The 2012 Chinese Grand Prix weekend was great from start to finish. Mercedes were able to score their first victory since 1955 and Nico Rosberg was able to score his first victory in seven years of Formula One racing.
It was a comfortable Merc victory in the end, but how did the other teams fare in a close fought race?
Nico Rosberg Qualifying (Q) P1, Race (R) P1
Michael Schumacher Q P3, R DNF
China’s qualifying provided Mercedes GP with their first pole position since the 1955 Italian Grand Prix and Nico Rosberg his first ever pole position.
The team that won the two 2009 World Championships as Brawn GP have struggled to make a significant impression since their re-birth as Mercedes GP the following year. However, they have always had raw speed and have been turning heads in practice and early qualifying sessions since the opening race in Australia.
Having said that, despite promising a lot, Mercedes didn’t really set qualifying on fire in the first two races like McLaren were able to. The team seems to set decent times in Q1 and Q2 before falling away in Q3.
The silver arrows went into the Chinese Grand Prix with the good news that their controversial rear wing design was legal after an FIA hearing on Thursday and this may have contributed to the confidence the team displayed in qualifying.
Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher were fast in all three sessions and Rosberg’s awesome 1:36:875 in his first lap of Q3 was simply too good to beat. The Mercedes number two was so confident that his time couldn’t be topped that he got out of his car to be weighed with over two minutes left! No doubt Schumacher was pissed to be beaten by his team mate, but happy to be part of a Mercedes front row lockout after Lewis Hamilton’s grid penalty.
On race day Rosberg was outstanding. The pole sitter had a great start and although he was pushed by Jenson Button, took a comfortable but well fought victory. Things went less well for Schumacher though. The seven times World Champ had a great early stint but this all fell apart on lap 13 when there was an issue fitting his front left tyre.
The Mercedes man was forced to retire as it was unsafe to continue. No doubt the team will be thrilled to see their first victory since 1955, but they will be disappointed that they couldn’t repeat the one/two finish of that year.
Jenson Button Q P6, R P2
Lewis Hamilton Q P2, R P3
Despite having the best car on the grid, McLaren never really set qualifying on fire. Neither driver finished in the top three of the first two rounds of qualifying and whilst Lewis Hamilton did do well to finish in P2, Jenson Button simply couldn’t get his car right in the difficult cold conditions.
McLaren were fast on race day and always found themselves in interesting battles, but I can’t help but think that the team cost themselves a chance of victory today.
Both drivers seemed to be released into traffic after their stops and once Button had established himself as the only man capable of challenging Rosberg, the team made a crucial error when struggling to fit Button’s left rear tyre in his final stop.
Both Hamilton and Button provided us with some great overtakes and although the team may be a little disappointed not to have taken the victory, they still clearly have the best car on the grid and the Championship standings show this.
Red Bull Racing
Mark Webber Q P7, R P4
Sebastian Vettel Q P11, R P5
Qualifying for Red Bull Racing was simply dismal. It’s extremely common for two team mates to opt for different set ups at Grand Prix weekends, but for the Chinese Grand Prix Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber were in very different cars!
Webber went with an upgraded chassis which included significantly different aerodynamic tweaks, but Vettel was unhappy with the developments and choose to run the same chassis used in the pre-season Barcelona tests.
Of course even a team with Red Bull’s finances can’t afford to develop two completely different cars and so it was fascinating to see who fared better at the Chinese GP. Perhaps unsurprisingly Webber did much better throughout Q1 and Q2 and although he could only manage a final result of P7.
Sebastian Vettel struggled throughout qualifying and although it was a colossal shock to see him drop out of qualifying early, it almost felt inevitable. What a difference a year makes eh?
It was a very strange race for Red Bull in the end. Neither driver had a very good start, and neither driver ever looked very fast, and yet they finished in strong points paying positions.
Interestingly the 2011 World Champions controlled the pit stops by bringing Webber in early every time (this triggered the other teams stops to cover Webber’s pace on fresher tyres). Vettel had an almost silent race and though you might think he had a strong fight going from P11 to P5, in actual fact he just sort of drifted there.
I think Webber probably wins my driver of the day as although he never really made much noise, he was always in the background fighting hard. He also arguably provided us with the most exciting overtake of the race when he powered past his team mate in the final corners of the penultimate lap. Man, I bet that felt sweet!
Roman Grosjean Q P10, R P6
Kimi Raikkonen Q P5, R P14
It was great to see both Lotus cars in the final shoot out of qualifying. I was disappointed that Roman Grosjean was unable to set a time in Q3 after burning all his tyres out in the first two rounds, but Kimi Raikkonen continued to show that he hadn’t lost any speed in his two years away from Fromula One.
I really don’t know how to sum up Lotus’s race! Grosjean did a fantastic job to finally finish a Grand Prix, and did well to finish in such a strong position. But, Raikkonen will rue the fact that his final position doesn’t do his race performance justice.
Raikkonen drove a great race and looked after his tyres so well that he was in second place with only a few laps remaining. Unfortunately, his tyres just couldn’t hold out and he found himself dropping from P2 to P10 in the space of just one lap!
A mixed bag for Lotus then, but a great step to build on.
Bruno Senna Q P14, R P7
Pastor Maldinado Q P13, R P8
The Williams team were the seventh best, and comfortable Q2 qualifiers on Saturday. Frankly when you consider their results from the past two seasons I would argue this was a great result.
To be honest there isn’t a lot to say about their race. It must be stressed that their finishing result was superb, I guess they just ‘did a Webber’ in that they performed excellently and consistently without making much of a fuss.
Both drivers will be pleased that they could hold off an increasingly irritated Alonso in the closing stages of the race.
Fernando Alonso Q P9, R P9
Felipe Massa Q P12, R P13
There really isn’t much to say about Ferrari’s qualifying display. Both drivers were forced to use the super soft compound tyres in Q1 (An unheard of tactic for the top teams in Q1, though the field was much closer than expected).
Felipe Massa dropped out early for the third straight Grand Prix and Fernando Alonso continued to show his class by finding speed that lesser drivers could only dream of.
What can I say about Ferrari’s race? The team tried two different strategies and produced by Ferrari’s high standards a terrible result.
Massa fought hard all day and looked after his tyres well, but ultimately he just couldn’t compete with the cars in front of him.
Alonso went with a different strategy by fitting the soft tyre compound in his second stop. He quickly found himself in traffic though and was never really able to shine.
The Chinese GP seemed to be extremely hard on tyres and this meant that it was very hard to overtake as off the racing line the rubber ‘marbles’ had almost turned half the track into sheet ice.
Alonso found this when he went a little off the racing line trying to pass Maldinado in the last few laps. The Ferrari aquaplaned off the track an Alonso never really recovered. It looked at times as if he might score some significant points, but a P9 and P13 finish will be two very hard pills for the once great team to swallow.
Kamui Kobayashi Q P4, R P10
Sergio Perez Q P8, R P11
The Ferrari B-Team continued to haunt the A-Team in qualifying with both Sauber cars finishing higher than Ferrari.
Sergio Perez was happy enough with his P8, but Kamui Kobayashi showed that his team had two great drivers by finishing Saturday in a fantastic P4!
After such great qualifying results neither driver was really able to find any luck or speed around the Chinese circuit. Neither driver had a particularly bad race, things just didn’t come together for Sauber this time.
Paul Di Resta Q P15, R P12
Nico Hulkenberg Q P16, R P15
Force India haven’t looked great this season and their qualifying result was unquestionably not where they wanted to be, but probably about as good as they could have achieved; Frankly, the same went for the race.
Jean-Eric Vergne Q P18, R P16
Daniel Ricciardo Q P17, R P17
I can’t work out STR. They are quite simply a team who’s sole purpose is to provide a testing ground for future Red Bull drivers, I can’t work out why Jamie Alguersuari was dropped in favour of the two drivers who currently occupy the STR garage.
Ricciardo had yet another uneventful race and made no impression, and although Vergne did well to fight his way up to P16 having started from the pits, he didn’t exactly set the world on fire either.
Vitaly Petrov Q P19, R P18
Heikki Kovalainen Q P18, R P23
For goodness sake, put Kovalainen in a decent car!!
Kovalainen may have finished in P23, but this was because he had car troubles. He did a great job to finish the race and I reckon could have overtaken Marussia and HRT if given a few more laps!
Timo Glock QP20, R P19
Charles Pic QP21, R P20
I really have nothing to say about this team, there’s no point. They turn up, they qualify at the back, they stay at the back.
Pedro de la Rosa QP22, R P21
Narian Karthikeyan QP23, R P22
I’m so fed up with this team. I know Vettel and Button were foolish in Malaysia when trying to pass Narian Karthikeyan’s dismal HRT, but this team serves absolutely no purpose other than to get in the way!
Just look at Vergne’s P18 time of 1:37:714, Lotus are still the best of the ‘new teams’ but Kovalainen’s 1:38:676 was still too slow really. How then can HRT justify participation when the best they could do was a 1:40!?
The 2012 Chinese Grand Prix was a slow burner, but in the end we were treated to some great action as the cars were all very close.
Nico Rosberg was thrilled to win his first ever F1 race and McLaren will be happy to be in such a dominant Championship position so early on. The teams with the most work to do are clearly Red Bull and Ferrari, but do they have enough time to close the gap before it’s too late?
Drivers’ Championship Top Three
Lewis Hamilton 45
Jenson Button 43
Fernando Alonso 37
Constructors’ Championship Top Three
Red Bull 64