Rosberg a winner at last: Chinese GP analysis

By on Sunday, April 15, 2012

Nico Rosberg joins the list of F1 winners

A couple of weeks ago in this column, I pondered whether Nico Rosberg really has what it takes to become a grand prix winner. Rosberg had always been a nearly man, squandering his best chances and falling at the final hurdle. A rather unflattering nickname, ‘Mr Seventh’, had also been floated around following his position in the World Drivers Championship for the past three seasons. Following his commanding victory in the Chinese Grand Prix, beating Jenson Button by twenty seconds, he has proved his doubters wrong. Now he has to take that next step and mount a title challenge in a car that is good, if not the best in the field.

It came as no surprise that Rosberg’s first pole and victory came at the Chinese Grand Prix. He has performed well in Shanghai in the past, battling for the win in 2010 and leading a significant chunk of the race in 2011, but the manner in which he took pole position and controlled the race was perhaps a little bit surprising. If anything its left the F1 paddock even more perplexed, despite three rounds of the 2012 championship having been run.

Pre-season it was reported that Mercedes has a very narrow window in which the tyres operate adequately. In Australia the W03 was eating its tyres, while in Malaysia they simply couldn’t get them up to temperature. The Chinese Grand Prix provided the perfect opportunity for their tyres to work properly, while Rosberg’s pace flattered the car. Rosberg’s pole lap was as close to perfect as he could ever wish for and he backed that up by making a supreme start and pulling away from the rest of the field. There was a brief moment when it looked like he could be under threat from a three stopping Jenson Button, but a problem for McLaren in the pits left Rosberg way out in front. The German stayed calm and used his two stop strategy to absolute perfection, bar a brief moment when he ran wide at Turn 5 early on in the race.

It was close between McLaren and Red Bull

It was disappointing for the team to see Michael Schumacher retire with a wheel nut problem for his pace was good enough for him to finish as runner-up to Rosberg. The next few races might be tricky for Mercedes if the W03 cannot preserve its tyres, so it will be interesting to see whether China is a one-off, or a genuine representation of the pace of the Silver Arrows.

For McLaren, the Chinese Grand Prix was a case of damage limitation right from the moment Lewis Hamilton was handed a five place penalty on Thursday. With Jenson Button qualifying only fifth, there were some long faces down at the Woking based team. Both drivers made gains at the start, although McLaren made Jenson Button’s job far harder than it needed to be after a slow third pit stop. Nevertheless, both drivers remained calm and were rewarded with a trophy each for their efforts. Leading both championships will be positive, considering the poor start to the season they made last year, while Lewis Hamilton emphasised that he is happy with his consistency, having taken three third places. However, there may be some disappointment that their lead isn’t greater considering the trials of Ferrari and Red Bull.

There’s no doubt that Sebastian Vettel envisaged more than fifth place when he arrived in Shanghai. His worst qualifying session since 2009 left him eleventh on the grid and it got worse when he fluffed the start to drop to fifteenth, having almost been wiped out by Pastor Maldonado at the first corner. Vettel was further hindered by the poor straight line speed of the RB8 and had to remain patient to leapfrog the midfield runners. He performed well to climb up to second place, but was powerless to resist the McLarens and Mark Webber, even if he did put up a valiant fight. Speaking of Webber, it was another fourth place for the Australian, who appears to be enjoying his racing again. Webber was perhaps fortunate that a hair-raising airborne moment didn’t leave either him or his car with any damage and he remains handily placed behind the McLarens in the championship.

Photo credit: Red Bull GEPA

Fernando Alonso added a couple of points to his tally to keep his slim title hopes alive. The pace of the F2012 was finally revealed in China, although Alonso should have been higher up after running out of road at Turn 7. Felipe Massa was once again out of the points, although the competitiveness of the field meant he was only a few seconds behind Alonso when the chequered flag fell. In fact, thirty seconds separated Jenson Button in second and Jean Eric Vergne in sixteenth, a remarkable figure considering there was no appearance from the Safety Car. Lotus should have left Shanghai with more points but Kimi Raikkonen was left out for too long on worn tyres. The Iceman didn’t help his own chances by running wide, but dropping from second to fourteenth in a matter was quite frankly remarkable and highlighted how close the teams are this year.

Ahead of Sir Frank Williams’s 70th birthday, Bruno Senna and Pastor Maldonado gave him an early present after finishing seventh and eighth – the Venezuelan’s best result – that included an epic scrap with Romain Grosjean. Maldonado and Grosjean came to blows in Australia and scrapped for well over half a lap in which they made contact twice. The Frenchman survived the battle to record his best ever result and first points courtesy of a sixth place finish. After starring in Malaysia, Sauber contrived to throw away the chance of a decent haul of points. A poor pit strategy, plus a couple of mistakes from Perez, meant they left China with just a single point after Kobayashi finished tenth. Force India and Scuderia Toro Rosso had a fairly anonymous race, while the bottom three teams appear to be making some progress.

So celebrations all around for Nico Rosberg and Mercedes after the German takes to the top step of the podium at his 111th attempt. The Bahrain Grand Prix takes place next weekend with several teams fighting for the victory. However, so long as the fighting occurs on track – and without any dangerous moments – Formula One will head back to Europe satisfied.

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