Double World Champion Fernando Alonso stamped his authority on the Chinese Grand Prix today with a dominant performance to put his Ferrari team back on top for the first time since the German Grand Prix last July.
The Spaniard played out his strategy perfectly in a race dominated by tyre management and pitstop teamwork.
Kimi Raikkonen overcame damage sustained in an early-race incident with McLaren’s Sergio Perez, when the Finn believed he had been unfairly forced off the circuit and tagged the back of the Mexican’s car rejoining the track to claim 2nd ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who took his first ‘on-merit’ podium for his new team. The Mercedes driver had started on pole but was unable to keep up that sort of pace during the race and fell dangerously close to being overtaken by reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel in the dying lap of the Grand Prix. Vettel had started on the harder medium compound Pirelli tyre at the start of the race, leaving him with the faster, softer tyre for the final stint which he put to good use, reducing a 10 second gap to just 0.2 seconds in 5 laps.
Another man to employ a similar strategy was Jenson Button, who drove a two-stop race to net 5th for McLaren. Despite his ten points for the position, the Woking-based team still have some serious work to do ahead of the Bahrain GP next weekend.
Felipe Massa lost out when he made a bid for an extra lap on the soft tyres at the start of the race, emerging from the pits in 5th after running 3rd at the end of the opening lap. He never recovered and was passed by a flying Button with just four laps remaining, losing 2 crucial points. Despite Mark Webber’s heart-wrenching end to the race (he retired after a wheel came off his Red Bull after his first pitstop), there was one Antipodean with a smile on his face come the chequered flag – Daniel Ricciardo dragged his otherwise back-of-the-field Toro Rosso up to an eventual 7th place, a result that will place him firmly on the radar of Red Bull team management in a way team-mate Jean Eric Vergne failed to do. The Frenchman clattered out of the first hairpin in a cloud of debris after Webber had attempted an over-optimistic move prior to his eventual demise.
Paul Di Resta made use of an excellent late pitstop to claim 8th place, although hearts went a-flutter in the Force India pit garage on lap two when their drivers came together in the run down to the penultimate corner; Adrian Sutil wouldn’t last much longer as an errant Sauber driven by Esteban Gutierrez missed its braking point and smashed into the back of his car.
Romain Grosjean was an underwhelming 9th place, with early promise for Nico Hulkenberg fading into a single point for 10th.
The race was a disappointing day for Nico Rosberg, the German losing out in qualifying yesterday before a mechanical problem ended his afternoon early today. Williams too endured another lacklustre afternoon and, although both cars finished, 13th and 14th was all Bottas and Maldonado could muster.
“Definitely it was a fantastic race for us from the start to the end,” said Alonso. “We had no problems with the car, the tyre degradation was better than expected.”
“It feels fantastic. After the retirement in Malaysia we were under pressure to finish but of the two races we have finished we have been second and first so it is looking good and we are very optimistic.”
Tensions in the Far East may have been high over the past few weeks but they come nowhere close to rivalling the level of stress an Alonso victory will inspire in his rivals. The Prancing Horse is on the warpath…
|4||S.VETTEL||DEU||Red Bull||12 Pts|
|7||D.RICCIARDO||AUS||Toro Rosso||6 Pts|
|8||P.DI RESTA||GBR||Force India||4 Pts|
|18||G.VAN DER GARDE||NED||Caterham|
|RET||A.SUTIL||DEU||Force India||Accident Damage|
*At the time of writing, several drivers, including VET and BUT, have investigations pending for actions during the Grand Prix. Mark Webber receives a 3-Place grid penalty for the Bahrain GP for his collision with Jean Eric Vergne. More to follow.*