Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

China 2012 - Mercedes master Chinese challenge // The teams found low temperatures at Shanghai a trial

Published by Christine

Mercedes celebrate Rosberg win
Mercedes celebrate Rosberg winCredit: Mercedes AMG

There was some madcap racing in China this weekend, as a close field fought for points until the very end of the race. It was Nico Rosberg's day, though, taking victory for Mercedes in their first win since their comeback in 2010. Teams were really put through their paces in Shanghai, as tyre degredation was high and strategies were absolutely crucial.

There was just the one retirement from the race, the other Mercedes of Michael Schumacher. A race of attrition it was not, but that made it all the more fascinating.

Mercedes

Three races in, and Mercedes have finally started to see the results that their earlier potential hinted at. We’ve seen them be quick in qualifying, but hampered by niggling issues. Come race day, the pace has often deserted them and we are left watching them squabble for points. In fact, after the first two races, they only had one point to their name and were the worst team apart from the “new” three.

That all changed in China. Nico Rosberg took a surprisingly speedy pole position, half a second faster than anyone around him. He turned that pole position into a rock steady race win, albeit helped out by a McLaren pit stop bungle. Mostly unchallenged, Rosberg took his first chequered flag, and secured the long-awaited victory for Mercedes. Helped by the colder temperatures, Mercedes managed their strategy well to use the tyres perfectly, rather than burning them up as they have in previous races.

Schumacher, meanwhile, retired from the race, after starting from an inherited second place. With Hamilton’s grid penalty pushing him down the order, Mercedes had a 1-2 start, that turned into a 1-DNF finish. Schumacher also suffered at the hands of his pit crew, and 13 laps in, his race was over after an issue with the front right tyre. He watched his teammate’s victory from the garage, and whilst he did celebrate with the team, it must have been disheartening for him not to be the one to bring that coveted Silver Arrows victory.

Despite the successful weekend, Mercedes, and Rosberg in particular, are still keeping things in perspective. During an interview, the German said: “Things went to plan all weekend...” then corrected himself. “Not to plan, they went perfectly.” Whilst the team clearly have victory in mind now, and have the pace to challenge for wins, it is not a given that their problems with getting the best out of the tyres in warmer conditions have been solved.

10/10

McLaren

Lewis Hamilton’s five place grid penalty dropped him down to seventh place, so that he lined up for the race behind his teammate, Jenson Button, and rival Mark Webber. Qualifying did not work out for McLaren, who have previously dominated the sessions. Lewis Hamilton had secured both pole positions up to this point, but the team were knocked down the order by means of a lack of pace and a change of gearbox.

Nevertheless, things looked better once the race got going. Button improved to a point where it looked as though he would be challenging Nico Rosberg for the lead. He used his tyres differently to those around him, and had pace where they did not. Unfortunately, there was trouble in the pit stops, and Button lost a lot of time as the race entered its second half. Luckily for him, the field had not spread as much as we see at other tracks, and it was but a moment’s work for him to return to second place.

The drop had put him out of contention for the win, but Button managed to lead what was a very competitive field behind the race victor. Hamilton overtook his way through the order, as well, proving that both the drivers have some real skill when it comes to dealing with a heavy traffic situation. He also had to race on the same piece of tarmac as Massa, and this year, both remained unscathed.

A very successful double podium for McLaren, who showed that they are still potentially the most competitive car out there. Their great points haul moved them into the lead of both championships.

9/10

Red Bull

For a change, it was not just Mark Webber having a tough start to the race. The Australian has made jokes about his poor starts, proving that it is a known problem. Knowing about it and fixing it are two different things, but Webber can be consoled by the fact that he was not alone in losing places off the grid. He and Vettel went backwards before they went forwards, and ended up in the midst of the very competitive pack of cars fighting for points.

Vettel was already in an uncomfortable position, having dropped out of the second session of qualifying and ending up with only the 11th fastest time. On Sunday, he found himself with some tyre issues towards the end of the race, and his pace rapidly dropped off. It was nowhere near to the extent of Kimi Räikkönen, but it was still telling. Webber put in a great overtaking move to pass his teammate, which must have been a great motivational boost for him.

No longer being the dominant driver in the sport will prove a real test of Vettel’s champion make up, but so far we haven’t seen enough to know how he is dealing with it, aside from being a little grumpy. On the flip side, Webber seems to have a new found enthusiasm towards the sport - perhaps even being given a little of the equality that he so deserves.

Red Bull were the third fastest car in this race, with both teammates finishing next to each other. They can’t be discounted, but it’ll be a development race to see which team can improve the fastest - where do Red Bull stand in the race back in the design office?

8/10

Lotus

If there’s one thing that stands out from the Chinese Grand Prix, it is Kimi Räikkönen’s incredible fall from 2nd to 12th in the space of just a few laps. Riding high behind Nico Rosberg, it looked as though the former champion could put in a good fight and gain a massive points haul for the Enstone squad. The win didn’t look likely, but a podium place was on the cards.

That went out the window almost in the blink of an eye, as on lap 49, Kimi plummeted down the order, and on lap 50, he was out of the points. A poor choice of tyre strategy saw him start that stint on used rubber, which he then proceeded to burn up in an attempt to gain that second place position. With nothing left beneath him, the Lotus driver was a sitting duck as the stream of cars passed him by.

Romain Grosjean had a more prosperous weekend. The French driver had not yet finished a Grand Prix, and just scraped through into the top ten of qualifying - opting not to complete flying lap in the final session.

During the race, he kept himself in contention until the final stages, keeping well within the train of cars that battled for position in the second half. There was a small coming together with Pastor Maldonado, in which sparks flew, and Grosjean lost some significant time as a result. However, he was one of those that passed the ailing Räikkönen and he managed to bring the car home in sixth place - picking up his first ever Formula One points, in a very timely fashion.

6/10

Williams

Much of Williams’ attention was focused on their founder’s 70th birthday, and the drivers were determined to give him a good result as a celebration. Qualifying could have gone better, although to remember where Williams were last year gives pause for thought. The times were so tight in qualifying, that it shouldn’t be too disappointing that Maldonado started 13th and Senna in 14th. The Brazilian driver has already pointed to a potential solution to helping the team qualify better - improving the DRS.

Maldonado lost a couple of positions at the start of the race, but managed to keep his car on the road and facing forward to make his way back up the order. The little scrap with Grosjean turned out to be not too damaging, and Pastor finished in a highly competitive pack within the points.

Senna also finished in the points, and just ahead of his teammate. He’s keen to fit in with the team, settle in and do his serious F1 learning with Williams, and he’s going the right way about it. A double points finish for the team moved them ahead of Force India in the constructor’s championship, and onto double points. Already much better than last year!

6/10

Ferrari

We heard some explicit team orders during the Chinese GP, with Rob Smedley on the radio to Massa telling him, to paraphrase: “Fernando is faster than you.” At this point, though, it is hard to get het up about it. Massa does not seem to be enjoying the car beneath him at all. Where it was a surprise that Vettel dropped out qualifying before the top ten shoot out, it was less so to see that Massa was just behind him.

At one point during the race, Felipe found himself up to second place, but was due a pit stop at any moment. By the end, he was down to 13th. Fernando Alonso fared little better, starting and finishing the race in ninth place. A poor strategy choice meant he was stuck in traffic for most of the race, and the Ferrari car is not a natural overtaker. A point or two picked up for the Scuderia, but very little to write home about.

4/10

Sauber

When Sergio Pérez locked up his tyres, whilst chasing Fernando Alonso for the win of the Malaysian Grand Prix, I figured it was because he was new and unused to being in that kind of position in an F1 car. This could very well be the case, but we now have to add to the evidence file at least four different lock ups during the Chinese race, and all when under pressure. With a train of cars to overtake or be overtaken by, Pérez didn’t seem to handle the pressure particularly well. When on form, he could pull of a great move, but could equally damage his tyres if not concentrating. It’s lucky the Sauber is so good on its tyres, as I dread to think the state the rubber would have been in otherwise.

Kamui Kobayashi qualified exceptionally well, sitting just behind Michael Schumacher after the grid penalties had been handed out. He had an awful start, however - afterwards saying his car just didn’t move. He fell back behind his teammate, who had started the race in 8th place. Scrabbling their way through the race to the turbulent second half, the pair were looking to move up into the points.

Faced with a slow Kimi Räikkönen, both Sauber drivers went to overtake him at the same time. They managed to avoid each other, but Pérez lost a position to his teammate as they both gained the place over the Lotus. Both drivers admit to being disappointed with the result, after the relative highs of the Malaysian GP. Pérez believes he would have been better with a three stop strategy, which is perhaps another indication that Sauber can’t rely on the lightness of their cars forever.

4/10

Force India

It’s hard to express my disappointment in Force India. It’s my own fault for having such high hopes for them, but yet another weekend has gone by in which I barely even registered they were out there. Di Resta and Hülkenberg qualified 15th and 16th, four tenths of a second apart.

They managed to move apart a little during the race, with Di Resta improving to 12th, and Hülk moving up one position. No points for the team, and very little action, as far as I could tell. It worries me that post-race talk has pegged the team as encouraged by improved pace, because I didn’t see any of it this weekend.

3/10

Toro Rosso

Toro Rosso had another weekend similar to their previous one, and similar to Force India. Quiet, uninterrupted by major incident, the drivers qualified 17th and 18th, and finished the race 16th and 17th. Jean-Éric Vergne had something of a challenge on his hands, as he had to start his car from the pitlane, so it says something that he managed to finish ahead of his teammate.

The decision to start from the pitlane came about as the team changed a considerable amount on the car, after finding it didn’t work. They reverted to a setup more like that of the previous two races. If this was Vergne’s suggestion, then it was a brave one, and probably helped him towards the end.

Ricciardo lost several positions during the first few laps of the race, and spent the rest of his time trying to regain what he had lost. In particular, the Australian bemoans the lack of pace on the car, and the fact they just cannot overtake. In a race such as this, where there were positions up for grabs right until the end, overtaking ability is crucial.

2/10

Caterham

Heikki Kovalainen became another victim to pit stop problems this weekend (was there something in the water?) and had to do a double stop. After coming in once, he immediately felt a problem with the rear of the car and had to pit again. That put him to the back of the field, and there was even confusion over whether he had retired from the race or not. It wasn’t until we saw him come in for a scheduled stop some time later that we realised he was still going - albeit four laps down.

The troubles on the other side of the garage allowed Petrov to lead the team to their traditional position as best of the “new” teams, but there was no forward progress as the team have long been hoping for.

1/10

Marussia

Marussia are sitting tenth in the championship thanks to their race results, and despite the fact they aren’t looking anywhere near ready to move up to the midfield, they are at least starting to look a bit more in the fight. Heikki Kovalainen’s difficulties allowed them to finish two cars ahead of their main rivals this time, although Petrov still remained ahead of them.

Notably, the squad also opted for a different way to deal with being a backmarker. They have long since complained about the blue flag situation, so rather than deal with it in China, they brought Pic in for a self-imposed drive through - clearing him out of the way of the passing traffic. Considering the number of cars snaking their way around in close competition towards the front, I can see why this would make sense. It doesn’t seem to be a solution going forward, though. Perhaps some more speed would help, instead.

2/10

HRT

HRT did not finish the race last, due to Kovalainen’s misfortune, but they really weren’t involved in the afternoon’s action at all. Both drivers had poor starts, and it is very telling that De la Rosa is excited to have “had the Marussias in our sights during various laps.” To just be seeing the cars in the distance is not really racing, and Karthikeyan crossed the finish line two laps down.

Still, they did manage to qualify for the race itself, and were well within the 107% cutoff point this time out.

1/10

All content in the series China 2012