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China 2013 - Ferrari find form in Shanghai show of strength // Alonso's victory shows Ferrari pace, as Red Bull falter

Published by Christine

Alonso celebrates with Ferrari following a dominant victory
Credit: Pirelli S.p.A.

Going into the Chinese Grand Prix weekend, most of the attention was on Red Bull, with a desire to see how the team coped after their public fallout in Sepang. Unfortunately for them, the weekend didn't deliver on the results front, so that we were busy watching other drivers instead.

By the time it came to race day on Sunday, all eyes were on Lewis Hamilton, sitting pretty in pole position, and the Lotus and Ferrari drivers that surrounded him. The Grand Prix was dominated by the softer compound tyre, with drivers having to choose when to run it and how short a stint they could get away with. It resulted in a fascinating race, with overtaking and challenges from start to finish.

Ferrari

Driver positions - Ferrari
DriverQualifyingRace
F Alonso3rd1st
F Massa5th6th

With Fernando Alonso's retirement from Sepang fresh in their minds, the Ferrari team approached the race in Shanghai with renewed vigour. They shook off criticism that the risk in Malaysia was too much of a gamble at the early stage of the season, and focussed fully on the task in hand. For the first time this year, Felipe Massa didn't manage to outqualify his teammate, but his pace is still there and the Brazilian's performance is a lot better than it was at this stage of the season last year.

At the start of the race, both Ferrari cars managed to sweep past Kimi Räikkönen to move into the hunt for the lead. Unfortunately for Massa, his pace tailed off halfway through - a loss that he is, apparently, "mystified" by. Alonso kept up the fight and although the diverse strategies meant the lead changed hands often, the Spaniard was always there or thereabouts. He eventually crossed the line with ten seconds in hand, after being instructed not to push too hard.

The team are now in a good position to move on from the Malaysia disappointment, and start pushing to fight for the lead of the championship. They have overtaken Lotus for second place, and sit just five points behind their nemesis Red Bull. It's still early, but keeping the momentum and consistency up at the Scuderia could make all the difference as the season unfolds.

In this first part of the championship it is harder than ever to come up with an accurate evaluation of the hierarchy in the field. Between qualifying and the race we have seen contrasting performances for some teams and therefore we must concentrate very hard on improving the car over the single lap in qualifying, while maintaining the performance level we have seen over the long runs.

- Stefano Domenicali, Team Principal, Ferrari

Lotus

Driver positions - Lotus
DriverQualifyingRace
K Räikkönen2nd2nd
R Grosjean6th9th

We know that Kimi Räikkönen likes to keep his head down and just race, as robotic as its possible to be in a Formula One weekend. It wasn't a huge surprise, then, to see him take on some damage early in the race and just keep going without blinking. The bit of carbon fibre sticking up from the nose can't have been aerodynamically friendly at all, and the handling of the car must have been compromised. However, it didn't alter the pace of the Finn one bit, and whether that is testament to the design of the car, the skill of the driver, or a bit of both, it definitely deserves a mention.

Starting second and finishing second despite a crash with a McLaren is a good result for Räikkönen, and it makes Romain Grosjean's performance seem just that little bit worse. For the most part, having a quiet race is a good thing for the Frenchman, but when your superstar teammate is performing so consistently well, it reflects badly on the other side of the garage. Team Principal Éric Boullier remains positive, saying Grosjean is getting to a point where he's "reached a turning point now where things will start coming together" but if that is happening out on track, we're not seeing evidence of it.

As above, Ferrari have snatched second place in the championship for now, but the four teams at the top are creating their own gap from the rest and Lotus are very much a part of that.

Mercedes

Driver positions - Mercedes
DriverQualifyingRace
N Rosberg4thDNF
L Hamilton1st3rd

The pace of the Mercedes car continues to impress me, and although it was an unusual qualifying session, pole position is nothing to be sniffed at. Lewis Hamilton getting this early goal with his new team can only be a confidence booster, and although he lost places once the race unfolded, the Brit still seemed very happy with his weekend's work. To be battling for the top three places in such a competitive field is good, to be doing that after a disappointing end to 2012 is even better.

Unfortunately for Nico Rosberg, twelve months on from his maiden Formula One victory at Shanghai, the circuit could not deliver another success for him. His fourth place on the grid could have been converted to a solid points finish, but he didn't make it to the halfway point of the race, the car ending up being pushed into the garage. He pinpointed the problem as a broken rear anti-roll bar, which adversely affected the balance of the car and thus he retired early.

It was a mixed result for Mercedes, one podium, one retirement, but they can be happy with what they've achieved, and the forward momentum they are seeing this season. They are currently fourth of the top runners, but knowing McLaren are struggling and the gap to the other teams is growing, will be a confidence boost for the next few races.

Overall we can be confident that we've made another step forward this weekend, and the fact that we're all a little disappointed with third is a measure of the ambition and expectations of the team.

- Ross Brawn, Team Principal, Mercedes

Red Bull

Driver positions - Red Bull
DriverQualifyingRace
S Vettel9th4th
M Webber14thDNF

If Webber was unhappy with his team before this weekend, it can only be worse after the events of the Chinese GP weekend. During qualifying, a problem with the fuel delivery system meant there wasn't enough for him to complete a flying lap, or to even get back to the pitlane. There wasn't enough for a fuel sample, and the Australian was relegated to the back of the field. He started from the pit lane and was making reasonable progress forward, with potential for yet more having dispatched the soft compounds early.

A late move on Jean-Éric Vergne saw the Toro Rosso driver turn in on Webber's car, and the damage brought him into the pit lane for an early stop. Perhaps the mechanics were flustered at this unscheduled turn of events, but before Webber could complete another lap, he was slowing down and a rear tyre was detaching itself from the car. The team were later fined for releasing the car in such a dangerous condition, and we're lucky that no one hit the errant wheel rolling down the track.

Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel was one of the key disappointments of qualifying - the one lap specialist opted not to set a lap time and conserve his tyres instead. Starting from ninth, on a different strategy to those in front, he managed to move up to fight for the podium positions by the end of the race. It was a fascinating fight to the line between Vettel and Hamilton, and a great final stint by Sebastian to recover 11 seconds in the space of just a few laps, but ultimately it wasn't quite enough. The Red Bull team have mixed results, and I get the feeling things are just as unsettled there as they were this time three weeks ago.

McLaren

Driver positions - McLaren
DriverQualifyingRace
J Button8th5th
S Pérez12th11th

McLaren were showing signs of recovery in Malaysia, and we were expecting them to take another step forward after a three week break to work on the pace of the car. It didn't seem to come together for them in China, with qualifying a significant disappointment. Button opted for a different strategy, starting on the medium compound like Vettel above, but he did set one slow lap time in Q3 to put him just ahead of the Red Bull driver. Forward progress in the race saw him finish fifth, which isn't bad considering the calibre of performance ahead of him, but it still isn't what we expect from the McLaren team.

Button seemed particularly disappointed after the race, as well, that they had to rely on the strategy to make the moves forward, and that he couldn't race anyone. He was forced to allow people past him without defending too much, and couldn't push on those in front, and he dubbed it a strange race to drive.

Sergio Pérez had a shocking start to the weekend, with a gravel trap visit in both Free Practice 1 and 2. He got things under control for qualifying, but missed out on the top ten shoot-out, starting the race from 12th place. The pressure can only be building on the young Mexican's shoulders, and the only positive I saw in Shanghai, was his McLaren being the last car to pit for the first time, while still being in a competitive position. He can still be light on his tyres, but that's not going to make the difference in a struggling car.

It was a strange race for me because I couldn't block, there was no point fighting people, you just had to sit and wait for people to overtake you and not fight back because that was the quickest way to the end of the race.

It's not the most exciting way to go racing but we got ten points because we did that and we should be very proud of what we achieved.

- Jenson Button, F1 driver, McLaren

Toro Rosso

Driver positions - Toro Rosso
DriverQualifyingRace
JE Vergne16th12th
D Ricciardo7th7th

Toro Rosso managed to capitalise on the odd qualifying performances around them to get both cars out of the first session. Even Jean-Éric Vergne managed to get ahead of both Esteban Gutiérrez and Valtteri Bottas to move out of the bottom six. He didn't make it too much further, whilst Daniel Ricciardo got into the top ten. By dint of setting an actual lap time, he also secured himself seventh place on the grid, which was a super performance by the Australian.

Ricciardo started losing positions when his tyres went off, so a quick stop pushed him down the order with work to do to make his way back up again. Finishing seventh, exactly where he started, is a really strong result for Daniel and for Toro Rosso - picking up some useful points and some motivation to revisit the top ten again.

Vergne's accident with Webber caused both cars some damage, with the Frenchman complaining of a lack of downforce following the collision. Vergne insists he didn't know Webber was there, whilst the Australian says Vergne must have seen him. Regardless, Vergne brought the car home in twelfth place, which shows there was some real pace in the Toro Rosso this weekend. If they can maintain it, they should feature in the top ten again, but so far this year it has been very circuit dependent.

All weekend long, the car performed well, with the upgrades we brought here delivering the results we had hoped for and the team also did a good job. Today's points mean we move up to seventh in the Constructors' classification, seven points behind the sixth placed team.

- Franz Tost, Team Principal, Toro Rosso

Force India

Driver positions - Force India
DriverQualifyingRace
P Di Resta11th8th
A Sutil13thDNF

The race didn't get off to a good start for the Force India drivers, when they crashed into each other in the opening laps. After both qualified outside the top ten, there was work to be done to pick up a useful amount of points on Sunday, and the collision didn't help. Paul di Resta came off worse, dropping back several positions but he managed to continue and haul himself back up again.

Adrian Sutil found himself a casualty of a second collision, this time with Esteban Gutiérrez. The Sauber driver crashed into the Force India, knocking them both out of the race and gaining a grid drop for the next event too. Sutil's DNF gave Di Resta the pressure of the whole team on his shoulders, and he made it up to eighth with little chance of gaining any more. Being stuck in traffic hit the tyres particularly hard this weekend, so taking home a few points is as much as the team could hope for. They are now sixth in the standings, on equal points but behind McLaren based on results.

Sauber

Driver positions - Sauber
DriverQualifyingRace
N Hülkenberg10th10th
E Gutiérrez18thDNF

There was a moment during the Chinese Grand Prix, where Nico Hülkenberg was leading the race. It was all down to strategy, that others had stopped and he hadn't, and it was never going to last long, but for Nico, it felt as though he could take the fight to those in front of him. The pace of the Sauber meant it was all but an invisible car though - a midfield runner struggling to keep out of the way of those in front, whilst retaining position from those behind. Hülkenberg qualified tenth and he finished the race tenth.

Esteban Gutiérrez was slightly more conspicuous after outbraking himself and crashing into the back of Adrian Sutil. He had a lot of work to do after dropping out of qualifying in the first session, so perhaps was too eager to make forward progress, or perhaps just making a rookie mistake that just adds to his experience. He admits fault and has apologised to Sutil, but has also picked up a grid penalty for the next race which will put him on the back foot before he's even begun.

For Sauber as a whole, the weekend never felt particularly strong, although they are taking note that the pace shown by Nico at times looked good, and that may play into their favour at another circuit.

Williams

Driver positions - Williams
DriverQualifyingRace
P Maldonado15th14th
V Bottas17th13th

Valtteri Bottas was another early faller in qualifying, dropping out of the first session along with the Sauber of Gutiérrez. He suggested he was caught out by the wind, and with only one chance to make the lap count, it was over before he knew it. However, Pastor Maldonado did make it through to Q2 but didn't get much higher on the grid than his teammate, the pace of the car still missing so far this year.

In the race itself, the pair made some forward progress, but mostly helped by others retiring from the race ahead of them. Williams split their strategy, with both drivers stopping three times but starting on differing compounds. Bottas was caught up in the DRS investigation that took place after the race - one of five other drivers to be looked at - and he was also investigated for overtaking under yellow flags. For both, the FIA decided not to take any further action, but it's two incidents that obviously raised eyebrows for the wrong reasons.

For Maldonado, the most notable part of his weekend is that he is now 20th in the driver standings, ahead of a Marussia and a Caterham, but crucially, behind a Marussia and a Caterham. A lot of work to be done at Williams to turn this season around.

Marussia

Driver positions - Marussia
DriverQualifyingRace
J Bianchi19th15th
M Chilton20th17th

Jules Bianchi continued his strong run over the first few races, with another 15th place to add to his collection. It didn't seem to come quite as easily to the Marussia driver, and he was particularly struggling in the final stint with tyre degradation. However, the team's chosen strategy was tough on the rookie drivers, as they had to let the Caterham drivers past early on and then keep their heads long enough to retake the positions later on.

Chilton hasn't had quite such a superstar start to his season as his teammate, but after a poor start to the race itself, he managed to keep in contention with his teammate and do battle with the Caterhams on several occasions. As the man himself says, there are positives to be taken from this weekend, and their team principal agrees.

In the early part of the race we had to change our strategy slightly by extending our first stint and this allowed Caterham to get ahead when they stopped before us, but we made up that time over the course of the race and regained position. Overall, another good result for the Team and our third two car finish in as many races.

- John Booth, Team Principal, Marussia

Caterham

Driver positions - Caterham
DriverQualifyingRace
C Pic21st16th
G Van der Garde22nd18th

Both drivers in the Caterham cars admit that the pace just wasn't there this weekend. Pic believes it was a good weekend, and that once he came out of the pit lane for his final stint in 16th place, that's all he could manage. They are taking some hope from the fact they managed to keep pace with Marussia throughout, although as mentioned above, their rival team were on a completely different strategy to the green cars.

Giedo van der Garde had a quiet afternoon until the very end of the race where he found himself in the way of the incredible battle between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. We know that backmarkers can't just disappear but these rookie drivers need a bit more practice at moving off the racing line for those behind them coming through. The Dutchman wasn't having a good weekend anyway, but he puts it down to a steep learning curve and says: "We have the chance straight away to get back to the sort of performance we want in Bahrain." As do they all!

All content in the series China 2013