In the world of Formula 1 you often get races that are universally hailed as thrilling (or epic to use the 5 year old’s terminology) or on occasions races that are interminably dull. But it is very rare that a particular race is considered by some to be exciting and by others to be a borefest. The Chinese GP of 2013 is one of those marmite races. It seems like people either loved it or hated it. So what was the deal in Shanghai? What went right and what went wrong?
Well cards on the table time. I actually really enjoyed that race and believe me I don’t often think that about races in China (see ‘interminably dull’ comment above). Yes admittedly my brain was fried by the ridiculous number of pitstops and we wouldn’t want to make the tyres any bigger an issue otherwise F1 could end up being a succession of pitstops with a bit of racing thrown in. But this weekend in China, we saw some tremendous racing, lots of incidents, crashes, a flying wheel and two cars fighting to the death for a podium spot at the finish line.
After the cringeworthy qualifying coverage on the Beeb, I re-defected to Sky. As the 2 year old considerately had adopted Chinese time, I was able to immerse myself in the full, unexpurgated build up. But as time is money and I have precious little of both, I’ll rapidly fast-forward to #MartinsGridWalk as is customary.
Martin told us there was ‘tremendous excitement’ down on the grid and the atmosphere was electric. Either he talks a good talk (which of course he does) or he really was supersonically excited. It appeared looking at the stands that huge swathes of Chinese F1 fans had adopted Kimi Raikkonen as one of their own. Always been a bit sceptical about the natural appetite of China for F1 but credit where its due. Kimi is a real old school racer and not the obvious choice (say compared to the metronomical win machine that is Vettel). Damnit, maybe Bernie was onto something after all taking the magic of F1 to new audiences (though I suspect the incidental benefit of China and India having the largest populations in the world might have just crossed his mind and that of his accountant).
First up an interview with Vettel (a rarity on the grid since he became super arrogant successful and focused on winning races). Clearly His People have a strategy for convincing the F1 populace at large that Seb is an all-round nice guy again. Presumably another Top Gear appearance is in the offing. Seb told us it was a long race and a lot can happen and could Martin ask the drivers in front to pit early. The old jokester! The lovely Tanja Bauer from SKY Deutschland hoved into view to piggy-back off the interview. There is no better double-act in F1 than Martin and Tanja. In my mind they are the F1 equivalent of Tim and Dawn from The Office.
Showing he wasn’t adverse to doing the same (but with less smouldering chemistry), Martin inserted himself into an interview with David Coulthard and Ricciardo who had of course qualified in a brilliant 7th spot. There were then a couple of failed attempts to interview Grosjean (he only now talks to Canal+ before races) and Rosberg (prior booking with German TV). So as a last resort, Brundle sauntered over to Bernie who lets face it would be much better value than most drivers and their predictable, bland soundbites. Bernie said he didn’t have a clue who would win (Bernie should have checked out my qualifying blog!) and in response to Martin’s comments on the somewhat lacklustre qualifiying (big hand for Brundle for asking the difficult question there) Bernie said he would be looking to tweak qualifying. Good.
Then we had our first Random Celebrity at a Race of the season and it was the lesser spotted Avram Grant. It was his first time at a Grand Prix and it was impressive but different to football. Thanks Avram. And mercifully we were done with the Gridwalk.
Just time for Crofty to make a thoroughly odd reference to Chaucer and it was time for the start and Go Go Go at the Chinese Grand Prix! And it was a very clean start for everyone. Both Ferrari’s leapfrogged Kimi, and Nico Rosberg squeezed past Grosjean. We were barely into the 2nd lap before Sutil nearly put his team-mate, Di Resta, off the track (that’ll be an interesting team debrief later) and it was time for the first pitstop of the race – the honour coming to Mark Webber who had started from the back of the grid.
Even in the early stages of the race, Lewis Hamilton was struggling to hang onto his lead and could not fend off the faster cars of Alonso and Massa. Vettel meanwhile was working his way through the field having passed Vettel and Hulkenberg. The Mercedes tyres situation was so dire that the team actually stacked them in the pits to give them new sets of tyres ASAP.
Gutierrez decided to accelerate his Sauber into the back of Sutil who had to bring his car and broken rear wing (ouch) into the pits where the brakes promptly caught fire. Its been pretty much downhill for poor Adrian Sutil since the dizzying heights of leading the Australian GP. Gutierrez has since been rightly penalised with a 5 place grid penalty for Bahrain.
Time for our first round of pitstops (ie. for everyone except the already-pitted Mercedes cars and those on the medium compounds, Button and the Hulk) by laps 7 and 8. The main change afterwards was that Kimi was now running ahead of Massa. By lap 14, the race leader was Hulkenberg who had yet to pit. As Marty B said the Hulk has formed a habit of leading different Grand Prix in different cars. I wonder whether Martin Whitmarsh wakes up screaming in the dead of night remembering he could have signed Hulkenberg but instead went for Perez.
Vettel was inconveniently stuck behind the Hulk for a few laps and got the ‘box box’ call (we all know its a very unsubtle code for ‘pit’ so why don’t they just say ‘pit’) so Sauber hauled in the Hulk as well. Red Bull executed one of their lightning fast stops and Vettel rejoined ahead of the Hulk but in a POTENTIAL FLASHPOINT INCIDENT Vettel was right behind Mark Webber.
Alas for all those (me for one) hoping to see a right old ding-dong between the two Red Bull team-mates, Webber got all tangled up with Jean-Eric Vergne before anyone could say ‘multi 21’ and had to take his damaged car into the pits. So that spoilt all our fun.
Then Kimi had a coming together with Perez which politely could be described as a rather over-ambitious overtaking move on the outside and bluntly could be summed up as Kimi crashing into the back of an admittedly slowish Perez. Anyhow we had another Angry Kimi moment. All this outpouring of emotion (by Kimi standards) would make anyone think that Kimi himself might have half an eye on a title challenge this season. Kimi lost the end of the nose of his car but didn’t seem bothered and nor did the Oracle that is Martin Brundle (the husband was having a minor nervous breakdown but I tend to trust Martin more!) so a podium finish was potentially still on the cards.
Poor Webber’s weekend went from pretty rubbish to An Abject Total Disaster. As he was coasting around the track, he was told to abort the race and then his wheel went flying off, bouncing across the track into the path of amongst others, Sebastian Vettel. Insert witty Twitter caption pictures here (actually I can’t be bothered!). Could anything else go wrong for Mark? Yes of course it could. We heard that the stewards were investigating his incident with Vergne – the upshot of which is a 3 place grid penalty for Mark Webber going into Bahrain.
By lap 18, Button (Tyre Preserver Extraordinaire) was leading the race with Alonso breathing down his neck. Massa and Rosberg pitted again on lap 20 and then while Alonso scorched past Button one lap later, we had a Do Not Adjust Your Sets Moment as Rosberg pitted again. Two pitstops in two laps is not good. And sure enough Nico was forced to retire from the race with suspension problems. Its safe to say he is getting ALL of Schumacher’s terrible luck from last season. I would say his luck has to change but then I remember the rest of Schumacher’s final season.
Finally on lap 24, Button pitted (along with Alonso) and he rejoined the track just ahead of his former team-mate Lewis Hamilton. And at the all-important halfway point of the race (according to Bernie, this was when we would start to have an inkling of who would finish where) the front order was shaking out thus: 1. Alonso 2. Vettel 3. Hulkenberg 4. Hamilton and 5. Button (the front two and the last two having literally just swapped positions on track).
On lap 30, the Hulk pitted and Hamilton was catching Vettel until he (Seb) pitted two laps later. The next laps saw pitstops from Kimi, Massa and the Hulk (again – for reasons I forget) and Hamilton. By lap 40, the pack was slightly shuffled at the front although Alonso was still leading the race, followed by 2. Vettel 3. Button 4. Kimi 5. Ricciardo and 6. Hamilton
We were told that 6 cars were being investigated for illegal use of DRS along with the 2 other cars that were already being investigated for illegal use of DRS. That’s pretty much everyone except for Lewis Hamilton as a friend on Twitter pointed out to me (but I’m not biting!). On lap 42, Alonso finally pitted and rejoined behind Vettel but not for long as he rapidly dispatched him on the following lap. A couple of laps later, Kimi took Button and he was absolutely flying in the proverbial Finn sense of the word. Button bravely held off Hamilton for a few laps but simply could not keep the much faster Mercedes behind him for long. On lap 50, Button had to come into the pits again and re-emerged in 6th place. Not on paper a stellar position but considering the abject mediocrity of the McLaren this season, Button was having an impressive race.
Lap 52 saw Vettel come into the pits and he slotted back into 4th place and was absolutely flying. Despite the on-track hazards of Caterham’s and Marussia’s (I like to think of them as Mario Kart style banana skins), he was rapidly hauling in Lewis to set up a thrilling battle to the finish. And it was a grandstand finish as Hamilton just crossed the line a mere 0.2 seconds ahead of Vettel.
So here are the results from the Chinese Grand Prix 2013:
- Alonso – A brilliant strategic victory from Alonso and Ferrari.
- Raikkonen – A great return to form after Melbourne.
- Hamilton – Two podiums in two races. WAY better than Mercedes/Lewis could have hoped.
- Vettel – From 9th on the grid, anyone else would be reasonably happy with that result. But this is Seb.
- Button – Enormously impressive drive to justify the 2 stop gamble. Not many other drivers could have done the same.
- Massa – Not a drive to grab the headlines. But hey someone had to be 6th.
With barely time to draw breath, we’re off to Bahrain and predictably a bunch of MPs have called for the race to be cancelled due to unrest in the Gulf state (although for 99% of the last year, we’ve heard squat diddly about Bahrain!). And of even greater interest than the news that NO soft tyres will be used in Bahrain this coming weekend are the rather touching images of Alonso and Webber’s bromantic dinner à deux in Dubai.
I’m being abandoned this weekend by the husband and will be at the mercy of small children. Not sure if that makes it easier or harder to blog as I might be a Woman on the Edge but at least there is a Grand Prix to save me!