The Chinese Grand Prix proved to be another thriller, with wheel to wheel racing, right up to the final lap. Formula 1’s stop in Shanghai, wraps up the first Asia leg of the 2012 season, as the teams head to Bahrain this week
2012 is already shaping up to be a fantastic and extremely unpredictable season. I had no idea what to expect, going into today’s race and it really was anybody’s game. Mercedes had a fantastic qualifying session on Saturday, with Nico Rosberg finally getting his first pole. Michael Schumacher qualified a respectable 3rd, but started on the front row in 2nd, after Lewis Hamilton received a 5 grid spot penalty, for a gear box change.
Rosberg got off to a great start and was helped by Schumacher, in keeping the rest of the pack behind, while building the gap. It was teamwork in its purest form and Rosberg’s resulting early lead, was maintained across the finish, where he secured his first career win. It was also the first win for Mercedes, as a constructor since 1955, with Juan Manuel Fangio behind the wheel. I expected to see the Silver Arrows eating through the tires, but Rosberg did a great job maintaining his tire degradation, throughout the race.
Mercedes’s day wasn’t all smiles though. Michael Schumacher had to retire early after the W03’s right, front wheel nut wasn’t screwed down. Mercedes weren’t the only team to suffer from pit stop errors. The boys from McLaren showed up, for a Malaysian Grand Prix encore, and botched Jenson Button’s chances for a win.
Lewis Hamilton started the weekend strong for McLaren and despite his 5 grid spot penalty, seemed in relatively good spirits, qualifying 2nd. His teammate Jenson Button got off to a great start from 6th and moved up 3 spots, entering turn 1. Despite consistently closing the gap on Rosberg, Button’s hopes for a win were decided by yet another, McLaren botched pit stop. A faulty wheel gun stranded Button an extra 6 seconds, ruining his chances for catching Rosberg. He ultimately finished 2nd, with Hamilton 3rd, after some fantastic wheel to wheel racing with Sebastian Vettel.
How is character judged? It’s judged not by how an individual handles victory, but how they handle defeat.
The season is still anybody’s game and I’m not saying for a second, that Sebastian Vettel is out of the running. There are still 17 races between now and November and anything can happen. It is however, painfully obvious, that whether it be the car or the driver, something is not going right for Vettel. After an outburst, following the Malaysian Grand Prix, and news of both Red Bull drivers using different exhaust setups in Shanghai, Vettel is beginning to look desperate. During today’s race, he was not only overtaken by Lewis Hamilton, in the second to last lap, but his teammate Mark Webber.
All the while Vettel has been struggling, Webber has been quietly out of the spotlight, giving solid performances. He’s outdriven his World Champion teammate, in every Grand Prix of the season and has undoubtably given himself, more of a voice within the team. It’s always bothered me how the media, even his own team, have brushed Webber off to the side. Yes, he’s one of the veteran drivers on the grid, but he’s consistent and always keeps his team in the points. Had it not been for some horrific starts last season, we may have seen a more even matchup at Red Bull. He’s also a driver who doesn’t loose his cool and takes advantage of opportunities. In many ways, he reminds me of Jenson Button, maybe that’s why the two are good friends off the track?
Sauber looked good in the first half of the race, then lost their holding and finished 10th and 11th overall. Sergio Perez had some brilliant laps, fending off Lewis Hamilton and a set of tires, well past their expiration. Fernando Alonso finished 9th, after another difficult drive in the F2012, a car that’s quietly plotting to kill its driver. The incredibly twitchy Ferrari, forced Alonso to fight the car, the entire race. It’s a credit to Alonso, as he’s the best man for the job. On the other hand, his teammate Felipe Massa struggled, again. Massa’s pacing isn’t remotely close to the upper half of the pack, much to the dismay of his team. I’ll be surprised if something drastic doesn’t happen at Ferrari this season.
Two of the biggest surprises at Shanghai were Kimi Raikkonen and Williams. Raikkonen did well in qualifying and put the Lotus in 5th, starting 4th. After a brilliant drag race down the pit lane with Lewis Hamilton, Rakkonen fell back and finished a disappointing 14th, after being walloped by a quarter of the grid, in 2 laps. The other big surprise of the day was Williams who went from bringing up the rear in 2011, to a serious mid-field contender in 2012. Both Bruno Senna and Pastor Maldando had excellent drives, finishing 7th and 8th, ahead of Ferrari. Williams and Sauber are definitely mixing things up for the rest of the grid, this season.
Next week will quite possibly be the most controversial race of the season. The teams head to Bahrain, a kingdom which has been under both political and social turmoil, for more than a year. It’s going to be very interested to see how the next week unfolds.
Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.