RENCKEN: China had everything!
SHANGHAI, China - It is becoming increasingly clichéd to shout "What a race!" after each successive Formula 1 GP this year but such description surely fits Sunday’s 2012 56-lap race at the vast Shanghai International Circuit like a pair of finely crafted silk slippers.
The race had absolutely everything: a new, start-to-flag, victor in Nico Rosberg, one who had the pleasure of knowing his 1982 World champion father Keke was around to watch him – unlike the only other "son of" winner Damon Hill whose father Graham died before the 1996 World champion had donned a helmet.
There were strategies galore; podium places galore slipping away in the closing stages; a first win for Mercedes as constructor since 1955; a yo-yoing of order behind the leader, with at one stage around three seconds separating third to 13th; and off-track controversy throughout due to the winning team’s trick F-duct rear wing, plus concern over next weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
That the latest Silver Arrows were mighty quick had been proven by the Three-Pointed Star in Melbourne and Malaysia, although in both instances they ultimately fell off the pace due to tyre degradation, and, simply put, an inability to unlock the secrets of Pirelli’s 2012 compounds – a conundrum suffered by virtually every team to date, certainly those at the sharp end.
For Mercedes, though, the weekend could not have started better: the F-duct controversy had bubbled under since pre-season testing, with various teams threatening to protest the device which lowers drag when DRS is deployed – free use in practice and qualifying; in the zone during races – thus boosting top end by as much as 15km/h.
HALF-SECOND POLE MARGIN
On Thursday Lotus protested, then lost the applicable €2000 fee when the stewards rejected the matter out of hand. The duct was thus declared legal – and, crucially, Mercedes could exploit this circuit’s total of 2200m of ‘F-ductable’ straights during the preliminaries. Plus, of course, Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher could benefit from its advantage should they need to attack during the race.
That they would be a force to be reckoned with was clear on Friday, with Schumacher setting fastest the time. Come Saturday Nico took pole by a half a second despite not even venturing out for a final time after his team advised against it to save rubber given Michael was third and Hamilton would in any event drop five places (from second on the grid) due to an unscheduled gearbox change, and on Sunday Nico was simply in a class of his own; the more so after his team mate retired following a pit stop glitch on Lap 13 which caused his right front wheel to come loose while in an effective second.
However, behind Nico, battles raged up and down the field, with nothing illustrating the varying strategies chosen across the board better than the respective fates of an off-the-pace reigning double champion Sebastian Vettel, whose Red Bull team has yet to unearth Pirelli’s secret, and 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus).
The former, starting 11th before ending fifth, at one stage ran as high as second, having previously dropped to the late teens, then was only denied a podium in the closing stages, while the Finn, at last getting to grips with F1 after his return following a two-year rallying sabbatical, seemed set for second, but plunged down to 14th within two laps as his rubber went off.
Interestingly, Nico chose a two-stopper while normally super-smooth Jenson Button went for three, and McLaren’s choice proved crucial to the result – the extra 20 seconds expended by Jens translated into the winning margin.
Yes, the Briton suffered a pit-stop glitch which dropped him behind those he had previously waltzed away from, but, still, such was Nico’s pace that the final result was never seriously in doubt.
2011 winner Lewis Hamilton claimed the final podium spot to elevate himself into the lead on the points log over Button by 45 points to 43, simultaneously putting McLaren (88) into a commanding lead over Red Bull (64) in the Constructors’ by overhauling first Vettel, then the German’s team mate Mark Webber in the closing laps to take the final podium spot.
Webber’s fourth was remarkable simply as he has overshadowed Vettel in virtually every race this 2012 season after being totally shaded throughout last year; while Romain Grosjean eventually justified the faith Lotus showed in the GP2 champion after nobody else touched him following an abortive earlier F1 career.
NO POINTS FROM MASSA
As for the rest, Williams’s Bruno Senna and Pastor Maldonado were elated by a combined haul of 10 points for seventh and eighth, while all who heard Fernando Alonso enunciate Ferrari’s current problems after his ninth place from ninth on the grid marvelled at his post-race demeanour – the 2005/6 World champion realises his paymasters expect 100% in every race and that he delivers without fail, regardless of car performance.
Consider: the Scuderia is third in the championship with 37 points – every one scored by the Spaniard, not one from Felipe Massa…
Although Kamui Kobayashi could be satisfied with 10th ahead of his team mate, Malaysia sensation Sergio Perez, the Japanese, who started third, had pre-race been spoken of as a potential winner, yet Sauber, who called the tyres just right in the previous two rounds, plain got them wrong this time.
On Nico’s day of days (and Keke’s, who has supported his boy all the way), let Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn, who directed every one of Schumacher’s seven World titles and thus knows of what he speaks, have the final say:
“This is a truly special and historic day. I am so delighted for Nico; he has deserved to take his first victory several times and has now done so by driving a perfectly judged race from pole position. I’m excited to see how he develops now he has that win under his belt.
“We are proud to deliver the first victory for a works Silver Arrow car in 57 years. I was just one year old when Juan Manuel Fangio won in Monza in 1955 - but this victory is something I will remember, and savour, for a very long time indeed!”
No cliché, that…