Posted by Carrot on April 17, 2012 | No Comments
This was a race that will be remembered. It had something for every fan, the first half was for the armchair tacticians working out degradation and pit stop strategy in their heads and the second half is for the fans of raw ontrack overtaking. Add in a first time winner and no ontrack controversy and we’ve had a fair and memorable race that will be watched again and again by fans for years.
I have to start with Nico Rosberg. There’s been talk about his potential for years, but finally when he’s in a car that can deliver he brings home the top haul of points. That wasn’t what impressed me the most over the weekend though, the really impressive thing was his qualifying lap. Given the mistakes he’s made this year in qualifying have meant he’s started much further down that he should have, this weekend he not only made no mistakes but blew the rest of the field away. In the race of course, everyone was expecting the McLarens, the Red Bulls, Kimi Raikkonen and maybe the Saubers to run him down and overtake him. However intelligent use of strategy meant he was able to run the race in commanding style, responding to any pressure before maintaining a healthy gap. On the other side of the garage, Michael Schumacher had a less successful race. A mistake at the first round of stops left him with a loose wheel that caused his retirement.
Making up the rest of the podium were the McLaren pairing, Jenson Button ahead of Lewis Hamilton, so the question is are the Woking team back on track for this season. After a forgettable weekend in Malaysia, both drivers improved on their starting positions and scored good points, outscoring every other team this weekend. It’s a pub argument as to whether or not Jenson Button would have been able to hunt down and pass Nico Rosberg had it not been for the delay in his last stop, but what isn’t is the fact that McLaren now lead both championship tables and their rivals are taking points off each other. In the season so far they’ve had two of the three poles and of the six possible podiums they’ve taken five, including one win. Hamilton hasn’t been off the podium in all three races, a standard Sebastian Vettel used to great effect when he won his second crown. The season looks bright for McLaren.
Outside the podium were Red Bull, Mark Webber ahead of Sebastian Vettel. Red Bull are certainly staying closer in the results than their qualifying pace would have you believe. Last year they were king of the one lap pace, now we have Vettel dropping out in Q2, although the results are still solid, it’s not going to be easy for the team during the year unless they improve on a Saturday. Whatever the problem is between this year’s car and the dominant machine they had last year, Webber’s been able to capitalise on it. He’s consistently faster than Vettel and if the car was fundamentally faster you’d have to consider the Aussie as a potential title challenger.
He’d never got past lap three so far this year, but Romain Grosjean brought the Lotus (I’m still calling them Renaults in my head) home in sixth for a good haul of points. Team mate Kimi Raikkonen found “the cliff” with his tyres and dropped more places in a few laps than Felipe Massa will make all season. It’s still an excellent result for the team, I don’t think they were expecting to be as high up as they are, but they have definite pace in both qualifying and race trim. If their drivers both start scoring together it could set them up very well for the rest of the season.
Given their current form I expect the fifth team I’d be talking about to be Ferrari, bad news for the tifosi, the highest Prancing Horse got beaten to the line by a pair of Williams. Bruno Senna spent the last half of 2011 impressing in the Renault and now he’s consistently challenging the supposed team leader at Williams, Pastor Maldonado, after just three races with the former champions. And he’s managing this while having to relinquish his seat on Friday morning to Valtteri Bottas. After his first year with HRT there were a lot of people wondering if it was just the name getting Bruno into the top flight, a short stint at Renault and how quickly he’s adapted to Williams puts those doubts to rest. The team are doing well, they’ve already improved on their entire results from last season and we’re only three races in. I don’t want to jinx it, but this could be the beginning of a Williams’ resurgence to take them back to the front of the grid. Time will tell.
The sixth placing team this weekend was the under-performing Ferrari, and only because Fernando Alonso was dragging the car kicking and screaming to a position it didn’t deserve to be in. Team mate Felipe Massa ended up 13th, and only that high because of Raikkonen’s deteriorating rubber. Over the winter I was thinking about tipping Alonso to take a third crown this year, but their performance is what we’d expect of a firm midfield team, not perennial champions. The question needs to be asked whether the team are slipping back to where they were before Michael Schumacher put together the dream team in the late 90s, or could the rot be worse than that? Rounding out the points was Kamui Kobayashi in the Sauber, with Sergio Perez just out of the points in 11th. Everything we expect Mercedes AMG to do, Sauber did. Although they almost won in Malaysia, their qualifying form couldn’t be maintained in China and they went backwards in the race. A single point is not enough of a reward after their performance on Saturday.
We have one more stop now before the European leg of the season starts, Bahrain, and we are now definitely going. At least it’s the end of early morning starts for those of us who are hardcore fans. The season so far? Well we’ve had three different winners from three different teams, McLaren haven’t got their act together to dominate the season, but they still have the potential to do so. Right now it looks like it’ll be a close run thing, see you in Bahrain.