McLaren bought some updated parts to China but they didn't seem to think it would be enough to challenge the Red Bulls for the lead. Mark Webber's technical problems continued right up to the start of qualifying but he still managed to make it out, for the first session at least! It seems that he and the team overestimated their pace and lost out to a poor lap in the end. The Australian dropped out in Q1 only setting a time good enough for 18th. The Ferraris appeared to be making a meal of it, both drivers had to use soft tyres to get through to Q2.
Petrov had a great lap towards the end of Q2 but quickly followed it with trouble by breaking down in the middle of the track on his in lap. This bought out the red flags with just over 2 minutes left on the clock. A dramatic end to Q2 was guaranteed! A huge queue built up as the session restarted followed by actual racing to get some space on the out lap. Paul Di Resta did a great job by making it through to Q1 and the Mercedes cars continued recent form by not doing the same.
Q3 started to not much action, only 9 cars to take part anyway, due to Petrov's breakdown, and everyone else seemed to be saving their tyres. Vettel and Button were the only ones to try two runs and after it became clear that Hamilton couldn't get close (even to Jenson) their second runs were aborted to save the rubber for Sunday.
Final grid: Vettel on pole, Button second and Hamilton hanging on to third.
|Photo courtesy of Team Lotus|
It was McLaren's turn to get the last minute drama before the start of race. Bodywork was being pulled off of Hamilton's car to fix a flooded engine with less than 5 minute before the car had to be on the grid. The mechanics got it together with 30 something seconds to spare and Lewis took his place on the start. Meanwhile a great camera shot showed Vettel apparently asleep as the last countdown began, there is a man who can keep cool under pressure!
As race actually started though it seemed that he might still have been a bit sleepy though. The Red Bull was slow off the line allowing Button to get straight past and forcing Vettel to defend very hard against Hamilton. It seemed that his defence cost him the second spot to me, as it has done in previous seasons. Surely its better to let the car run and keep the speed up than try to force you opponents off the track in the first corner?
Algeursuari had a slight problem as his rear wheel dropped off just after his first pitstop. He bravely/stupidly continued for half a lap though before finally giving up and becoming the first and only retirement of the day.
Button cost himself a position to Vettel as drove into the wrong pit, much to the surprise of the Red Bull mechanics. The front jack man gesturing at him to keep going as he jumped out of the way.
Vettel tried to make a two stop strategy work after that while his teammate kept on with a three stop plan which seemed to be getting him nowhere. Webber was still in 17th after the first round of pitstops and seemed to be losing out the people around him in places. The new tyres however started working after that and it quickly became clear that he wouldn't be staying back there.
There followed an intense race in which cars with varying states of tyre wear, different pit strategies and fuel usage, passed and re-passed each other. It was hectic and confusing in the best way I've seen an F1 race for a long time. The drag reduction system, and the last minute change of activation point, seemed to be helping some of the action without putting cars straight past one another. But the massive difference in tyre performance made overtaking possible in a lot of different places around the track.
As the laps ran down it became clearer that Vettel, despite taking the lead in the middle of the race wasn't going fast enough to be home and dry as normal. Ferrari seemed to be making a better showing than they had hoped, but that proved to be temporary as the strategies played out and the front runners came back past them. Mercedes developed an impressive turn of speed during the race with Rosberg and Schumacher putting in good performances (Rosberg better of course!)
Hamilton pulled off some great moves in his drive to the front, jamming one past Button and then later putting a great move on Vettel to take the lead with 5 laps to go. Jensen's tyres died as the final laps ran down allowing a ferociously charging Webber to catch him up. His engineer came on the radio to warn him about the flying Aussie closing in, with the now immortal words (to me at least!), "Beware of Webber". Button didn't have to beware long though, as Webber went straight by on fresher rubber and finished an incredible afternoon by taking the final podium place.
Red Bull have proved that reliability is still their biggest problem. The Kers system is a bit of a mess and has now cost them at least one win. This is something that needs to be fixed by the next race if they are to take the championship they so obviously want.
McLaren are doing everything right, the pace of development there probably can't be beaten by anyone else. All they have to do is keep up the pressure on Red Bull to be in the lead by the end of the season. But if Red Bull can sort the Kers system, they will still be the team to beat, so there is work to do.
Mercedes suddenly got some speed in this race and its hard to see where from. Good stuff though, glad they are getting in the mix a bit more. Lotus Renault must be miffed after that, something went wrong for them to end up where they did, but its hard to point at what it was.
Paul Di Resta missed out on points after his best start position so far, and thats a shame. He obviously has a lot of talent and in a better car he could be mixing it with the front runners easily. Maybe next year?
Team Lotus are making great progress at the tail end, we might see them picking up some points later in the year. That would be a fantastic result for them, lets just hope they are still called Lotus by the time it happens.
The tyres are making a huge contribution to the excitement so far and we can assume that will continue. DRS has not (so far) ruined the racing, we can only hope that the FIA keep getting that right! Better to have not enough effect than too much I think. Can't think where the lines will be in Monaco though?! The future of F1, for this year at least, looks bright. Now we get a long wait until Turkey and the next instalment.
See full results and championship standings.