Rain, great drives and strange moves in China

Rain, great drives and strange moves in China

So far no driver has won the Chinese Grand Prix more than once: during its seven years of history seven different drivers have won this event, and this time it was Jenson Button's turn. Button's smooth driving style preserved his tyres and he was...

So far no driver has won the Chinese Grand Prix more than once: during its seven years of history seven different drivers have won this event, and this time it was Jenson Button's turn. Button's smooth driving style preserved his tyres and he was able to keep up the pace longer than team colleague Lewis Hamilton, who complained his tyres were completely gone by the end of the race. There was one scary moment for Button when the conditions had become treacherous again at the end of the race, as he ran wide at the end of the back straight on lap 51, but was able to continue the race without any damage.

Alonso jumped the start.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Hamilton also drove a superb race, and although he needed one pit stop and one set of intermediates more than Button did, he finished in second place and gave his team the first one-two victory of the season. McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh about the perfect race: "Today's race was seriously challenging for drivers and teams alike. The strategy was very tricky to call correctly, but in the end we probably selected two different strategies that suited Jenson and Lewis very well." Whitmarsh is now determined to keep McLaren's advantage in the drivers and constructors championship, and especially wants his team to improve on qualifying, because the team has been outpaced by the Red Bull team during qualifying of the first four races of this season.

The drivers who didn't panic after the start of the race when the conditions on track changed almost lap by lap, were in the best position to win the race. Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg, Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov stayed out on their slicks, while others pitted to change tyres, some drivers made the wrong tyre choice and a few laps later they had to come in to change tyres again. As expected, Turn 14 at the end of the long back straight was the scene of many overtaking maneuvers, but it was also the place where most drivers at least once went off the track. Hamilton and Alonso were the 'champions in overtaking' of the race, they lost a lot of time by making the wrong tyre choice at the wrong time, but both drivers managed to fight their way into the top four again.

The race

When the lights turned to green, Alonso was in front of the pack, not because he had made a brilliant start, but as video footage later revealed, because he had jumped the start. Alonso said about his jump start: "I made a serious mistake at the start as my reflexes let me down and I left early. It's never happened to me before and I am very disappointed with myself." He was followed by the Red Bull's of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, the Mercedes of Rosberg, and the McLaren's of Button and Hamilton.

At the back of the field, Vitantonio Liuzzi lost control of his Force India and hit Kamui Kobayashi's BMW-Sauber and the Toro Rosso of Sebastien Buemi, and the three of them retired from the race. Buemi had a disastrous weekend, during free practice on Friday both front wheels magically departed his car when he hit the brakes just before Turn 14, causing him to violently crash into the barriers.

The safety car was deployed to clean up the mess Liuzzi had made, and that was the signal for teams to call in their drivers for a tyre change. Only Button, Rosberg, Kubica and Petrov did not pit, which proved to be the key to their success during the Chinese Grand Prix. The race was restarted on lap four, but after one lap many drivers again pitted for new tyres, because they by now realized they had made the wrong tyre call. On lap six Hamilton and Vettel came into the pit lane to change tyres again, but they were seen wheel banging when they left the pit lane, and were later reprimanded by the race stewards for their actions.

Hamilton finally had his battle with Schumacher.
Photo by xpb.cc.

On lap 12 Rosberg was leading Button, Kubica, Petrov, Schumacher, Hamilton, Vettel, Webber and Sutil. By lap 15 Hamilton had closed the gap with Schumacher, and he got what he always had dreamed of: a direct confrontation with seven-times world champion Schumacher. Both were dicing for positions for several laps, but on lap 16 Hamilton won his first fight with Schumacher and passed him. The rain had increased and had made the circuit slippery again, race leader Rosberg made a small mistake and ran wide, Button welcomed the opportunity and passed Rosberg.

Button, Rosberg, Kubica and Petrov were still on slicks, but when on lap 20 Alguersuari lost his front wing, the safety car came out again, and this time they went into the pit lane to change to intermediates. Because most other teams also pitted during the safety car period, the race order didn't really change that much. On lap 24 Button was leading Rosberg, Kubica, Petrov, Schumacher, Vettel, Hamilton, Webber and Sutil.

At the end of lap 25 the race was restarted, Button, still behind the safety car, braked hard at the end of the back straight at Turn 14, his move surprised all other drivers who had to brake hard as well, and Hamilton even had to steer into the grass to avoid hitting other drivers. But it was Button's call, and he accelerated in the final turn for start finish and thus continued to lead the race. Behind the top four Schumacher, Hamilton, Sutil, Alonso and Vettel were battling for positions, while Massa and Webber were in tenth and eleventh position.

The rain again got heavier and because drivers were racing flat out, their intermediate tyres started to loose their grip and on lap 38 there was another round of pit stops. After the stops Hamilton had gained one position, and was now second behind Button, followed by Rosberg, Alonso, Kubica, Vettel, Webber and Schumacher. Hamilton was closing in on Button, but because of Button's smooth driving style, his tyres were in a better shape and Hamilton had to back off to spare his intermediate tyres, which by then looked more like slicks.

Button looked to be cruising to the finish line, but scared his team on the pit wall when he locked both front wheels before Turn 14 and ran wide just five laps before the end of the race. Further down the field Schumacher was overtaken by Petrov in his Renault, and a few laps later also by Massa. Webber made a small mistake and was also passed by Petrov, who drove his best race sofar this season. Button crossed the finish line first followed Hamilton, who had decided to settle for second place, and the Mercedes of Rosberg. For the official race result and standings after the Chinese Grand Prix, see the links a the bottom of this page.

Ferrari lost the lead in the championship

After the race in China Ferrari lost the lead in both the drivers and constructors championship to McLaren. Alonso's jump start cost him five places, and the team's decision to pit very early for tyres was disastrous, just a few laps later both Alonso and Massa had to change tyres again. Massa again proved he is not at his best in rainy conditions, he even had a hard time trying to overtake Alguersuari's Toro Rosso, after that the got stuck behind the Williams of Rubens Barrichello for almost ten laps, and during the last stage of the race he wasn't able to overtake Petrov's Renault. All in all not a good weekend for Ferrari and team principal Stefano Domenicali wants to improve the team's performance during qualifying: "We know that qualifying is really important and we saw that our major competitor seems to be, at least from what we have seen in the times, a little bit better than us on that moment of the weekend."

The 'faster' Duct worked this time

There was no doubt this time that the McLaren F-Duct system is a huge advantage on the straight, and because of the 8 to 10 kilometers extra speed it delivers, Hamilton was able to pass Schumacher and Kubica with ease on the back straight of the Chinese circuit. The system basically stalls the rear wing by a driver-activated air inlet system, and it is believed the system can deliver up to half a second per lap.

This time the F-Duct was a huge advantage for McLaren.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Teams have now three weeks to finish their version of the system, sofar BMW- Sauber is the only team who have successfully copied the design. Williams, Mercedes and Ferrari have tested their design during practice last weekend, but haven't used it during the race. Renault were not happy when the F-Duct was introduced by McLaren, but are now working on the system as well. Most teams are working on the system now, and expect they will have it operational for the race at Barcelona on May 9.

FIA Stewards Report

On Saturday the stewards investigated why Schumacher recorded a fastest middle sector time whilst yellow flags were displayed at the approach to Turn 6, but concluded he had not breached the regulations. Adrian Sutil also recorded a faster sector time during that same yellow flag situation, and after examining the telemetry of the Force India car, the stewards concluded he had failed to reduce his speed and Sutil was reprimanded for not slowing down during a yellow flag situation.

On Sunday HRT driver Karun Chandhok got a five-place start grid penalty because one of the seals of his gearbox was broken. Not that it mattered much, he was already last in qualifying on Saturday. Also on Sunday the stewards investigated the pit lane incident during lap six of the race involving Hamilton and Vettel, and after examining video evidence and hearing both drivers, the stewards decided both drivers were guilty of dangerous driving, and they were officially reprimanded for their actions.

Painful race for Michael Schumacher

Schumacher had a difficult race in China, he was again outpaced by his team mate Rosberg during qualification and the race. He also misjudged the rainy conditions and pitted two times for new tyres, while Rosberg continued on his slicks in the rain until lap 20 before he changed to intermediates. Schumacher had to make a total of four stops, and despite all his experience could not prevent Hamilton, Vettel, Webber, Sutil and Petrov from overtaking him, it was clear the German had problems with his Mercedes, especially when accelerating out of corners.

Painful: Schumacher behind the Renault of Vitaly Petrov.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Schumacher about his race: "Today was one of those races that you do not want to remember, just like the whole weekend really. It was not good for me and not good from me. You have to take it as another experience and accept it even if it is frustrating that I was not able to get my tyres together better. My last stop was probably too early, in the end I just couldn't do anything and my fights were quite hopeless then. Congratulations to Nico who made it to the podium and at least one of us scored good points."

Again impressive performance by Renault

Kubica again showed he is a top-notch racer, and although he lost a few positions during the start, he stayed out in the rain on his slicks until lap 20 before using the safety car period to change to intermediates. He finished in fifth position, and is now seventh in the championship with 40 points. His Russian team mate Petrov also stayed out on slicks, and finished for the first time this season, he took seventh position and scored the first championship points of his Formula One career. Renault team principal Eric Boullier: "To see Vitaly score his first points is fantastic, especially in such spectacular style with a fighting drive where he showed great pace. It's good for him to have a race distance under his belt and I'm sure he will take a lot of confidence from this excellent result."

A disappointing race for the new teams

Again a disappointing performance by the new teams, Virgin drivers Timo Glock and Lucas di Grassi started from the pit lane, Glock didn't even survive the first lap because of an engine failure, while Di Grassi retired after seven laps when he had a clutch problem. Lotus driver Jarno Trulli retired after 26 laps with a hydraulics failure, but Finn Heikki Kovalainen finished the race in 14th position, one lap behind the winner of the race. HRT drivers Karun Chandhok and Bruno Senna again finished the race, albeit with 2 and 4 laps respectively behind the leaders. Colin Kolles, team principal, commented: "A good day for the team completing our second two- car finish in the rain in our fourth race. We gathered quite a lot of data on this track that can be used for the European season. Now in the three weeks to come, we must work on more developments for the team's home Grand Prix in Barcelona."

Back to Europe

The complete Formula One circus will now travel back to Europe, but with the ashes of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallaj?kull still in the skies over Europe, this could be a problem for some teams, especially the ones based in Great Britain. But more and more European airports are back in business again, and it is expected there will be only a few minor delays for the teams. They will be returning to the circuit where all teams have tested in February earlier this year: the Circuito de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain. Most teams will bring many major car updates to Barcelona, and as history has proved over and over again, the first four 'fly-away' races of the season are just the beginning, in Europe the Formula One season will really kick off.

See also: Chinese GP: Race results
See also: Standings after Chinese GP

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Jarno Trulli , Jenson Button , Michael Schumacher , Rubens Barrichello , Mark Webber , Lewis Hamilton , Nico Rosberg , Heikki Kovalainen , Karun Chandhok , Vitantonio Liuzzi , Robert Kubica , Lucas di Grassi , Sebastian Vettel , Bruno Senna , Kamui Kobayashi , Adrian Sutil , Sébastien Buemi , Colin Kolles , Vitaly Petrov , Martin Whitmarsh
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Force India , Toro Rosso , Williams