Hamilton on top in Shanghai stunner - Chinese GP report

By on Sunday, April 17, 2011

If Malaysia provided Formula One with a great race, then China was even better. There was no need for rain, no need for Safety Cars and no need for controversial collisions. The new rules worked and Lewis Hamilton emerged victorious in an unpredictable race, when the tables turned in favour of various drivers throughout the 56 laps.

Sebastian Vettel’s pole lap suggested that if he got to the first corner with his lead intact, it would be very difficult for anyone to stop him. As it was, he didn’t and we had a race on our hands. When the five lights were extinguished, Vettel bogged down. There were no issues with the KERS; it was just a poor start by the reigning world champion. It was hopeless to defend against Button as he was already in the lead, but Vettel pushed Hamilton as much as he could to no avail. Lewis kept his foot in it and McLaren had a 1-2. Nico Rosberg eventually backed down after challenging Vettel throughout the first sequence of corners and the German had to defend against the Ferrari’s, with Felipe Massa once again jumping ahead of Fernando Alonso at the start.

Button maintained a gap back to Hamilton, who was managing a gap back to Vettel. Throughout the first stint, there was never more than two seconds between the duo, whilst Rosberg headed Massa and Alonso a couple of seconds further back. Mercedes pitted Rosberg on Lap 12 which turned out to be a tactical masterstroke by Ross Brawn as he emerged in clear air and on fresher tyres. Hamilton’s pace was fading and was passed by Sebastian Vettel, who used the DRS to maximum effect into the hairpin. Surprisingly, it was Button who pitted first, which left Hamilton hanging onto his car for another lap. The battle between Button and Vettel was sorted in bizarre fashion. Button pulled into Vettel’s pit box, forcing the mechanics to frantically wave him forwards to the McLaren box, one garage down. The time lost cost Button his position to Vettel.

After the pit stops, Rosberg led Vettel by five seconds, with Button, Massa and Hamilton chasing behind. The difference was that Vettel and Massa were committed to a two stop strategy, whilst the Mercedes powered cars were going to be stopping three times.

After the next set of stops, Vettel led Massa, Rosberg, Button and Hamilton and it was from here that the Brit set about his quest for victory. After almost colliding at the final turn, Hamilton got better traction onto the pit straight and dived up the inside of his team mate into Turn 1 on Lap 36. He went on to pass Rosberg later round the lap and then slipped by Massa on Lap 44.

Hamilton caught Vettel on Lap 50, but the German was wise to Hamilton’s advances and defended his line brilliantly out of the hairpin, forcing the McLaren to try a different approach. Hamilton saved his KERS and rather than use it at Turn 3, he applied it out of Turn 6 and gained better traction than Vettel, sweeping inside the RB7 at Turn 7 on the 52nd lap. It was an amazing turnaround for the team, after Hamilton had been just half a minute from failing to make the grid, as his car suffered a monumental problem with the fuel system half an hour before the start of the race.

Behind Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel was safe in second as Button couldn’t sustain the necessary pace to mount a challenge. Mark Webber though was a man on fire and delivered once of the best drivers of his career. Having started 18th and run wide early on, he put his head down and carved huge chunks out of the top 5, sometimes lapping three seconds faster than them when in clear air. He caught and passed Massa and Rosberg, before nabbing Button on the penultimate lap to take the final podium spot.

Massa was 6th but once again finished ahead of Alonso, who simply lacked pace and suffered from traffic after his pit stops. He was involved in a race long duel with Michael Schumacher, whose pace was encouraging as he finished just six tenths shy of the Ferrari.

Vitaly Petrov had a quiet run to 9th, with Kamui Kobayashi taking the final point in 10th. Paul di Resta ran in the points for a considerable part of the race but faded towards the end and collided with Nick Heidfeld on the final lap. The other Force India of Adrian Sutil had a difficult race, not helped by Sergio Perez, who clattered into the German at Turn 1. It was a disappointing day for Perez as he was penalised for the contact and came home a lowly 17th. Williams had a similarly awful day as they lacked pace, Rubens Barrichello 13th and Pastor Maldonado only 18th. Heikki Kovalainen declared the race as Lotus’ best yet in terms of pace as he was lapping faster than Maldonado and finished ahead of him on merit, whilst Jarno Trulli’s best lap was faster than Fernando Alonso’s. Toro Rosso’s stellar qualifying performance turned out to be wasted as Jaime Alguersuari’s pace early on was woeful whilst Sebastien Buemi also made little impression on the race. Alguersuari was the only retirement of the day after his right rear wheel fell off after not being secured at his pit stop. Thankfully, the wheel bounced harmlessly into the fencing at Turn 2.

At the back, Virgin finished ahead of HRT but in both cases it was the more inexperienced driver that emerged on top. Jerome D’Ambrosio came home 20th with Timo Glock 21st, whilst Narain Karthikeyan was 22nd – after stopping just the once – ahead of the last runner, Vitantonio Liuzzi, who received a drive through penalty for jumping the start.

It was one of the best dry races in memory, with the race winner passing seven cars – including a battle for the lead – on his way to victory.

What more could we ask for?

The Chinese Grand Prix
Shanghai International Circuit, China;
56 laps; 305.066km;
Weather: Sunny.

Classified:

Pos  Driver        Team                       Time
 1.  Hamilton      McLaren-Mercedes           1h36:58.226
 2.  Vettel        Red Bull-Renault           +     5.198
 3.  Webber        Red Bull-Renault           +     7.555
 4.  Button        McLaren-Mercedes           +    10.000
 5.  Rosberg       Mercedes                   +    13.448
 6.  Massa         Ferrari                    +    15.840
 7.  Alonso        Ferrari                    +    30.622
 8.  Schumacher    Mercedes                   +    31.206
 9.  Petrov        Renault                    +    57.404
10.  Kobayashi     Sauber-Ferrari             +  1:03.273
11.  Di Resta      Force India-Mercedes       +  1:08.757
12.  Heidfeld      Renault                    +  1:12.739
13.  Barrichello   Williams-Cosworth          +  1:30.189
14.  Buemi         Toro Rosso-Ferrari         +  1:30.671
15.  Sutil         Force India-Mercedes       +     1 lap
16.  Kovalainen    Lotus-Renault              +     1 lap
17.  Perez         Sauber-Ferrari             +     1 lap
18.  Maldonado     Williams-Cosworth          +     1 lap
19.  Trulli        Lotus-Renault              +     1 lap
20.  D'Ambrosio    Virgin-Cosworth            +    2 laps
21.  Glock         Virgin-Cosworth            +    2 laps
22.  Karthikeyan   HRT-Cosworth               +    2 laps
23.  Liuzzi        HRT-Cosworth               +    2 laps

Fastest lap: Webber, 1:38.993

Not classified/retirements:

Driver        Team                         On lap
Alguersuari   Toro Rosso-Ferrari           12 - Wheel fell off

Drivers:                    Constructors:             
 1.  Vettel        68        1.  Red Bull-Renault          105
 2.  Hamilton      47        2.  McLaren-Mercedes           85
 3.  Button        38        3.  Ferrari                    50
 4.  Webber        37        4.  Renault                    32
 5.  Alonso        26        5.  Mercedes                   16
 6.  Massa         24        6.  Sauber-Ferrari              7
 7.  Petrov        17        7.  Toro Rosso-Ferrari          4
 8.  Heidfeld      15        8.  Force India-Mercedes        4
 9.  Rosberg       10
10.  Kobayashi      7
11.  Schumacher     6
12.  Buemi          4
13.  Di Resta       2
14.  Sutil          2

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