4:30PM: Greetings all, and welcome to Round 4 of the 2010 FIA Formula 1 World Championship, coming to us from the Shanghai International Circuit. Today, I’m watching the race at the home of our esteemed IndyCar columnist, Matt Lennon, who’s celebrating his birthday party this afternoon.
An intriguing qualifying session saw Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber lock out the front row for Red Bull, while McLaren’s early practice pace seemed to elude them at the crucial Q3 phase of qualifying; they’re starting from the third row.
Will McLaren’s ‘F-duct’ prove a crucial weapon in the race, with the extra straight-line speed afforded to them on the back straight? Or can Red Bull continue their race dominance once again?
Another factor today will be the weather, with showers forecast to sweep the circuit for the duration of the race. Last year’s Chinese GP was equally rain-affected, and we saw Sebastian Vettel storm to his maiden win for Red Bull (it was the team’s first win as well).
4:45PM: First shots are coming through from the circuit, and the umbrellas are up at Shanghai. The track looks greasy, but perhaps not wet enough to start on the intermediate tyre just yet.
4:47PM: Our host broadcaster in Australia, OneHD, is replaying highlights footage from the Friday and Saturday practice sessions. Sébastien Buemi’s frightening accident in the opening practice session had a few tongues wagging, it was an incredible accident, almost akin to a grenade exploding in the front section of his car. He was extremely fortunate to escape without injury.
4:50PM: The rain seems to have stopped, for now. Looks like all the teams will start on the dry tyre. You don’t want to burn off your limited stash of wet tyres if the circuit is too dry at this stage.
4:55PM: Quick summary of the starting grid: Vettel, Webber, Alonso, Rosberg, Button, Hamilton, Massa, Kubica, Schumacher, Sutil. Karun Chandhok and Lucas di Grassi wil start from the pit-lane.
4:58PM: Disaster for Timo Glock. His car has been left on its jacks as the green light for the formation lap came on; he’ll have no choice but to start from the pit lane. Or is it something more terminal?
Onboard shots during the formation lap are showing a few spots of rain on the camera lenses.
Are we set for a mini-downpour in the opening laps?
START: Great start from Alonso, he rockets past the two Red Bulls and takes the lead into Turn 1. Poor start from Vettel, as Webber sneaks by into second place.
Lap 1: Four-car shunt at Turn 6 involving Vitantonio Liuzzi, Kamui Kobayashi, the hapless Buemi and Nico Hülkenberg; only Nico is able to rejoin, scrambling around the stranded cars and rejoining at the rear of the field. Tons of debris on the circuit, and the Safety Car is out.
Replays show Liuzzi lost control under braking and cannoned into Buemi and Kobayashi; Hülkenberg was an innocent victim in all of this, driving around the outside of the accident and somehow not picking up a puncture.
Mutterings are that Alonso jumped start, will keep you posted.
Lap 2: Safety Car still out. Radio transmission from Button indicates Alonso definitely jumped the start, and now supported by replays indicating this to be the case. The rain is starting to intensify; will the drivers consider coming in for wet tyres?
Lap 3: Alonso is confirmed as being under investigation for the jumped start. Hamilton, Massa and both Red Bulls peel off into the pit lane to change tyres. Vettel has to queue behind team-mate Webber and drops further down the order. Safety Car to come in.
Lap 4: Rosberg now leads the race for Mercedes GP after Alonso pits from the lead for intermediate tyres. Button is now second, with the leaders on dry tyres. Will opting to stay on dry tyres prove to be the wrong choice?
Lap 5: Alonso’s drive-through penalty is confirmed. Schumacher pits, but takes on slicks instead of intermediates. The track clearly isn’t wet enough, as those who opted for the wet tyres are now burning them off and have no traction. Back in come Vettel and Hamilton for dry tyres.
Lap 6: Drama in the pit lane as Hamilton is released at the same time as Vettel, with the pair running side-by-side down the pit lane and just touching wheels as they exit. They could be in trouble with the Stewards: Hamilton for the unsafe release, and Vettel for squeezing Lewis onto the pit apron! Having now completed two stops, they are 15th and 16th respectively, and miles behind the leaders. Disaster!
Lap 8: Those who haven’t pitted at all are heading the field and sitting pretty. Rosberg leads from Button, Kubica, Petrov, de la Rosa.
Hamilton and Vettel both pass Webber on the back straight: Vettel passes Webber, but the two slide wide at the hairpin, and Hamilton nearly takes both of them! The trio is 50 seconds behind the leaders, and it’s starting to rain again!
Lap 10: The Vettel-Hamilton-Webber trio breezes past Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus. Replays show de la Rosa retiring with smoke billowing from the rear of his Sauber. Another Ferrari engine failure? A shame, he was a chance for points today by staying out on dry tyres.
Lap 12: Hamilton passes Vettel and Sutil at the same corner with a neat move. Hamilton is now up to 8th, and now has the Force India between himself and Vettel.
Lap 13: Both Red Bulls breeze past Sutil, who has no answer to their pace. Hamilton is now setting quick sector times, and lapping some two seconds a lap quicker than Rosberg in the lead, but he’s over 45 seconds adrift.
Lap 15: Hamilton has now caught Schumacher, we now get to see the battle everyone has been waiting between the Master and the Contender. With Hamilton having so much more pace, how long can Schumi fend him off? Not long, would be my bet…
Lap 17: Hamilton gets past Schumacher, with a better exit from Turn 13 onto the back straight. Schumacher tucks into Lewis’ slipstream and has a stab into the hairpin, but Lewis gets the better drive out of the corner and keeps the position he’s gained.
Lap 18: Vettel’s turn to pass Schumacher, which he does with ease and moves up to sixth place. Schumacher just cannot seem to get traction exiting the corners.
Lap 19: Cut to the front, and suddenly we see Button passing Rosberg for the lead along the back straight. How did this happen? Rosberg was some four seconds ahead of Button at the start of the lap – he must have made a mistake.
Replays show Rosberg snatching his brakes and running wide at Turn 11, which would have allowed Button to close the gap and have a go at passing.
And now it’s starting to rain heavily…
Lap 20: Webber and Schumacher pit for intermediate tyres, as do both Ferraris of Alonso and Massa.
Lap 21: Button pits for the wet tyre and still leads when he rejoins. Hamilton and Vettel pit, and rejoin behind Webber, who got the jump on both of them by pitting one leap earlier.
Alguersuari is seen limping into the pit lane with his front wing jammed under his car. He pits for a replacement nose cone.
Lap 22: The Safety Car is called into action again as the debris from Jaime’s accident are cleared.
Lap 23: Replays show Alguersuari tagged Bruno Senna’s HRT in the spray, seemingly without damage to the Brazilian’s car.
Lap 24: Safety Car is still out, and there is confirmation that the pit lane incident between Hamilton and Vettel will be investigated after the race. The Stewards clearly want to speak to both drivers. Will they be slapped with a time penalty? A grid drop? Let’s wait and see…
Lap 25: Safety Car in at the end of the lap. Hülkenberg pits for dry tyres (?), which is seemingly a poor decision. But he’s so far down the order, that he has nothing to lose with a gamble like this.
Button slows the pace to allow the Safety Car to pit, but he positively dawdles through the hairpin, causing the pack to concertina horribly, and several drivers are forced onto the grass to avoid colliding with each other. Stupid driving from Jenson: the drivers have complained about these sort of antics in the past…
Lap 26: Green flags and we’re racing again. Webber runs wide at the final corner before he crosses the control line, and loses a bunch of places to drop to 12th.
Hamilton makes a good pass on Schumacher into Turn 9.
Webber is heard on the team radio complaining that he was hit by Hamilton at the final corner.
Lap 27: Hamilton replicates his pass on Schumacher, this time Petrov is the victim and he’s up to fourth! Lewis is now just 5 seconds behind his team-mate, and Kubica is his next victim.
Lap 29: Hamilton breezes past Kubica on the back straight to take 3rd, and Alonso does likewise to Sutil in the background.
Lap 30: Vettel passes Sutil into the hairpin.
Lap 32: Button heads Rosberg by less than 3 seconds, with Lewis a further 2 seconds adrift and catching.
Lap 33: Rosberg simply doesn’t have the pace at this stage of the race, and it’s only a matter of time before Lewis gets him. Petrov spins at Turn 9, and Alonso and Vettel get by before he rejoins.
Lap 34: Sutil’s tumble down the order seems imminent; he’s leading a quartet comprising Schumacher, Felipe Massa and Webber.
Lap 35: Hamilton tries to pass Rosberg around the outside of the hairpin, but Rosberg holds firm and eases Hamilton wide at the exit of the corner. Rosberg’s lack pf pace is holding up Hamilton and he’s losing time to Button.
Lap 36: Hamilton finally passes Rosberg.
Lap 37: Another pit stop for Schumacher and Webber, who keep on the intermediate tyres.
Lap 38: Hamilton also pits – his fourth stop!. Kubica also pits, along with Vettel.
Lap 39: Button’s front tyres look totally shot and he pits for fresh intermediate tyres. Rosberg also pits and so does Alonso. By pitting a lap earlier, Hamilton is well clear of Rosberg when the German rejoins.
Lap 41: Fifteen laps to go, and it’s just Button standing between Hamilton and a glorious win. The gap to his team-mate is 3.6s – in equal machinery, who will prove the quicker?
Lap 44: Button manages to extend the gap to 4 seconds over his team-mate. Is Lewis burning through his tyres too quickly?
Lap 47: Hamilton has lost a further second to Button.
Lap 49: Hamilton is now complaining that his tyres are going off, and he’s losing time to Button and allowing Rosberg to close.
Lap 51: Drama for Button, who snatches his brakes and slide wide at the Hairpin, which costs him about 4 seconds. Advantage Hamilton.
Lap 52: Schumacher’s wretched race continues as he is passed by Petrov.
Lap 54: Hamilton takes a further two seconds out of Button and closes the gap further. It’s going to be a sprint to the finish!
Massa tries to pass Schumacher into the hairpin, but Schumi closes the door and keeps 9th place for now.
Lap 55: Petrov is flying and breezes past a defenceless Webber, whose tyres have gone.
Lap 56: Button’s margin over Hamilton is just enough and he takes his second win of the season to take the championship lead.
6:50PM: A sensational drive from Button, who played the strategy of not coming in early perfectly and drove a silky smooth race to the finish.
[Images via ITV-F1]