Apologies for the extended delay since my last post, but with two tax paper deadlines, the last days of law school, and 420, the time just seemed to fly by. And if you haven’t heard, parts of western Europe were taken under siege when the Eyjafjallajokull glacier erupted in a volcanic explosion last week.
The ash from the eruption shut down most of the air traffic, but thankfully the F1 circus was making the last stop on its Oceania/South Asia opening leg of the season in Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix. And predicted for the race weekend was yet again more rain. Boy, oh boy.
Ni hao from Shanghai, which has been host to the Chinese GP since 2004. There are rumors that if the turnout for next year’s race, which is the final one in a 7 year contract, is as bad as this year’s, then that may be it for F1 in China. Not exactly the best return on the most expensive F1 circuit ever constructed, which was built for about $450 million back in 2004. One of the unique characteristics of the circuit is the 1km long back straight between Turns 13 and 14. Here’s Red Bull driver Mark Webber to showcase the track in his ultra cool simulator.
The other rumor floating around the paddocks is Red Bull’s alleged illegal ride height adjustment system. Red Bull has been understandably coy about the whole situation, even mocking the accusations. Red Bull is 3 for 3 so far this season in qualifying, if they manage to make it 4 for 4 then maybe the other teams will quit with the finger pointing and focus on making improvements to their own aerodynamic package.
Guess who takes it? It’s Vettel yet again with a superb final lap to take P1 for the third time this season. The Vettel/RB6 combination is the fastest on the grid, and if it wasn’t for a bad spark plug and a faulty suspension component, it’s conceivable that he would have won all three races so far. Instead of recapping the action, here’s a chart of all three qualifying sessions and the drivers’ times.
|1||5||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault||1′36.317||1′35.280||1′34.558|
|2||6||Mark Webber||Red Bull-Renault||1′35.978||1′35.100||1′34.806|
|10||14||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||1′36.671||1′35.665||1′35.963|
|12||17||Jaime Alguersuari||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||1′36.618||1′36.047|
|13||16||Sebastien Buemi||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||1′36.844||1′36.149|
|17||22||Pedro de la Rosa||Sauber-Ferrari||1′37.050||1′37.020|
|18||15||Vitantonio Liuzzi||Force India-Mercedes||1′37.161|
|22||25||Lucas di Grassi||Virgin-Cosworth||1′39.783|
A few interesting points to note is Liuzzi’s dropping a big dud in Q1, who attributed his poor session to “traffic.” Oh whaaa, are your Puma velcro racing shoes strapped too tight? And what about Schumi yet again getting outqualified by teammate Nico? What’s even more surprising is the gap between Rosberg and Schumi has grown, and not shrunk, since the beginning of the season. The not so subtle change in Schumi’s demeanor has been interesting to observe. In the past, Schumi was much more inaccessible and short at times with the media, which belied his uber-determined and steely racing nature. Now, he seems more upbeat and jovial, even happy almost to just be racing again. It’s as if he forgot how to be his old self, and he lacks that edge he needs to push his car to its absolute limit. Today’s qualifying was under dry conditions, but rain is predicted for tomorrow’s race, could we see a repeat of last season when Vettel took his first win under rainy conditions?
So it’s not exactly raining, but there is moisture in the air. None of the teams have decided to switch to intermediate tires before the start of the race, I assume they’re operating under the mantra that the rain comes when it’s on the track.
Turn up the volume for the start of the Chinese GP! Oop, it looks like Alonso jumped the start, he passes both Vettel and Webber going into turn 1. Webber takes 2nd from Vettel, and there’s a crash involving Liuzzi, Kamui Kobayashi, and Sebastian Buemi. The safety car comes out, and a parade of cars come into the pits to take on intermediate tires. Martin Brundle just commented that Bridgestone is using a softer compound for the intermediate tires this season, so their durability in semi-dry conditions could be suspect. Hmm…
Lap 6: Hamilton and Vettel pit again, tire prophet Brundle foresaw that it was premature to switch to intermediates. Hamilton and Vettel literally go side by side entering and leaving the pit lanes. Save it for the track, boys.
Lap 10: Hamilton passes Webber, he is flying right now and working his way through the grid. He should be grateful for his F-duct, it seems to be paying off on overtaking opportunities at the end of the 1 km long straight.
Lap 12: Hamilton passes both Vettel and Sutil, who’s been holding up the cars behind him. Vettel and Webber both get by Sutil a lap later. Force India may be getting stronger, but it’s obvious they’re still a step slow to the leaders.
Lap 17: Hamilton is now dueling with Schumi, and makes the pass after 3 laps of stalking his tail. Epic stuff.
Lap 18: Vettel takes his shot at Schumi, and passes him with relative ease. Did we just witness the torch being passed?
Lap 20: Alonso and Massa go side by side literally inches from each other into the pit lane, and Alonso takes the inside lane and cuts off his teammate. Enzo Ferrari must be rolling over in his grave after that stunt. Ferrari chairman Luca Di Montezemolo commented afterwards that the incident wasn’t an issue, and that both drivers know they race for Ferrari and not for themselves. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Lap 26: Hamilton passes Schumi again, and sweeps both past Petrov and Kubica a few laps later. Kubica is currently the driver with the most buzz around him, his name has been mentioned as a possible replacement at Ferrari if Massa doesn’t resign after this season. I honestly don’t understand the speculation, Ferrari has invested a lot in Massa, and if they managed to convince the FIA and FOTA to allow three cars per team then they would almost certainly sign MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi.
Lap 30: Alonso, Webber, Vettel all pass Sutil, who manages to fend off Schumi. Part of me still doesn’t believe that Schumi is no longer the GOAT, but the burden of proof is now on him to show that he still has it.
Lap 31: Webber makes a sublimely smooth pass on Barrichello. Vettel may be the fastest this season, but Webber and Hamilton have been the most compelling drivers to watch. Hamilton has put on overtaking clinics at Australia, Sepang, and now Shanghai. He’s also been the focus of controversy both on and off the track, but it’s undeniable that he’s been the engine of this season’s drama and intrigue. It’s almost as if he’s been racing this season with something to prove, despite being the youngest ever world champion.
Lap 37: Rosberg is holding off Hamilton in a literal back and forth battle with Hamilton over three laps. That was some classic F1 action, two elite drivers racing wheel to wheel in dynamic racing conditions.
Lap 38: Race leaders Button, Rosberg, and Hamilton all pit for likely the last time. Hamilton ends up passing Rosberg on the pit transitions.
Lap 56: Massa passes his former mentor Schumi, who runs his car off the track. Oof.
Button and Hamilton take McLaren’s first 1-2 finish of the season! That was a nearly flawless race by Button, and Hamilton turned in another spirited drive to take his second podium. Vettel and Webber manage to salvage 6th and 8th place, who have to be disappointed with the their result after securing the two top spots in qualifying. Button now leads the Drivers championship by ten points over Nico Rosberg, who is leading a pack of six drivers separated by ten points. McLaren also leaps forward to the top of the Constructors standings, it’s a good day to be an Englishman in China.
A big factor in today’s race yet again was each team’s pit stop strategies, and Button yet again made the right call to not prematurely take on intermediate tires in semi-wet conditions. I submit as evidence a chart of every drivers’ pit stops in the race, both Button and Rosberg benefited from riding out the first stint of the race on slicks.
|1 Jenson Button||60.0|
|2 Nico Rosberg||50.0|
|3 Fernando Alonso||49.0|
|4 Lewis Hamilton||49.0|
|5 Sebastian Vettel||45.0|
|6 Felipe Massa||41.0|
|7 Robert Kubica||40.0|
|8 Mark Webber||28.0|
|9 Michael Schumacher||10.0|
|10Lotus F1 Racing||0.0|
Next stop on the circus is Valenica for the start of European leg of the F1 calendar. Word on the track is Mercedes is planning to unveil a custom updated Mercedes W01 for Schumi, but will it be enough to catapult him back into contention?