Nico Rosberg has finally broken through to claim his maiden Grand Prix victory – and a first win for the modern-incarnation Mercedes team – with a dominant lights-to-flag drive at the Chinese Grand Prix. The German was aided by an early retirement for team-mate Michael Schumacher, along with a pit-stop problem for Jenson Button, who posed his only potential threat to victory today.
While it took a while to build to its climax, most fans would agree that this Chinese Grand Prix was a classic. The shortened DRS zone made overtaking much more difficult than was the case at last year’s race, and it could really only be achieved if the passing car was on fresher tyres.
Having claimed a commanding pole in yesterday’s qualifying session, Rosberg led away at the start from Schumacher and a fast-starting Button, who gained three places off the line to run third at the opening lap.
Third-placed Kamui Kobayashi had a poor getaway and fell down the order off the line, as did defending World Champions Sebastian Vettel, who dropped to fifteenth from his eleventh-placed grid slot.
Rosberg quickly began building an early lead while Schumacher gradually lost ground in second place, and steadily fell into the clutches of Button and the chasing pack behind. His race would be over after his first pit stop when it emerged that his right-front wheel had not been properly attached.
He was characteristically magnanimous in brushing off the error of his pit crew, but it must have galled him to Rosberg to defy expectations with his dominant win – one wonders how much of a challenge Schumacher could have posed had this error not have occurred.
But this pattern of retirement is becoming rather too common for Mercedes, with this being the fourth such retirement since the team returned to the sport. Schumacher was eliminated from the 2010 Malaysian Grand Prix courtesy of a wheel nut, while Rosberg had DNFs at Hungary and Japan in the same year when his rear wheel fell off. It was a costly error (not just on account of the €5,000 fine the team earned), and Mercedes will need to work on fixing this, pronto.
Schumacher’s retirement promoted Button into second place, who was being chased by team-mate Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull’s Mark Webber, who had taken advantage of a very early pit stop to leap up the order when everyone else peeled into the pits for fresh tyres.
The race saw an interesting split in strategies, with most of the faster runners opting for a three-stop strategy, while some chose to take the punt on a two-stop route to the finish line.
The middle of the race saw many of the two-stoppers – including Sergio Pérez, Kimi Räikkönen and Felipe Massa – enjoy time at the sharp end of the field, but they also served to compress the chasing pack and give Rosberg the much-needed gap over the rest of the field to make his strategy play out in his favour.
Button was about the only runner who could make his two-strop strategy work. He led briefly until his final pit stop, but a sticking rear wheel nut saw him stuck in the pits for too long, and he emerged right in the thick of the chasing pack (rather than ahead of it). Barring disaster, the win was effectively Rosberg’s at that point.
Behind the German, Räikkönen now served as the cork in the bottle, holding up a huge train of cars as he vainly tried to make his own two-stop strategy work. But his tyre grip dramatically faded with ten laps to go, and he lost a mammoth ten places in the space of just two laps to finish out of the points.
His demise released a two-stopping Vettel into an impressive second place, and now it was his job to keep Button, Hamilton and Webber behind. He hung on gamely until a few laps to go when his tyres finally cried their last, but managed to hang on to fifth place as the trio swept by with some brave passing moves at the hairpin.
In contrast to his team-mate Romain Grosjean was able to manage his tyre wear more effectively, and – aside from a wild off-track moment at Turn 6 – he ploughed on to finish a career-best sixth, a much-needed result given the flak he copped for his early self-induced retirement at the last Grand Prix in Malaysia.
Williams showed great late-race pace to deliver the team’s first double-points’ finish since the 2010 Korean Grand Prix, with Bruno Senna finishing seventh and his hard-to-pass team-mate Pastor Maldonado coming home eighth. Senna survived a first-corner scrape with Massa when he hit his compatriot’s Ferrari and broke his front wing endplate, but he hung on well in what was a mature performance from then on.
Fernando Alonso drove hard all day but could only snatch a measly two points for his efforts by finishing ninth. The result meant he lost his surprising lead of the championship standings following his brilliant Malaysia win, but it was clear the the F2012 is not delivering the goods his talents and hard work deserve.
The final point went to Kobayashi, who plugged on after his poor start, which hindered his hopes of making his three-stop strategy work. Team-mate Pérez, on a two-stopper, finished one spot behind.
Force India’s 2011 heroics are beginning to look like a distant memory as the team failed to claim any points this weekend. Paul di Resta had the measure of team-mate Nico Hülkenberg all race; the pair sandwiched the slow-finishing Massa and Räikkönen ins twelfth and fifteenth places respectively.
Toro Rosso was another outfit to be baffled by their dramatic loss of pace this weekend. After failing to make the Q2 cut for the second race running, Jean-Éric Vergne opted for some wholesale changes to his STR7 and was forced to start from the pit lane; he managed to finish ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo by the end of the race, with the Australian struggling in his opening stint and consigning himself to a point-less afternoon.
Eighteenth place might not look like much of a result, but one must give credit to Vitaly Petrov, who pushed hard all race long and remained on the leading lap until Nico Rosberg’s very final tour. Caterham team-mate Heikki Kovalainen was last of the finishers after he had to make an unscheduled visit to the pits when his right-rear wheel loosened after a scheduled tyre stop.
The Marussia and HRT pairings once again brought up the rear, although all cars saw the chequered flag, with both teams praising the performance gains they had made over the first three rounds of the championship.
But the focus, and quite rightly so, will be all on Nico Rosberg and Mercedes today. Formula 1 saw its 103rd race-winner crowned today, and the Silver Arrows will be extremely confident that they can put in another excellent performance at next week’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
2012 Chinese Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (56 laps):
|1.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||56||1:36:26.929|
|2.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||56||+ 20.626|
|3.||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||56||+ 26.012|
|4.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||56||+ 27.924|
|5.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||56||+ 30.483|
|6.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Renault E20||56||+ 31.491|
|7.||Bruno Senna||Williams Renault FW34||56||+ 34.597|
|8.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Renault FW34||56||+ 35.643|
|9.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F2012||56||+ 37.256|
|10.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber Ferrari C31||56||+ 38.720|
|11.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber Ferrari C31||56||+ 41.066|
|12.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes VJM05||56||+ 42.273|
|13.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari F2012||56||+ 42.779|
|14.||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus F1 Renault E20||56||+ 50.573|
|15.||Nico Hülkenberg||Force India Mercedes VJM05||56||+ 51.213|
|16.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7||56||+ 51.756|
|17.||Daniel Ricciardo||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7||56||+ 1:03.156|
|18.||Vitaly Petrov||Caterham Renault CT01||55||1 lap behind|
|19.||Timo Glock||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01||55||1 lap behind|
|20.||Charles Pic||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01||55||1 lap behind|
|21.||Pedro de la Rosa||HRTF1 Cosworth F112||55||1 lap behind|
|22.||Narain Karthikeyan||HRTF1 Cosworth F112||54||2 laps behind|
|23.||Heikki Kovalainen||Caterham Renault CT01||53||3 laps behind|
|DNF.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||15||Loose Wheel|
|Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber Ferrari C31||56||1:39.960|
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