Chinese GP - Sunday - Race Report
Button rains on Red Bull parade
Reigning champion Jenson Button moved to the top of the world championship table when he headed team mate Lewis Hamilton to a 1-2 finish for McLaren in another dramatic mixed conditions race in Shanghai.
The race started in light rain with the whole field on slick tyres and the foundation of Button's win came when he elected to stay out while many of his main rivals pitted for intermediate tyres. When the rain abated the intermediates wore relatively quickly and those drivers who had stayed out - Rosberg, Button, Kubica and Petrov - found themselves in the pound seats.
Button, who has an instinctive feel for grip level and is relatively easy on his tyres via his smooth style, took the lead from Rosberg on lap 19 and opened up a small gap. He looked to be sitting pretty for a relatively straightforward win until a Safety Car deployed for debris on the track closed the whole field back up.
That was a good break for Fernando Alonso, who had taken the lead from third on the grid via a jumped start and had to serve a Drive Through penalty. The Spaniard was also among those who elected to stop early for intermediates and had to go back onto slicks, meaning that his race featured no less than five visits to the pits! To get the car home fourth from there was only possible after another typically charging drive from the 2005-6 champion.
The Ferrari finished the race tucked under the rear wing of third-placed Rosberg's Mercedes and Nico admitted that he had not been confident of holding Alonso off. "Basically my tyres were gone," he smiled, "and judging from the speed Fernando arrived I knew he was in much better shape, so I'm pleased with the podium."
Alonso's race included a controversial moment when the rain arrived for the second time around lap 20, prompting everyone to pile into the pits to go back onto intermediates. Alonso passed his team mate on the inside coming into the pit lane, ensuring it was Felipe and not himself who was stacked and lost time when they reached the pit. Judging from the volume of radio traffic between Massa and race engineer Rob Smedley when they rejoined, clearly the Brazilian was deeply unimpressed!
The race was something of a disaster for Red Bull Racing, which had locked out the front row and, of course, scored a dominant 1-2 in similar conditions in China last year. With Webber ahead on the road when the decision to change to intermediate tyres was made, Vettel found himself stacked behind his team mate in the pits and lost time, with Webber also losing out later in the race during the Safety Car restart when he was edged off the road approaching the last corner as they jostled for position at the restart.
Webber had apparently opted for more rear wing in anticipation of the rain and with the Renault engine not the most powerful on the grid and Red Bull as yet without a stall wing, the Australian found himself somewhat easy meat for the likes of Lewis Hamilton on the straight. He also lost time early in the race when he was unable to follow Hamilton past Michael Schumacher.
That though, was perhaps not surprising given Hamilton's comments after his first experience of wheel-to-wheel combat with the seven times champion. Lewis eventually found his way by, but said: "I've got to say, Michael was very aggressive. Probably the most aggressive driver I've ever gone up against. And that's putting it politely..."
Webber looked deflated after the race, another in which Red Bull has displayed superiority in qualifying but failed to turn it into strong points on race day. "Basically we got blown away," he said. "We know why and we'll work hard to put it right," he said, diplomatically failing to elaborate. As well as lacking straightline speed, the Red Bull also appeared to wear its front tyres at quite a high rate.
Fifth-placed Kubica's entire weekend was error free once again and while he was happy to score strong points the Pole was frustrated that the advantage gained from the correct tyre call at the start was wiped out by the Safety Car, ultimately losing him positions to Hamilton and Alonso and costing him what could have been a podium finish. Team mate Petrov also made the right tyre decisions and was one of the standouts of the race, unintimidated by F1's star names and scoring his first F1 points with a fine seventh place as he battled past Schumacher and Webber in the closing stages having looked after his intermediate tyres.
"To see Vitaly score his first points is fantastic, especially in such spectacular style after a drive in which he showed great pace," said Renault team principal Eric Boullier.
A lacklustre weekend from Schumacher, in which he qualified three-quarters of a second down on Rosberg and then finished 50s down on his team mate in conditions many suspected would be made for him, was one of the talking points of the weekend.
Schumacher had a lot of rear tyre degradation in the dry and also seemed to struggle for traction in the wet conditions of the race, unable to get early on the throttle like he always used to. Mercedes vice president Norbert Haug defended his star signing, however, refusing to eliminate car handling problems for Schumacher until there has been a thorough investigation.
"It was a busy race with some positive emotions, but also a lot more negative ones..." a tight-lipped Schumacher admitted.
With the flyaway races now over and F1 heading back to the Spanish GP at Barcelona on May 9 (volcanoes and airline schedules permitting!), Button now has a 10 point championship lead over Rosberg, 60 to 50, with Alonso and Hamilton on 49, Vettel on 41 and Kubica, 40. McLaren Mercedes has a 19 point margin over Ferrari in the constructors chase after the team's first 1-2 finish since Monza 2007. Red Bull Racing, despite having clearly the quickest car in dry conditions, is 36 points off the pace.