Chinese GP: Winners and Losers

Date published: April 16 2012

Nico Rosberg surprised the world and himself by winning in Shanghai, while the heros of Sepang suffered…

Nico Rosberg surprised the world and himself by winning in Shanghai, while the heros of Sepang suffered…

Chinese GP Spectators
The Chinese Grand Prix grandstands were joyously full on Sunday and they got the best grand prix since Canada in 2011. It was a slowburn drama that built in intensity with little happening at first and then exploding into life after Lap 45 when Grosjean and Maldonado decided to renew the acquaintance they first enjoyed in Melbourne. In fact it was interesting watching the frontrunners early on because they were so close and easily within DRS contact – Raikkonen and Perez were at one stage just 0.4 and 0.5 behind the two McLarens, but nobody wanted to stuff up their tyres. One of the reasons this column gets in so shockingly late on a Sunday night is because its author has to watch the latest episode of Homeland, which is a drama brilliant at springing surprises – and the Chinese Grand Prix drama had the twist that Mercedes made their tyres last faultlessly till the end of the race, surprising even the driver on board. Plus we had the twist of Kimi Raikkonen falling from 2nd to 12th in just two laps without going off track. Thank you Pirelli.

Star of the Race
Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, 1st
Rosberg’s qualifying lap in Q3 was so good it should have been worth more than the few extra metres it gave him between himself and P2 on the grid. Given that 0.3 of a second separated the top ten at the end of Q2, to suddenly go 0.5 better than the next car – which had two attempts at beating his time and couldn’t – was sublime.
He got the most perfect start, pulled away from his team-mate at about 0.5 of a second lap – by Lap 9 the gap to Schumi was 4.7 seconds – and from then on it was a question of managing his pace with one eye in the mirror. Before the race Ross Brawn had said that the tyre degradation issues his cars had suffered in the first two races had been fixed and nobody quite believed him, including Nico. Certainly the track at 24 and 23’C during the race helped their cause, but to actually outlast most of the other runners? Nobody was expecting that. Presumably the strategists at Mercedes are going through the track temperature data for the remaining races of the season.

Overtaking Move of the Race
Lap 45: Romain Grosjean/Pastor Maldonado/Sergio Perez
This is a bit similar to the situation we had with Webber and Hamilton in Korea last year where there was an overtaking move made by Mark on Lewis that lasted for several corners and didn’t quite come off thanks to Hamilton’s spirited defence. This incident kicked off when Romain Grosjean felt the old gravel magnets pulling at his Lotus and like a dowsing rod close to water his car was pulled off track allowing Maldonado to close up behind. The Venezuelan thought he might take a place off the Franco-Swiss and they ran side by side through Turns 12 and 13, making contact and losing wing elements as they did so. Grosjean seemed to have rebutted Maldonado but Pastor got his DRS flap open as down the straight they went, the Williams steaming alongside the Lotus. At the same time Sergio Perez decided he wanted to get past Maldonado and so they all headed for the hairpin, together.
Perez backed off and just when you thought Maldonado was going to make do with keeping the very-speedy-in-a-straight-line Sauber at bay he jagged up the inside of Grosjean and stole a place. The crafty Grosjean ran deep allowing Maldonado room to get his car stopped (at the same time keeping an eye on the fact that Maldonado might have misjudged his braking completely) then nipped back on the inside line and used the superior traction of the Lotus to regain his position.

Winners
Jenson Button, McLaren, 2nd
The gap of 20+ seconds at the end was a big margin but it would have been less than 14 seconds if Jenson had enjoyed a normal pitstop and probably a lot closer if he’d been able to close on Rosberg instead of sit behind Raikkonen and Vettel. Then we would have seen exactly how much rubber was left on the canvas of Nico’s tyres at the end. It was a good race for Jenson helped by the fact that Lewis had to start two places behind him. He won’t be able to guarantee that every race.

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, 3rd
Lewis was unusually tentative in Shanghai. He tried a move on Mark Webber into Turn 1 that didn’t come off, made a less-than-convincing pass on Felipe Massa into Turn 6 and struggled to get past Sebastian Vettel despite his ailing tyres. He also had to get a bit creative with his line after he overtook Vettel. Lewis probably reasoned that if Vettel could make a double move on him – once on the back straight running to the hairpin and then once again after he saw Lewis was still coming – then he could do it too. In fact he only got past Mark Webber when Webbo went off in his battle with Raikkonen.

Mark Webber, Red Bull, 4th
Another poor start to add to the collection, but a strong recovery and some great defending – Raikkonen/Hamilton and some fantastic overtaking – round the outside of Sebastian Vettel at Turn 14 was a collector’s item. As Mark admitted after the race: “It’s all a bit of a blur. It was an interesting race, I enjoyed most of it.” But not the flying bit.

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, 5th
Considering he was 14th at the end of the opening lap – P5 was a strong recovery. Like a city banker dossing on the streets he found himself in unfamiliar company: “At the start I nearly lost a position to the Caterhams…which was interesting.”

Romain Grosjean, Lotus, 6th
A great result for Grosjean and one he really needed having completed fewer grand prix laps than the Safety Car up until this Sunday. Given his predilection for contact with Maldonado it’s amazing he finished the race as strongly as he did.

Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna, Williams, 8th and 7th
The onboard camera on Pastor Maldonado’s Williams must have aged considerably during that race, he was always getting involved in something or other and was prepared to take no prisoners. We’re not saying he’s into threesomes or anything but on two occasions he found himself three abreast with cars going round The Shang and neither of these times was the opening lap. What could have turned out badly was when he, Fernando Alonso and Kamui Kobayashi crossed the line together on Lap 54 and homed in on Turn 1. The timing screens flashed up that there was 0.00 difference between all three of them. Thankfully Kobayashi got off the gas at the last minute and a pile-up was avoided.
The less spectacular Bruno Senna accepted being overtaken more readily, although he was fortunate to get away with a strong opening lap impact with Felipe Massa’s blameless Ferrari.

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, 13th
I know purists may be saying Felipe scored no points, but he was a lot closer to Fernando Alonso this race.