Nevertheless, this year has definitely been split wide open with Nico Rosberg coming through to claim not only his first pole, but also his first win in 111 career starts. Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton came back from pretty dismal qualifying efforts to finish off the podium and a really stunning race. Right from the start of the race, it was abundantly clear that Mercedes has sorted out its race pace and can convert their good one lap speed to a win. Now that the F.I.A. has announced that their “Double-DRS” system is legal and in accordance to the rules, Mercedes does look like it is challenging for wins for the first time since 2009. The slightly cooler temperatures in China did favor them a bit, as they did for Ferrari, but this really has come down to how hard the team has been working on their set-up, and really understanding how their car works with the new Bridgestones.
The rest of the field was much more spread out and had varied weekends. Red Bull Racing had a tough weekend, with both cars using a split strategy and both cars showing their deficit in qualifying. Mark Webber looked competitive throughout the race, but ultimately fourth was the best that he could do. Sebastien Vettel had a very tough weekend, and in my opinion truly showed why he is a double-defending world champion. Having not made it to Q3 on Saturday, Vettel slipped to 14th after a dismal start to the race. But he would not settle there and fought his way through the field all the way up to third near the end of the race. Ultimately his tires were destroyed after the battle, and he had to settle for fifth for the day. Not too bad for the kid everyone says can only win from the front.
McLaren was marred by an ill-timed gearbox change penalty for Lewis Hamilton and a sub-par qualifying from Jenson Button. The race was really just an intense points battle that claimed a number of the top drivers. Button looked very good for a shot at the win, but bad luck cost him many places. Hamilton looked pretty racey as well at times, but he never really looked to challenge for the win. At the end of the day, both of them were on the podium and look to be in a great position for the year.
The Saubers were the surprise of qualifying, and really showed just how much team has come forward over the winter months. Although poor strategy calls really hampered their race, the cars are really looking like they can spoil some the of the races for others. They are really on the move, especially when they can out-race the factory Ferrari team.
Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa struggled again with Ferrari all weekend. I can’t imagine that fighting for eighth place is going over well at Maranello. After the dust settled on Alonso’s exceptional win in Malaysia, Ferrari has a got a long way to go in catching up with the front runners. Massa did his best again, but he’s just showing that he’s moving farther and farther out of sync with the team and his driving. He really needs to pick it up, and pick it up soon, or else he really won’t last the year.
Williams has really stepped it up and a double points finish for Bruno Senna and Pastor Maldonado has firmly placed them at top of the midfield teams, and might just set them up to spoil some of top teams as well. Lotus has also stepped it up in terms of their one lap speed, but the race didn’t fall their way, and Kimi Räikkónen couldn’t pull off a two-stop strategy to get himself on the podium. Romain Grosjean did pull himself up to a decent sixth place finish, but, realistically, both drivers could have done much better with a bit more luck.
Even though Nico Rosberg pulled out a 20 second lead for the win, the second group was a really intense battle, with drivers shifting positions from third all the way through thirteenth in a matter of minutes. The way the Bridgestones are working has really put a premium on understanding the way the tires will heat up and wear throughout the weekend. Some teams, such as Red Bull and Ferrari, haven’t quite figured out how to work them during ultimate one-lap speed, but can have better races if the conditions help out a bit. One thing that is abundantly clear, is that the Mercedes is definitely for real this year, and we can easily be looking at 8-9 drivers per grand prix that have a shot at winning on legit days, and even more if the weather or attrition play in as well. I can’t honestly say there was a chump of the race, other than the right front wheel guy at Mercedes that cost Michael Schumacher his race (and a shot at the podium). Now the circus moves onto Bahrain, and I’m seriously hoping that the action happens on the track, and not around it. See you in a week!
1. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes – 25 points
2. Jenson Button, McLaren-Mercedes – 18 points
3. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes – 15 points
4. Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing-Renault – 12 points
5. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing-Renault – 10 points
6. Romain Grosjean, Lotus-Renault – 8 points
7. Bruno Senna, Williams-Renault – 6 points
8. Pastor Maldonado, Williams-Renault – 4 points
9. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari – 2 points
10. Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber-Ferrari – 1 point
Featured image courtesy of: LAT PHOTOGRAPHIC
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