In the future if anyone ever tells you that Formula One is boring, you’ll be able to show them this race, the third race of 2011, in China and then laugh in their faces.
I though last week was a cracking race, but this week the only thing we had missing was a flying Russian. We didn’t know who was going to be on the Podium until the last lap, there was overtaking, Button went in to the wrong pit, Webber drove his heart out almost could have won and best of all Vettel couldn’t wave his finger around in a smug manner as the end of the race ... Just everything you could ever want from a Grand Prix.
I have seen some drives in the 30 years I’ve been watching F1, but that has to rank as one of the best i’ve ever seen. Hamilton, yes i am biased but i like my racers to be gutsy and bold and adventurous and willing to rag the thing on the limit to win. Not arse around looking after tires and picking up points, bin it or win it. That’s what i want and that’s what Hamilton delivered in China.
He realised after Sepang that having fresh rubber for the race is more important than being on pole, so whilst Vettel went out and claimed his 3rd pole of the season, Hamilton kept his cards close to his chest and let Button try to unseat the current qualifying king. Button ended up 2nd, but Hamilton in third had an extra set of fresh soft tires to go for glory.
Not so happy yet again was Webber who had an electrical issue in the car on Saturday morning and had to make a very hasty exit from the car in the garage, as smoke poured from the vents in the car. Come qualifying and he failed to make it out of Q1 ending up in a very troublesome 18th position normally reserved for the likes of Virgin and Lotus.
Talking of unhappy, the Ferraris continue to underperform in qualifying and the race. There were lots of very rich and powerful Ferrari types flying back and forth to China this week, with both Alonso and Massa saying they need more qualifying pace to stand any sort of chance.
So the race day dawns bright and sunny with plenty of big names peppered throughout the grid. The midfield had the likes of Schumacher, Petrov and Heidfeld in it and Webber was all the way at the back. All of this was the last thing on Hamilton’s mind however as there was a big problem with the car.
As the cars were being started in the garage to take to the grid before the race, Hamilton’s car had given a bit of a cough and a half hearted splutter then refused to start. Added to that there was a very strong and very worrying smell of petrol coming from somewhere inside the engine bay. With minuets to spare the crew started taking Hamilton's engine cover and air box off. With the seconds ticking down until the pit lane closed and Hamilton’s would have to start in the pits. The Boys from Woking repaired a loose fuel hose, rebuilt the engine airbox and got the cover back on. As fire extinguishers were made ready they tried the car again, it gave a little splutter then fired up with a strong hard note of readiness. The lads cleared the exit and had Hamilton out onto the track with 30 seconds to spare. This left them five minutes until the grid cleared and the cars started the parade lap, for them to get the engine cover off again, make sure everything was okay and reconnect the telemetry wiring harness, which had been missed in the rush to get Lewis out.
That is not how a racing driver likes to prepare for his afternoon.
There were a few nervous looks as the McLaren left behind the sister car and Vettel on pole, but away Hamilton went. When the red light went out for the start of the race, Vettel made a terrible start, Button and Hamilton got a flyer and beat Vettel to the first corner. At last we had a race on our hands.
The McLarens edged away from Vettel as Rosberg had a run at the Redbull and for the first stint the top three cars were covered by just 2 seconds. Button eked out a small led only for Hamilton and Vettel to chase him down, Rosberg pitted early as the others tried to make the soft tires last a few extra laps. But when the softs go off they really go. Button dived into the pits closely followed by Vettel leaving Hamilton to struggle on when he should have been in that lap. As Button and Vettel got new Pirelli rubber Hamilton fought to keep the car on the road as the Ferrari cruised up behind him and Massa claimed first spot before Hamilton could get round to the pit.
Crucially Vettel had gone for a two stop strategy so had to make his tires last longer for this and the next stint. The rest went for a 3 stop race meaning they had to cover Vettel by at least 15 seconds to give themselves enough time to get in and out and chase Vettel down. After the first round of stop Rosberg was leading, but couldn’t put any distance between him and the pack as the brakes started overheating. Further down the race and it was difficult to keep track of who was fighting who on what tires. Schumacher and Webber were fighting tooth and nail, Di Resta was doing a sterling job and Kobayshi was making a name for himself. Perez meanwhile was colliding with anything in that got in his way. Alguersuari lost a wheel after a bungled pit stop and was the only driver to retire all race. Hamilton, Button Rosberg and Vettel battled through the crowd using KERS and flappy wings to make pass after pass and driver the nuts of their cars. It was tremendous stuff with drivers trying to build gaps and stop other from getting too far ahead though the middle of the race.
As the Race came to the closing laps, Hamilton with his fresh set of soft tires was 5 seconds behind Vettel with Button, Massa, Rosberg and Webber behind them. Webber was having a storming run, from all the way back in 18th remember. And he too like Rosberg had fresh soft tires, Button had used softs and Massa had very old hard tires.
As it wound down Hamilton drove the arse of his car to catch and pass Vettel, whose old tires gave up the ghost with just three laps to go. Massa’s tires also gave up as first Rosberg then Webber went past him. But Webber wasn’t finished, taking the Mercedes of Rosberg and then like shooting fish in a barrel Button got jumped on the second to last lap.
So Hamilton gets his first race win of the season and it was a beautiful thing. To have a car almost miss the start, drive the nuts off it and win is brilliant. He didn’t settle for the points he was aggressive and kept his game head on rather than binning it and losing it all. If you missed the race, you have to watch it. After last week where it all went wrong this week it almost all went right. The McLaren is defiantly up there with the Redbull so we are going to have a championship this year.
Vettel, gets 2nd which could have been 3rd if his tires had gone off a lap earlier. He still drove a great race but the strategy let him down, on any other day he would have won, but Lady Luck has had enough of his finger and fancied and change. Is the Redbull the best car still ... maybe, but the McLaren isn’t too far behind.
Webber might very well have had the drive of the day to 3rd. He was a long way back and had to pass a lot of other cars on the track to get this result. If Vettel had been back there do you think he’d have done the business, no me neither. So that’s a great result for the grumpy Australian and this time i think he deserved it. He also got the fastest lap so that should cheer him up.
Button in 4th could well have won this, but the dice didn’t fall his way. Things started to go wrong when he stayed out an extra lap and then drove into Vettels pit slot when he did come in. Whilst his usual smooth style would normally have worked for him, this time Hamilton’s aggressive drive with new tires did the job. Let’s see just how matey those two can be if they’re both fighting for the silverware at the end of the year. Because i think they will be.
Rosberg, started 4th and finished 5th, in a race like this that’s no bad thing. He rolled the dice with an early pit stop but it didn’t work out for him as the faster cars came through. But he beat Schumacher and that’s always worth celebrating.
Massa Finally beats Alonso for the first time since Germany last year (I think, it’s late so I’m not going to check that) and on merit too. 6th place with a car that doesn’t like the tires is not to be sniffed at and it’s nice to see him stick it to Alonso.
Alonso raced his little heart out to 7th but is struggling to beat anyone at the moment.
Schumacher started 14th so to make it to 8th would normally be a good thing. But Webber started in 18th and made it to the podium. So it looks less impressive this time out hardy har har.
9th for Petrov, who didn’t try and clear the tower this week, well done and he beats Heidfeld again.
Finally Kobayashi gets 10th beating Di Resta in 11th.
Hurrah for HRT to finally finished a race, both of them were dead last, but you know what. They got there and Liuzzi was only 17 seconds behind the Virgin of Glock at the end. The tail and Charlie though was Karthikeyan who was only 1.17 second behind his team mate at the flag. Well done lads.
Once again i think Racing was the winner. The FIA didn’t need to wade in with any stupid penalties. The drivers scrapped for every point and no one cruised off into the distance, all that on a track that doesn’t always throw up the most interesting of races.
Is it the tires or the flappy rear wings? maybe, yes, no. I don’t care really. There’s over taking all the way through the field and a car can come from the back to get a podium if the driver doesn’t arse it up. You have to like that. If anyone thinks it’s too complicated go to the BBC driver tracker and watch Trulli all afternoon, it’s what you deserve. The rest of us will glory in a truly golden season of F1 because that’s what it is going to be.