China hosted round three of the 2012 Formula 1 World Championship. We arrived in Shanghai with the announcement that the Bahrain GP will controversially go ahead next week. However, as TOM WILKINSON reports, it was the on track action which soon attracted plenty of attention. A great qualifying session set up a belter of a race.
It was Mercedes who dominated the one hour session on Saturday. Ferrari admitted they would need a miracle to make it into the top ten shoot out. Felipe Massa ended up in 12th position but Fernando Alonso managed to qualify in ninth place, despite the teams’ concerns. Kamui Kobayashi in the Sauber surprised qualifying in fourth place with teammate Perez in eighth. The big shock in Q2 was Sebastian Vettel who couldn’t make it into the top ten shoot out, he qualified in 11th place.
The top ten shootout, was full of excitement, but it was Nico Rosberg who took pole position for the first time in his career with the most brilliant lap. Lewis Hamilton finished in second but started in seventh due to a gearbox penalty. With Michael Schumacher in third it was an all Mercedes-Benz front row – the first time two Mercedes F1 cars have locked out the front row of the grid since 1957.
As the lights went out at the start of the race on Sunday, the Mercedes of Rosberg fired off the line and lead the race with the McLarens also getting good starts too. Button passed Kobayashi then Raikkonen, up into third place. The two Saubers, Webber and Hamilton stuck together in the first six corners and Alonso fancied his chances from ninth. He eventually got past Webber at the end of the long back straight. Sebastian Vettel could only dream of being ninth at this point as he had a terrible start from 11th place. He was falling down the field. The Williams of Bruno Senna got all twitchy into turn one as he brushed the rear of Massa’s Ferrari, but it was a clean start with no incidents through the whole field. The strength of the Mercedes was clear to see by the end of lap one, Rosberg had a lead from his teammate Schumacher of 0.727 seconds and the gap to Button in third was a massive 2.1 seconds by the end of the first lap.
By lap eight Raikkonen was in fourth place and keeping Button very honest just ahead. Hamilton was just behind and catching, but three laps later Raikkonen and Hamilton pitted together. A superb stop from McLaren got Lewis out just ahead of Raikkonen but it was a race down the pit lane and Kimi had to give way. But it wasn’t over as they fed out of the pit exit ahead of Webber, Hamilton sailed past the Red Bull leaving Raikkonen to fight the Australian. It was a brilliant scrap for position and Kimi gave it all he had but just couldn’t make it stick on the outside of turn six. It was thrilling action in Shanghai.
On Lap13 Michael Schumacher pitted for his new tyres, but a mistake from the pit crew saw the car released with with the front right wheel was nut missing. The mechanic on the wheel gun vented his frustration as he immediately knew what had happened, but Michael Schumacher had no option but to retire from the race just six corners later. The mistake cost them a €5000 fine from the FIA after the incident was investigated. It was a real shame for Mercedes as they were looking great for a strong race. Meanwhile Vettel made progress through the field starting with a sweeping move past Perez at turn eight.
The race settled down but there were still plenty of battles through the field. The battle for 12th place was heating up between Massa, Hamilton and Webber. The McLaren was ducking and darting but eventually got through at the turn 6 hairpin. Mark Webber was looking to do the same. Hamilton then pulled a gap and began to hunt Paul Di Resta just ahead and made a simple move at the end of the long back straight.
On lap 35 Hamilton and Webber were fighting with Sergio Perez who was in third. Mark Webber dived into the pits but Hamilton continued and had to fight the young Mexican who was struggling with his tyres. Fernando Alonso quickly caught the duelling duo and a wonderful three way scrap emerged. A lap later, Perez pitted leaving Alonso and Hamilton to continue their battle. Meanwhile Mark Webber ran wide at the top of turn 13, the front of the car lifted into the air, a scary moment for the viewers, let alone Mark himself.
With 16 laps to go Jenson Button pitted from the lead for the final time. Nico Rosberg retook the lead but McLaren had an awful pit stop, with a very sticky rear left wheel. It’s a terrible stop of 9.7 seconds which cost Jenson Button the possibility of a win. He re-joined in sixth place.
On lap 43 Alonso got himself onto the marbles while battling Maldonado, the Ferrari ran wide at turn seven and nearly collected Perez. Now the action was coming thick and fast. The battle for second involved six cars, everyone ducking and diving looking to make a move. Raikkonen was in second place with very worn tyres, Vettel was just behind with Button, Grosjean, Webber and Hamilton all behind. Webber went on the inside of Grosjean at turn seven, but the Lotus ran wide on the marbles letting Hamilton through too. It was a costly mistake from Romain Grosjean, battling with Maldonado, Alonso and Perez.
Hamilton attempted to pass Webber in the first few corners. The Red Bull defended the line, meanwhile teammate Sebastian Vettel challenged Raikkonen for second place. The German went through on the exit of turn six with much better traction. The tyres on the lotus were all but gone, running wide at turn seven meant he lost a heap of time. He re-joined the circuit in the path of Webber, the Red Bull ran wide meaning Hamilton got past the two of them. There was some brilliant action throughout the Grand Prix. Raikkonen dropped like a stone down the field as his tyres just fell away from him, the Lotus was in real trouble.
With the two McLarens clear, they set about chasing Vettel for the podium. It was Button who was first past Vettel into the turn 14 hairpin, Hamilton made his move just a few laps later along with Mark Webber too. The tyres played a critical part of the race once again this weekend.
But Nico Rosberg managed his tyres perfectly, after a superb pole position qualifying lap on Saturday, and after six years of F1 racing, 110 race starts, Rosberg crossed the line to win the 2012 Chinese Formula 1 Grand Prix in the most wonderful way. A superb driver and a great character in the sport, this was a very popular win in the Formula 1 world.
Jenson Button finished in second and Lewis Hamilton in third. The two Red Bulls were next over the line with Grosjean collecting his best ever result in F1 in sixth. The two Williams of Senna and Maldonado had good races finishing in seventh and eighth. Alonso and Kobayashi rounded up the top ten finishers. This was a sensational race in China.
We wondered if Shanghai would deliver a good race and it certainly did. This was one of the closest races I can remember for a while. So much action, so many battles all through the field, and best of all only one retirement.
It’s only a week to go until Bahrain now. Of course I’ll be covering the whole race weekend Live on Twitter @TomWilkinson89 #TWF1, and right here at wheelworldreviews.co.uk
Catch your breath, we do it all again next weekend.