April 16, 2012
Nico Rosberg showed a truely dominant and mature performace to claim his first Victory at the 111th time of asking at the Shanghai International Circuit. It capped an impressive weekend from the Silver Arrow outfit as Rosberg took an emphatic Pole on Saturday and never looked back come the race. It is the first victory for the newly reformed Mercedes Team, and their first win for over 50 years when in 1955 Juan Manual Fangio led the W196 to victory at the Italian Grand Prix.
Qualifying was the first opportunity the Teams had to show the true potential of the car after the mixed and chilly conditions during both Free Practice Sessions. Q1 was no suprise as the usual suspects dropped out along with Jean Eric Vergne from Torro Rosso, but the big suprise was how both the Ferrari's of Alonso and Massa along with the Sauber's felt the need to burn up a soft set of slicks towards the end of the session to ensure their safety through to Q2.
Q2 was much more of a dramatic affair. Mercedes and McLaren showed their superior pace at the front, but the big suprise was Sauber, where both Perez and Kobayashi showed very strong raw pace, backing up the claims the new C31is definately hot property. But the biggest shock of them all was the reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel failing to make it in to Q3. He had complained of the balance of his RB8 car all weekend and continued with the older exhaust solution on his car, even though it was aerodynamically inferior to the new system. While Webber comfortably strolled into the top 10 with his effort, Vettel was struggling and as the chequered flag dropped, his last effort was only good enough for 11th place. Massa continued to struggle to end up 12th with the two Williams and Force India cars ending up 13th and 14th and 15th and 16th respectively.
Q3 then, and and both Renault's along with Fernando Alonso joined Mark Webber, the two McLaren's, Mercedes' and Sauber's in the top 10 shootout. Based on a strong FP2, everyone had placed Schumacer as the top Mercedes to challenge for pole. But to the shock of everyone Rosberg produced a truely astonishing lap on his first run.
Hitting the sweet spot with the W03 he managed a time of 1.37.121, half a second clear of the rest of the field. So much was Rosberg's confidence he sat out the rest of the 10 minute session and went to visit the weigh bridge while the other's were out there trying to improve. Hamliton secured 2nd but due to his gearbox penalty was forced to start 7th. This promoted Schumacher to 2nd (the first time he has started on the front row since Japan 2006) and Kobayashi a magnificent 3rd. Raikonnen was 4th and Button 5th. Webber managed only 6th place for RedBull while Perez Alonso and Grosjean rounded out the top 10.
So race day, All the speculation before the start was surrounded over two things. Could Mercedes manage the tyre's well enough to convert the magnificent front row lock out, to their first win as the newly renamed Mercedes Gp Team? How much progress could Sebastian Vettel make from 11th place?
Well the first question was answered emphatically as Nico Rosberg controlled the race from the front to take the chequered flag a full 20 seconds ahead of the McLaren duo of Button and Hamilton. Throughout the Mercedes Team a huge sigh of relief was visible as growing pressure from Stuttgart was ever growing, on a team that had yet to taste the success it was being demanded. It was the manner of the victory that came to everyone's suprise though. After overheating tyres like they were going out of fashion in Melbourne and Malaysia, many had written the Mercedes car off in regards to race pace and expected a McLaren duel for the lead.
The race itself was very slow starting with the action really heating up in the final stages where at the chequered flag the top 10 drivers were seperated by 40 seconds. Vettel made a very poor start from 11th to drop to 14th on the first lap. Rosberg got away beautifully to lead a Mercedes 1-2 in the early stages, pulling out a cushion of up to 9 seconds over his more experienced team mate. Button was sitting 3rd with Raikonnen 4th and Hamilton moving up to 5th. The Sauber's could not find the same pace they had in qualifying and were squabbling with Webber and Grosjean further back.
It was a clash of strategy with some driver's opting for 2 stops and others 3 stops which allowed racing to go right down to the wire. Raikonnen opted for a two stop strategy which eventually was his downfall, as in the space of two laps, had lost 10 places to drop to twelfth just laps from the finish. His tyres fell off the supposed cliff and dragged him off with it. Hamilton made use of his 3 stop strategy beautifully by hunting down the two Rebull's late on (Vettel on a two stop strategy also) to finish on the podium. Webber had pitted very early on in the race to evade the traffic of the Sauber's however to force not having a 4 stop strategy, had to make his last stint last over 20 laps, eventually passing Vettel with two laps to go to finish 4th behind Rosberg, Button and Hamilton. in hingsight is probably the best result he could hope for.
Button was very threatening after the First stops however as his pace on the soft tyre was supremely consistent. Hunting Rosberg down at up to nearly a second a lap. McLaren looked to be lining up Rosberg who was looking after his tyres as best as he could given Mercedes had put him on a two stop strategy. However a disastorous pitstop second time around where a sticky right left wheel nut refused to budge. sealed Button's fate to second place. It was a mistake Martin Whitmarsh knew all too well cost Jenson the race.
"Jenson was very unlucky with the last stop and the wheel nut problem. Without that he would have got out into clear air and he would have been much closer. Would he have been able to catch and hunt him down? Actually I don't think he would because there was no real drop off with the tyres on Nico's car." Said Martin.
However he seemed more shocked that after all the reports of Mercedes trouble with tyre degridation, they had managed a two stop strategy, "We didn't think they were going to two-stop," "I don't think many guessed they were going to two stop."
Vettel was another man that played his cards right, pushing his way after a disasterous start, to the front on a longer two stop strategy to 5th place. Missing the gaggle of cars including Button, Hamilton, Raikonnen, Alonso and co behind him, he kept his head down and showed a very mature driver. A sign of frustration was present however for the second race in a row, as after the race Vettel's pit to car radio was dominated by messages explaining he found his straight line speed ridiculous down the back straight.
However it was a very sweet but sour day for Mercedes, after the emphatic victory for Rosberg, the other side of the sword showed a different story for his veteran team mate Schumacher. After following his German team mate in second place for all of the first stint he dived in to make his first pit stop. However after the wheel gun failed to secure the nut on Schumacher's front left wheel, the pit release light turned green as the mechanic reached for the second gun. Showing his frustration that Schumacher had left with a loose wheel he pounded the floor with his fist. Something Schumacher soon noticed 5 corners later and was forced to retire from the race. It topped off yet another weekend the German showed such great promise but through bad luck failed to deliver a result. Schumacher however was very civil in the incident consoling the mechanic after the race.
Although Raikonnen created shed loads of drama late on with his tyre strategy going haywire, the other side of the Lotus garage was somewhat more optimistic as Grosjean managed to salvage a solid 6th place. Further down Williams once again proved their car was very kind on it's tyres and showed their extensive race pace by managing both 7th and 8th with Senna and Maldonaldo. 9th was Alonso who was as high as 6th place early on in the race. However towards the latter part of the race after the third stops, Alonso attempted a bold move on Hamilton going around the outside of him on turn 6, after the Brit had a poor exit out of 5 attempting to pass Webber. The result was Alonso running wide on the mountain of marbles offline and losing a handful of places. Kobayashi rounded out the top 10 which topped off Sauber's uneventful day where they really did flatter to decieve on race day.
On a final note, Hamilton although clearly happy to recover to 3rd place in an eventful race, still looked dejected at the prospect of yet another missed opportunity this weekend. Although keeping his 100% podium record intact, you could sense the Brit was visibly frustrated that yet another opportunity to claim his maiden win of the season, due to bad luck.
So to Bahrain, and what promises to be a delicate weekend with the surrounding controversy of it's place on the Formula 1 calender. Rosberg will surely look to completely rubbish the myth about Mercedes' degridation issues in the huge heat of Bahrain. Schumacher will be looking for a strong race, and what about Vettel, can he and Redbull really bounce back in style? Will you be watching come this weekend?
Here are the complete Qualifying Results:
|15||di Resta||Force India|
|22||de la Rosa||HRT|
Here are the Complete Race Results:
|12||di Resta||Force India||15||+42.200|
|21||de la Rosa||HRT||22||+1 lap|