Fernando Alonso Takes Easy Win at Chinese Grand Prix
Fernando Alonso on the podium. Photos from ferrari.com
The third Grand Prix of the season, held at the Shanghai International Circuit in China, saw Fernando Alonso bounce back from a Lap 2 DNF in Malaysia to easily clinch first, ahead of Kimi Räikkönen and Lewis Hamilton. Amusingly, all three racers placed in the top 3 in qualifying, but finished the race in a slightly different order. It almost didn’t happen, however, as a last-minute attempt to overtake Hamilton by Sebastian Vettel almost saw the German coming in third. If the race had lasted another lap, he would have undoubtedly bested Hamilton, who took his first pole for Mercedes this weekend.
As noted in yesterday’s review of qualifying, Vettel and Nico Hulkenberg both decided to not participate in Q3 due to a tire conservation strategy, and Jenson Button breezed through a slow lap for the same reason. Under normal weather conditions, the soft Pirelli tires will set a faster lap than the mediums also in stock for the race, but will degrade more quickly. Whereas the frontrunners in qualifying opted for the soft compounds to set hot laps, Vettel and Button decided to start the race on the slower but more durable mediums. That meant getting bogged down in the middle of heavy traffic for the first few laps, but it also meant not having to pit as soon as the other racers.
It was a strategy that paid off. While Alonso, Hamilton, and Felipe Massa battled it out for the first few laps, Hulkenberg was leading the group by Lap 9. Hulkenberg and Vettel don’t have to pit until Lap 15, and a slow stop from Hulkenberg allowed Vettel to exit the pits in front. The same lap, Webber hit Jean-Éric Vergne of Toro Rosso, damaging Webber’s front end and spinning Vergne.
Lap 16 would change the race for several drivers. Räikkönen collided with Sergio Perez, damaging Räikkönen’s nose for the remainder of the race (this upsets the handling of the Lotus, but it was not replaced, presumably in the interest of saving time). Webber began driving extremely slowly, and attempted to limp to the pits, but his tire flew off at Turn 14 and ended the race for the beleaguered Aussie. Webber had to deal with a faulty fuel bowser in qualifying that relegated him to start the race in the pit lane, and the collision with Vergne led to the FIA handing down a three-place grid penalty to Webber next week in Bahrain.
By the 22nd lap, Alonso had overtaken Button (who had not yet pitted to change tires) for first place, and lead for a few laps, swapping place with Vettel, but quickly taking back his commanding position. At Lap 27, Vettel was sent to the pits for a fresh pair of mediums, and Alonso settled in first, unopposed. The next few laps continued with little changing near the front, and most of the action concentrated in the middle of the pack. In the end, Alonso finished in first, followed by Räikkönen and Hamilton, who beat out Vettel by a nose. In contrast to the rather subdued podium at Malaysia, all three competitors in China seemed to be thrilled where they were.
After a dramatic conclusion to the Malaysian Grand Prix between Red Bull teammates Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, the Chinese GP was refreshingly strife-free. There were also fewer mistakes, but there were still some DNFs. In Lap 5, Esteban Gutiérrez came into a turn too hot, and didn’t have enough time to stop when he plowed into the back end of Adrian Sutil (Gutiérrez was given a five-place grid penalty in Bahrain). Gutiérrez’ careening tire certainly foreshadowed Webber’s retirement. The same accident forced Sutil into the pit with a bent wing; leaking hydraulic fluid from the wing came in contact with the extremely hot rear right tire, causing a small fire and ending Sutil’s involvement in the race. Webber’s wheel issue forced him off the track in Lap 16, and in Lap 23, Nico Rosberg suffered a rear anti-rollbar failure and retired in Lap 22.
The Bahrain Grand Prix will be held next Sunday, and broadcast in the US on NBC Sports at 5:00 AM PST.