Hamilton found a window of opportunity and snatched third place from Vettel. Therefore, despite Hamilton’s misfortune over the race weekend, his luck appeared to change at that point and he took third place overall.
While Webber had several scraps for position during the race with several drivers, it was the early once before the action had barely begun that was the centre of attention. Initially he was side by side in a heated battle with Alonso and Massa was following behind the pair. Webber then made his first pit stop on lap 7 for the harder tyre and got stuck in traffic after this. It was reported that this early visit to the pits may pay off against his rivals throughout the race. However, this was not just in terms of drivers in different teams, but was especially significant for Webber on the final lap of the race. He and team mate Vettel suddenly went head to head and in the end Webber’s persistence paid off. He managed to take fourth place from Vettel with ease, which now means Webber has scored a hat trick of fourth place finishes.
On the other hand, where Vettel was concerned his race did not get off to the best start as he dropped down the field. When Vettel was running in 14th place on lap six, he was battling with Di Resta who was ahead in 13th position. Although things were not running smoothly as Vettel’s race progressed, he managed to pass some midfield drivers with ease. Sadly, Perez was one of Vettel’s victims on lap 19 at Turn 8. On lap 32 Vettel made a necessary pit stop after his track position did not improve by much. Fortunately, Vettel managed to complete the race but appeared to lack pace compared to his team mate Webber. Consequently, following their heated battle on the last lap, Vettel had to settle for a fifth place finish in the end.
Meanwhile, where some of the midfield drivers were concerned, the final classification led them to a top 10 point scoring position as well. Grosjean in particular is one of the drivers in that group that came off well. The Frenchman picked up his first points in the sport after securing sixth place. Grosjean showed good form during the race and fought for position with the likes of Massa, Perez and Maldonado. Around lap 16 Grosjean appeared to have his work cut out with Perez. The pair swapped places simultaneously and eventually Grosjean got in front of the Mexican again. However, on lap 45 Grosjean had a slight wobble as he lost places to Hamilton and Senna. This bad spell for Grosjean continued as he had contact with Maldonado twice. The pair had a very heated scrap for position as Grosjean was ahead of Maldonado and Perez was also trying to pass the Venezuelan. As a result of the scrap between the trio of drivers, Grosjean finished ahead of his rivals and Senna was next to take seventh place ahead of Maldonado in eighth position.
During the race Alonso appeared slightly off the pace like Vettel which was out of character for the pair. Alonso had scraps for position with Raikkonen, and initially it was Raikkonen who was leading over the Spaniard. Fortunately, after a period of pit stops arrived around lap 29 Alonso found himself ahead of Raikkonen. From this point in the race proceedings Alonso appeared to improve performance wise. When Alonso and his team mate Massa were running behind each other on lap 33, Alonso had an opportunity to pass and took a place from Massa. It was reported via the team radio that Alonso could pass by as he looked to be the leading prancing horse then. As part of the rules and regulations this season, team orders can now be in operation when required. Consequently, this appeared to be the situation at this stage of the race between the two drivers. Alonso then had a mishap on lap 43 as he ran wide into Turn 7. As a result of this, the former Double World Champion lost a place to Perez. Nevertheless, Alonso managed to find enough pace to pick up a point scoring position. He picked up ninth place after his efforts in the latter stages of the race.
Likewise, Alonso’s team mate Massa also found himself out of place compared to usually being nearer to the front of the field. At the beginning of his race he reportedly had a scrap with Senna. It appeared the Senna’s car suffered a bit of damage to his front wing end plate. However, via Senna’s team radio reports it seemed that this possible damage did not cause him much concern. On the other hand, both drivers continued to race on and Massa could not get a place in a top 10 point scoring position. He had to settle for a 13th place finish at the end of the proceedings.
Even though Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi started the race from third place, the Japanese driver did not have the best experience. He swiftly dropped down the field and scrapped for position with his team mate Perez. Consequently, Kobayashi then suffered a double blow with not only losing his track position but being overtaken by his team mate. However, on lap 50 Kobayashi managed to pounce as the number of laps left was diminishing. He found a window of opportunity to overtake Perez and finished in 10th place overall. Sadly, as a result of the unexpected overtake Perez missed out on the top 10 and crossed the line in 11th place.
Di Resta comes next in the line-up as he picked up 12th place for himself. Unfortunately, di Resta’s team mate Nico Hulkenberg could only do enough to secure 15th place. Raikkonen had a little bit more luck on his side as he got ahead of Hulkenberg to bring his car to the end in 14th position. Hulkenberg appeared to have a slightly unsteady race, as he reported of under steer on his car to the team early on in the race. He then had to visit the pits on lap 10 to have a new nose cone fitted to his car. This unexpected pit stop and necessary repairs that were carried out, appeared to indicate that he may have had minor contact that caused the problem.
After having to start from the pit lane one of the rookie drivers this season, Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne made his way through the field. The Frenchman appeared to be doing well which at one stage led him to set the fastest lap of the race from 16th place. Strangely enough, Vergne finished the race in that very same position. On the other hand, Vergne’s Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo had to settle for 17th place. Ricciardo had a close encounter with Caterham’s Heikki Kovalainen during the race. The pair were running near the back of the field and into Turn 2 nearly had a coming together. Nevertheless, both drivers went on to continue racing but Kovalainen reportedly had problems during a pit stop. The Finnish driver made his stop for a tyre change and there was speculation that there were difficulties in getting one of the wheels on. These troubles were indicated by the fact that Kovalainen had slowed on the track. However, he did go on to cross the finish line and take the 23rd and final place.
Meanwhile, Kovalainen’s Russian team mate Vitaly Petrov appeared to get through the race quietly on his own. He ended up completing the race a few places ahead of his team mate, as he managed to secure 18th place for himself.
Likewise, the Marussia pair also seemed to drive in their own world without attention on them. Timo Glock had the upper hand over his French team mate, Charles Pic though. Glock went on to secure 19th place and Pic came next in 20th position.
Where the final two spots in front of Kovalainen were concerned, the Hispania Racing duo took these positions. Pedro de la Rosa pipped his Indian team mate to 21st place and Narain Karthikeyan finished alongside him in 22nd position.
Following a thrilling Chinese Grand Prix and in particular with regards to the results, it certainly appears that the drivers and teams have got used to their new cars. The implementation of the new rules and regulations and changes to the ones that were in place already, appear to have caused the results to shake up across the whole race weekend so far this season. For Rosberg and the Mercedes team especially, the outcome of today’s race and yesterday in qualifying have been a special achievement. They and the rest of the F1 fraternity now have just one week to recover before the action starts again. Their next challenge all being well that the situation does not change and the race will still go ahead, will be the Bahrain Grand Prix which due to civil unrest in the country was cancelled last year.
In terms of the Constructor’s Championship as a result of today’s race outcome, the following teams have some points on the board so far this season: McLaren are leading with 88 points and Red Bull are trailing them with 64 points so far. In third place at present is Ferrari with 37 points and Sauber are just six points behind them with 31 points. Due to Rosberg’s impressive race win today Mercedes now have 26 points. However, there is a tiny margin separating them from Lotus Renault who have 24 points. Williams are slightly less threatening in seventh place with 18 points. There are just two other teams who have scored points so far this season. Force India are currently in eighth place with nine points. Toro Rosso are just three points behind them with six points to their name.
While Hamilton managed to pick up some points with second place today, he leads in the Drivers’ Standings with 45 points and Button is just two points adrift in second place. Alonso is next in line with 37 points under his belt but Webber is just one point behind him. As Vettel appears slightly off the pace at present compared to his rivals, he currently had 28 points on the board Rosberg is now three points behind him. Perez comes next and the same number of points separate him from Rosberg as he has 22 points to his name.
Raikkonen is a little further away from catching Perez and has 16 points at the moment. Senna is the final driver who has points in double figures so far and holds 14 points at present. While Kobayashi has nine points to his name, ahead of Grosjean who is just one point behind him. Di Resta has scored seven points so far to open up his Championship campaign. While Vergne has four points and so does Maldonado as the situation stands. Ricciardo forms up in 15th place at the moment with two points on the board, and Hulkenberg has the same amount as well. However, Schumacher is the 17th and final driver in the field to date to come away from a race with something. He currently has just one point to his name.