By: Hannah Taylor, F1 Correspondent
A weekend of two halves
As qualifying for the Formula One 2011 Chinese Grand Prix came to a close yesterday, it was looking like the same old story. Sebastian Vettel once again hit the headlines for his outstanding performance, and secured his 18th career pole position. On his side of the Red Bull garage things were looking up, as the German was aiming to make it three out of three with pole positions to race victories. For Vettel’s team-mate, however, the situation looked bleak down in 18th place on the grid.
The sport is famous for being unpredictable, and in a race anything can happen. How things can change in the space of 24 hours is almost unbelievable.
The reigning World Champion may have set his sights on the top spot of the podium, but Vettel’s closest rivals were true to form with their racing talents as well. Vettel did not get off to the best start from the outset, allowing Jenson Button to make the most of the opportunity to slip past. Button’s Mclaren team-mate and fellow World Champion, Lewis Hamilton, followed suit, which led them to break away from their rival. In the closing stages of the Grand Prix, Hamilton had the better pace and was able to snatch the lead from Vettel while on a different pit strategy. This resulted in Hamilton taking the victory over Vettel, who was prevented from getting a trio of victories in the opening races of the season.
“My start was not the best and for some reason it seems the left hand side of the grid is worse here than the right hand side. It wasn’t brilliant and I lost positions to Jenson and Lewis… The middle stint should really have been a little longer, but at the end of the race I found myself out on the hard tyre and could see Lewis coming closer and closer. I tried to defend as best I could, without losing too much time to the guys behind, but he found his way past,” explained Vettel.
Although qualifying means the drivers battle it out for position, if today is anything to go by, it just shows how much closer it can be in the race. It is also interesting to see this change in performance, between the Red Bull and Mclaren drivers. The former look very much in control one day, and the next it’s a complete change of fortune.
As the eventful race demonstrated, the timing of the pit stops was one of the contributory factors towards the final outcome. At times different drivers temporarily took the lead, when the front-runners on the track had to pit. The lead was shared between the top title competitors, like Vettel, Button, Hamilton, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, and surprisingly an outsider, in the form of Mercedes Grand Prix’s Nico Rosberg.
In particular for the 2011 season, there are a few more gadgets, rules and tyre wear to consider when it comes to a race situation. It is the strategy between the drivers and their teams, which can either win or lose them a race, or at least the final position to gain some points.
For a couple of the title contenders, there was uncertainty facing them before the race had even begun. Webber had already suffered problems with his car over the weekend, and on race day it was no different. He explained before the start that he had KERS finally working, and was going to attempt to use it. His performance and battle to move forward early on in the Grand Prix was moving steadily, until it was reported on lap 24 via the team radio that he had, “No KERS for now.” The Australian did not seem to let it faze him, and he drove his way to the front of the field. He battled for position along the way with several drivers, and in the end his perseverance paid off. Webber managed to grab third place from Button on the penultimate lap. As Webber demonstrated he was able to get where he wanted to be, even without the use of KERS on his car.
To see P17 on your board after 15 laps you think it might not happen, but suddenly I felt very comfortable with the car.
“To see P17 on your board after 15 laps you think it might not happen, but suddenly I felt very comfortable with the car. I had a few sets of tyres left from qualifying, so that helped – and maybe that’s the way to do it! Miss qualifying and go from there! But, all joking aside, I think the guys have done an incredible job – it’s a back to back race and we haven’t had the smoothest run with my car, but I haven’t given up,” said a very satisfied Webber.
On the other hand, for Hamilton and his race mechanics they faced a tense time in the Mclaren garage. Before the Englishman had even made it onto the track, it was discovered that fuel had flooded the engine. The team worked fast to overcome the situation, and replaced the engine air filter. Consequently, Hamilton got into the swing of things once he got racing, and was rewarded in the end with the victory.
Hamilton described his feelings before the race, when he faced a few technical difficulties, and his thoughts on taking a surprising win.
“I didn’t question what was going on, I just wanted to stay calm and not add to everyone’s stress. When I finally left the garage, I drove down the pit lane watching the light and hoped it wouldn’t turn red – and it didn’t! It’s never been that close before… At the end it was tough to get passed Sebastian – even though he was getting slower, he never looked like getting out of shape. It was always going to be difficult following him onto the back straight, so I wanted to get him before then – I wasn’t expecting to overtake where I did, but I had the grip to keep ahead, and I made it stick.”
With the tables turning to favour Hamilton over Vettel, the Drivers’ Standings is still a close battle between the top six. Vettel remains at the top though, and leads from Hamilton by 21 points. Button is only nine points behind his team-mate and is next in third place. Just like Button and Webber being close together in the race, their points difference separating the two drivers is only by one. While the Ferrari duo of Alonso and Massa, are two points adrift from each other. Alonso is ahead in fifth place, and his Brazilian team mate is in sixth position.
As a result of the two Red Bull’s outnumbering Hamilton on the podium, they are still charging away with the lead in the Constructor’s Championship. Mclaren are currently trailing Red Bull by 20 points. Ferrari are in third place and 35 points away from second position.