Red Bulls left trailing after early race pit stop chaos
Rewind back to before the first race of the season in Bahrain. If you said at that point that one champion would be 50 points ahead of another, whilst the other two would be equal 3rd, you may not have been too surprised. However, how many people would have reckoned that Jenson Button would be leading whilst Michael Schumacher would be trailing in the distance after four dismal performances. As for Lewis Hamilton, he has been more consistent than his team mate in the races (3-6-6-2 compared to 7-1-8-1) but he has less points and has stirred up his fellow racers with his somewhat aggressive driving style and whilst it won’t be long before he wins, can he cope with a team mate who is much better than many predicted? He says they work well as a team but it’s still early on in a very long season. And what about Nico Rosberg and Robert Kubica? Both have finished on the podium driving inferior cars to their rivals. Rosberg especially has been impressive and that maiden win can't be too far away. As far Kubica, he may well have been in Rosberg's position but for an aggressive Force India in Bahrain.
Throughout the week preceding the race, rain had been predicted for the race but after qualifying, it seemed as if there was no question that Red Bull would romp into the distance, much like they did 12 months previously. Race day dawned dry and it stayed like this until minutes before the start when the rain began to fall. With the formation lap getting ever nearer, the teams had to make a decision – Inters or dry tyres? 23 drivers decided that it was too dry and the one that didn’t – Glock –retired before the start with a suspected hydraulics issue.
At the start, Fernando Alonso’s reflexes got the better of him as he went before the lights went out. He led the first lap but he knew he was going to receive a penalty for his misdemeanour. It wasn’t the only drama on the opening lap. Under braking for Turn 4, Vitantonio Luizzi lost control of his Force India and collected Sebastien Buemi who was in turn clouted by Kamui Kobayashi. Liuzzi was disappointed after his crash, saying ‘It was a shame as we had had a really good start and gained three positions in just the first corner and it could have been a very interesting race, particularly with how the conditions panned out’. If he was disappointed, then the rivals whom he eliminated were more frustrated as Buemi was set up for a wet race and Kobayashi retired for a fourth race in a row.
Adrian Sutil, Rubens Barrichello and Jaime Alguersuari also received repairs in the pits following the clash whilst Nico Hulkenberg did well to negotiate the stranded cars.
With debris littering the track, the safety car was deployed and with the rain increasing in intensity, both Red Bull’s, both Ferrari’s, Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher gambled on Intermediates. Sebastian Vettel lost out dearly in the pit stops as he was queued behind Webber. The Australian had managed to get the jump at the start as Vettel had a slow getaway, Webber’s payback for Malaysia.
Initially, it looked like the gamble worked a trick as Alonso and others were picking their way through the drivers who had stayed out on slicks. But within a few laps, the Intermediates were cooked as the rain hadn’t fallen like the radars said it would. Up front, Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button had stayed out on the slick tyres with which they started the race on and were already lapping faster than Alonso.
Those who pitted returned to the pits for slicks, leaving Rosberg, Button, Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov a mile ahead of the rest of the field. During the stops, Hamilton was released into the path of Vettel. They raced each other down the pit lane and as the German was edging Lewis into the Williams mechanics, eyebrows were raised. Many believed that McLaren were at fault, but both drivers received a reprimand after the race, Lewis’ second in as many events.
Back at the front, Rosberg led Button by around 3 seconds but after twenty laps the rain began to fall heavier and the Mercedes GP slid wide, allowing Button to close behind him down the back straight and glide past without problem.
Within a few laps, everyone was in the pits and had switched to Intermediates. However, the likes of Vettel, Massa and Alonso were still lurking back in the midfield, around 50-70 seconds behind the leader. The only driver who had made substantial gains was Hamilton, but he was still a fair distance behind the top four, with the Renault’s still running strongly in third and fourth.
The outcome of the race was to change when the safety car was deployed again after Jaime Alguersuari hit the back of Bruno Senna’s HRT when he was attempting to lap him. The Toro Rosso’s front wing was lying across the track and the race officials had no other option than to bunch the cars up behind the safety car. In the conditions on a relatively blind bend, it would have been far too dangerous for the marshals to clear the debris. As well as this, the incidents in qualifying for last year’s Japanese Grand Prix would have played in Charlie Whiting’s mind.
At the restart, Button bunched the field so much that team mate Hamilton was forced onto the grass at the final corner. With the new rules for 2010, drivers no longer have to wait until the start/finish line to overtake rivals. Instead, drivers may now pass from the last safety car line, which at the Shanghai circuit is just prior to the final corner. Vettel attempted to take advantage of this to mug Hamilton, but he only succeeded in pushing the McLaren into his team mate and Webber was forced wide, dropping to 11th. The Australian was not happy, complaining about Hamilton on his team radio, not realising that it was his own team mate at fault.
Hamilton once again made gains which included a titanic battle with Michael Schumacher – something which many fans have waited for years to see. In the end, it was obvious that Hamilton was the quicker driver as Schumacher had struggled for traction in the W01 all weekend and the wet conditions were only exacerbating his situation. Hamilton made a brilliant pass through Turns 8 and 9, something which he repeated on Petrov a few laps later.
Aside from spins from Vitaly Petrov and Karun Chandhok, the final 15 laps were relatively calm. Jenson Button gave his team a scare when he slid wide at the hairpin, setting up a tense finish as Lewis Hamilton hunted him down to close to within 1.5 seconds of his team mate at the flag.
Behind them, Nico Rosberg took his second consecutive podium as he didn’t have the pace to challenge the McLaren’s, but he had no problem with keeping Fernando Alonso at bay. The Spaniard was a very lucky man, stopping four times and taking a drive through penalty for his jump start. Without Alguersuari, Fernando may well have been out of the points.
The Red Bull’s were a sorry sixth and eighth, Webber saying after the race that they simply weren’t quick enough – an open and frank admission.
Renault once again had a good day in the office as Kubica was 5th and Petrov was 7th, collecting his first points in Formula One.
As for the other drivers, Pedro de La Rosa retired with an engine failure whilst the Lotus’ team were pleased to see Kovalainen ahead of Hulkenberg but less pleased to see Trulli once again bear the brunt of their reliability issues. Lucas di Grassi didn’t last the distance and the HRT’s finished 16th and 17th.
Code: Select all
Pos Driver Team Time
1. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1h44:42.163
2. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 1.530
3. Rosberg Mercedes + 9.484
4. Alonso Ferrari + 11.869
5. Kubica Renault + 22.213
6. Vettel Red Bull-Renault + 33.310
7. Petrov Renault + 47.600
8. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 52.172
9. Massa Ferrari + 57.796
10. Schumacher Mercedes + 1:01.749
11. Sutil Force India-Mercedes + 1:02.874
12. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth + 1:03.665
13. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1:11.416
14. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth + 1 lap
15. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth + 1 lap
16. Senna HRT-Cosworth + 2 laps
17. Chandhok HRT-Cosworth + 4 laps
Fastest lap: Hamilton, 1:42.061
Driver Team Lap/Reason
Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 27 – Hydraulics (Again)
Di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 9 - Everything
De la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 8 – Engine (Again)
Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1 – Liuzzi
Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1 – Liuzzi
Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1 - Himself
Glock Virgin-Cosworth 0 – Gave up