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Class of the Field
Adam Barton

A Formula One fan since he was six, back while Häkkinen and Schumacher were having many an epic battle, Adam has seen a great deal. From German domination (twice), to British determination (once) and a Spanish invasion. A near compulsive fan who one day hopes to write about the sport for a living, outside of F1 Adam also authors his own blog One Guy's Opinion.

Ricciardo stakes his claim to replace F1’s other Aussie // World champions shine but Daniel Ricciardo puts in top drive too

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It took me a while to get back into the swing of this, having had three weeks off. By the looks of it, a lot of the drivers seemed to have the same issue, or at least thought the Chinese Grand Prix was next weekend. There was a car on track for less than half of qualifying, so now this is a full blown issue. At least, for the sake of future qualifying sessions, the podium was full of drivers who bothered to set a representative time on Saturday.

Ricciardo responds to Vergne’s good form

I was beginning to fear for Ricciardo, after Jean-Éric Vergne had put in a couple of good drives, continuing to show that the Australian may be the man on Saturday, but Vergne is the man who brings the points home. In fairness, Ricciardo hasn’t had much luck in 2013, with two retirements, showing that Mark Webber isn’t the only unlucky Aussie in 2012.

Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Éric Vergne walk and talk
Credit: Peter Fox / Getty

But Ricciardo had a stellar weekend to disprove that theory. On the verge of being knocked out of Q1, he put in a much needed lap to propel himself to 11th. From there he was on fire and qualified seventh, his best since Bahrain last year. Of course, that day his race was ruined by turn five, when he lost his front wing. And so I was hoping that he didn’t suffer the same fate at the weekend.

After an aggressive start, where he fought with Romain Grosjean, he set to work on consolidating a good points finish, his first since Abu Dhabi last year. Having decided he was better off on the softs on Saturday, he was forced into an early stop, along with the majority of the field. But once he was in clear air he flew.

In fact, had he not broken his front wing in a confrontation with Nico Rosberg, costing him laptime, as well as time in the pits when he had the wing changed, Ricciardo is confident that he would have finished at least ahead of Felipe Massa, if not Jenson Button too. As it was, it was the best result Toro Rosso has had in this partnership (the best since Jaime Algersuari finished seventh at the 2011 Korean GP, Toro Rosso haven’t had a better finish than 7th since the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix). It’s a result that could go a long way to proving he is the man to replace Mark Webber at the end of the season.

Imperious Alonso recovers title hopes

Was there ever any doubt that Fernando Alonso would win this race? From the moment Lewis Hamilton mentioned that he was fearful of Mercedes' race pace, it was clear that Alonso was the man to beat - especially after Räikkönen started the race as if he was on an ice rink and Alonso cruised by Hamilton in a simple DRS-assisted move. While I’m on it, the back straight DRS appeared to be well positioned, however it did put cars too close onto the front straight and meant that when drivers got DRS on the front straight, they were past before the start/finish line. DRS would have been perfect without the second DRS zone on the front straight.

This was the drive where Ferrari and Alonso made it clear that they mean business in 2013

I think if ever there was an example between a world champion and a number two driver, it was the Ferraris in China. Felipe Massa was all over Fernando Alonso in the early laps, but, for no particular reason, the two were separated by 40 seconds and five places at the end of the race.

I have to say, Alonso won with the ease that Räikkönen did in Australia. He had a lot left in the tank once it was clear that Vettel wasn’t challenging for the win. When Alonso came out just behind Vettel, knowing that the German had to stop one more time, the Scuderia must have known they had it in the bag. This was the drive where Ferrari and Alonso made it clear that they mean business in 2013.

Incredible Vettel late show comes up short

Sebastian Vettel gets his game face on
Credit: Mark Thompson / Getty

With five laps to go I was having memories of the 2011 Chinese Grand Prix where Sebastian Vettel had driven a good race but was duped by strategy (his two stop strategy had put him in the lead with five laps to go, but left him powerless to defend from Lewis Hamilton, who had three stopped, on fresher rubber). It appeared as though strategy had let him down once again, two years later. That was until he showed what the soft tyres were capable of in the final five laps.

I would have loved to see the on-board footage of that as he closed 12 seconds in four laps to Lewis Hamilton, and but for a small error on the final lap, he’d have jumped up on to the podium. I thought there was no way that he could close the gap to the top three and would cruise home in fourth, taking care of the soft tyres. But his pace was incredible, and only looked better when you saw the struggles of Jenson Button and others on the soft tyres at the end of the race. All I can say is I think Vettel should have put in a fast lap in qualifying, even on the medium tyres. Starting another few places higher could have helped Vettel a lot on Sunday, rather than getting stuck behind the likes of Nico Hülkenberg.

A final point on Sebastian Vettel. I was so disappointed when Mark Webber collided with Jean-Éric Vergne (I’m not entirely convinced that Vettel didn’t plan that). I was intrigued to see what would happen with the Red Bulls fighting together on the track. But we were robbed of that opportunity, and I think it is fair to say that a large part of the Webber crash was the Aussie’s desperation to put a car and space in between him and Vettel. In the end it played into Vettel’s hands and helped set up an unbelievable four lap sprint at the end.

Button continues to put Pérez in the shade

Jenson Button takes his car for a spin
Credit: Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

If it weren’t for Jenson Button, things would look very bleak at McLaren right now. He had the pace for two top five finishes, with the aid of strategy, whilst teammate Sergio Pérez is struggling to make it into the points right now with just two points so far this season.

Jenson Button is doing what Alonso did last year, getting the best he can out of what he has. He may not be getting similar results, but he is doing a good job.

Until we get to Barcelona, performances like Button’s in Malaysia and China are all McLaren can hope for.

Status quo for Bahrain?

The flyaways end next weekend in Bahrain and mark the end of the long haul early season. The pecking order should remain largely similar but it will likely shake up when F1 hits Spain for the start of the European season, where it is far easier to ship new parts to each race.

Lotus will feel good about their chances, having come so close to victory last year. On top of that, Bahrain has a lot of slow corners. Like Melbourne, it’s a braking and traction circuit, so Räikkönen will hope to repeat his Australian GP win. My tip to challenge the Enstone boys would be Ferrari, who appear to have the best pure car in the field right now.

Also keep an eye out for my blog this week, where I will talk about who needs a big result fast.