Saturday, 7 May 2011

Race Review - China 2011

Round 3 of the 2011 Formula 1 World Championship in China... and what a marvellous race!  Hamilton racing for a surprise win, Vettel running out of rubber for 2nd and Webber working an alternate strategy for the drive of the race to take out 3rd after starting 18th.

Again, it was a race dominated by tyre strategy and highlighted by DRS and KERS.  There was a mix of 2 to 3 stops for tyres across the field with Narain Karthikeyan driving slowly enough to manage the tyres for just 1 stop, possibly expecting that the HRT cars would not last the distance.  Impressively, both HRT cars finished the race.  Interestingly, in a win for the engineering excellence within Formula 1, there was a single retirement, and this was a result of a pit stop error rather than a mechanical issue.

Before the race even began, the McLaren team provided a demonstration of the worth of a mechanic as they rushed to fix a fuel leak on Lewis Hamilton's car.  Lewis left the pit lane with only 1 minute remaining before the pit lane was due to close prior to the race.

Lewis Hamilton - qualified 3rd - finished 1st
Tyres - soft, soft, soft, hard

Hamilton had a great start, managing to get to the turn 1 braking point before Vettel, despite Vettel trying to cover his line and bumping his right rear into Hamilton's left front wheel.  Fortunately for both, there was no resulting damage.

Hamilton continued to run in 2nd position until lap 14 when he was passed by Vettel and then Massa slipped past a lap later before they both pitted at the of the lap.  Hamilton had been out too long on his first set of softs thanks to Jenson missing his cue to pit.  Lewis exited the pits in 4th behind Vettel, Button and Massa.

Both McLarens then had a short 10 lap stint on their third set of soft Pirelli tyres, maintaining station.  Lewis used his tyres to better effect and, with the assistance of DRS, edged close enough to Jenson to slipstream his team mate down the pit straight and place himself on the inside into turn 1, taking Jenson a little by surprise.

After his final pit stop and with a fresh set of hard tyres, Lewis set about taking on Vettel for P1.  With Vettel trying to eek out what remained of his hard tyres, he was easy prey for Lewis.  Lewis went on to take his first win of 2011.

Sebastian Vettel - qualified 1st - finished 2nd
Tyres - soft, soft, hard

After starting from pole position for the 3rd time in 3 races in 2011, Vettel showed his first chink in his armour with a slow start in China.  He was swamped by Button and Hamilton in the run down to turn 1 and only just managed to keep Rosberg behind to end up 3rd for the early part of the race. 

Vettel managed to pass Hamilton on his in lap for his first stop and then followed Button into the pit lane. Button then slowed down to pit in the Red Bull pit box, realising his mistake after slowing Vettel only slightly and ruining his own stop.

Vettel was the only driver in the top 5 who utilised a two stop strategy and this was the decision that cost him the race win, particularly having to eek out the hard tyres for 24 laps to the finish line.  Losing KERS half way through the race did not help the situation and presumably this would have resulted in a longer period on fuel saving mode, although the slower lap times nursing the tyres may have naturally balanced out the fuel issue.

Mark Webber - qualified 18th - finished 3rd
Tyres -  hard, soft, soft, soft

After a terrible result in qualifying, Webber started closer to the rear of the grid than he was used to.  In addition, he was the only driver on the grid who started on hard tyres.  Given that he was starting at the back of the midfield pack, Red Bull decided that saving his 3 sets of fresh soft tyres for later in the race, once the field had calmed down a little, turned out to be the call of the race.  Webber drove an absolutely stunning race after his first pit stop, using each of his 3 sets of soft tyres to great effect, particularly in the closing stages of the race when the guys at the front were all on the hard tyres.  In his last stint he moved up from 10th to 3rd, passing Petrov, Schumacher, Alonso, Massa, Rosberg and Button on track.  All this despite not having KERS for the second half of the race.

Jenson Button - qualified 2nd - finished 4th
Tyres - soft, soft, soft, hard

Button had a mixed race in China.  Finishing 4th is a good result in a car that is probably the second most complete car on the grid.  As always it is disappointing when you are beaten by your team mate and even more so when your team mate finishes on the top step of the podium and you miss out on the remaining podium positions.  Although the most disappointing events of the day were the two errors that Jenson made on the first pit stop.  First, he stayed out 1 lap longer than planned in the first stint.  This was particularly costly given the rate of degradation of the tyres.  Jenson was in the lead at the time and any time lost would have a critical effect on where he slotted back in after his pit stop.  When Jenson did pit, Vettel was also pitting on the same lap and Button mistakenly slowed for the first pit crew he saw.  Unfortunately he almost came to a stop in the Red Bull box, adding appoximately an additional 2 seconds to his stop.  This led not only to Vettel exiting the pits in front of him but the combination of mistakes probably cost him a podium, as Webber only finished 2.4 seconds in front of Button and that should have been long enough to keep the Red Bull behind before the chequered flag.

Nico Rosberg - qualified 4th - finished 5th
Tyres -  soft, soft, soft, hard

China was good to Rosberg.  Starting from 4th he had a good start and ran up the inside of Vettel through turn 1 but could not make it stick on the outside of the Red Bull through turn 2.  After a short stint on his first set of softs Rosberg had a solid run and during his third stint ended up leading the race as the leaders entered the pits for new tyres.  The 3 stop strategy worked well for Nico and his racing impressed as he managed to keep the Mercedes at the pointy end of the field to bring it home in 5th place. This was even more impressive given that he was on fuel saving mode for two-thirds of the race and received a fuel critical message from the pit wall on lap 41.


Felipe Massa - qualified 6th - finished 6th
Tyres - soft, soft, hard

For the second race in a row, Massa finished in front of his team mate.  Considering the pressure on Massa to perform, this is the best way for him to respond.  The Ferrari is behind where it looked it would be from pre-season testing, and there is increasing internal pressure for the team to turn it around.  The talk from the team, while positive, seems to be lacking a little in surety.

Fernando Alonso - qualified 5th - finished 7th
Tyres - soft, soft, hard

Alonso had a tough day in China.  It started with Massa beating him to turn 1 and continued with him battling Schumacher for the second race in a row.  Alonso never managed to get back in front of Massa to finish a disappointing 7th.

Michael Schumacher - qualified 14th - finished 8th
Tyres - soft, soft, soft, hard

While a points finish is pleasing for Schumacher, particularly after starting from 14th on the grid, he was again out performed by his team mate.  Schumacher was in early for his first tyre change after only 10 laps on his first set of soft tyres indicating that he is still struggling with tyre compounds that are not made bespoke for him. 

Vitaly Petrov - qualified 10th - finished 9th
Tyres - soft, soft, hard

While finishing 9th is not a great result for Petrov given the pace of the Renault so far this year, it is a points paying position and perhaps more importantly it is 3 positions in front of his team mate. 

Kamui Kobayashi - qualified 13th - finished 10th
Tyres - soft, soft, hard

Kobayashi took the final points position in China after a solid drive, picking up a few positions during the race.  Kobayashi was fairly anonymous during the race but did have a slight coming together with another car
that left the Japanese driver with a hole in his nose that allowed all variety of road grime and rubber into the cockpit and turning the white Sauber race suit a dirty grey.  Even in a race where he is relatively quiet, Kobayashi seems to manage something that is entertaining.

Paul Di Resta - qualified 8th - finished 11th
Tyres -  soft, soft, hard

Di Resta performed well again, just missing out on points for the first race this year.  Again, Di Resta out ran his team mate and again Sutil ran into some trouble, making it difficult to compare the two on track.  Hopefully we will see the two Force India drivers racing close enough to see where they really are in comparison to one another.  I sense that Di Resta will fare pretty well in such a comparison.  With Hulkenberg sitting on the sidelines, Sutil needs to watch that he still has a seat at the end of the year.

Nick Heidfeld - qualified 16th - finished 12th
Tyres - soft, soft, hard

After a storming race in Malaysia, China was not so great for Nick Heidfeld.  His poor qualifying result effectively set him up for a mid-field result.  However, considering the progress that Mark Webber made from 1 position further back, Heidfeld must have been wishing that he too had adopted a 3 stop strategy rather than the 2 stop.  The Renault suffered a KERS problem that hindered its ability to progress, but again the Red Bulls have been struggling with KERS each race in 2011 so far and it hasn't toppled them from the top of the ladder yet.

Rubens Barrichello - qualified 15th - finished 13th
Tyres - soft. soft, hard

Rubens completed a 2 stop strategy, which became apparent to all who tried that it was not the optimal strategy for the day.  Regardless, 13th was not a bad result for a team that is struggling to be where it wants to be.  Certainly, compared to his team mate, Rubens was the driver of the day for Williams.  This was the straw that broke the back of the Williams technical team and subsequent to the race, technical director, Sam Michael announced a detailed review of the team structure.  As a consequence, Michael and chief aerodynamicist Jon Tomlinson announced their resignations effective at the end of 2011.  Williams also announced the addition of Mike Coughlin to the team.  Coughlin has served his 2 year ban from F1 as punishment for his involvement in the Ferrari/McLaren "spygate" drama in 2007.  His ultimate role at Williams is yet to be determined and is seemingly dependent on the workload required to drag Williams back to the podium.

Sebastian Buemi - qualified 9th - finished 14th
Tyres -  soft, soft, soft, hard

After an impressive showing in qualifying from both Toro Rosso cars, Buemi threw it away with a poor start, dropping a number of positions.  The first set of soft tyres that had been worked during qualifying had a short race life of only 12 laps, but these were only on the car for 4 laps before Buemi was back in for a precautionary front wing change to try and correct understeer issues that he was facing early in the race.  After this start, the best Buemi could hope for was a mid-pack finish and that is exactly what he got.  A disappointing race for the Toro Ross driver after a promising start to the weekend.

Adrian Sutil - qualified 11th - finished 15th 
Tyres - soft, soft, hard, soft

Sutil did not have a great weekend in China, suffering from higher tyre degradation than it seems the team anticipated.  Based on the tyre strategy it appears that the team had hoped to run a long 26 lap third stint on the hard tyres after only managing to complete 15 laps on each set of soft tyres.  As Sutil was struggling on the hard tyres he went a little wide through turn 1, leaving a very inviting gap for Perez to try to slot his car in.  Perez failed and slid into the side of Sutil, sending Sutil into the pits for a final set of soft tyres to take him to the end of the race.

Heikki Kovaleinen - qualified 19th - finished 16th
Tyres - soft, soft, hard

Heikki had a great day in China, showing good pace, including a fastest lap quicker than the Williams of Maldonado.  Importantly for the Lotus team, this was the first finish in front of a finishing mid-field team, although Perez gave some positions away with some scrappy racing and a drive through penalty for his efforts.  Regardless, this is a milestone for Lotus and takes them a step closer to their goal of finishing in the points this year.

Sergio Perez - qualified 12th - finished 17th 
Tyres - soft, soft, hard
Perez drove a solid race but fell into a rookie trap on lap 47 when following Sutil around the long turn 1, seeing Sutil a little off line and in an effort to nose in front of the Force India car, gave it a little too much throttle and understeered into Sutil.  This earned him a drive through penalty and marred what was already a difficult day for the Sauber team.

Pastor Maldonado - qualified 17th - finished 18th
Tyres -
soft, soft, soft, hard

Maldonado really did not have a good weekend in China.  After Webber allowed the Williams rookie to progress to Q2, he ended up at the bottom of that session.  In the race he ended up losing a further position, although Alguersuari's missing wheel saved him from losing 2 positions.  This capped off a very disappointing weekend for the Williams team, with both drivers ending up well out of the points and the planned upgrades for the weekend failing to work.  Williams truly need something to change and the announced internal review is about 3 years overdue.

Jarno Trulli - qualified 20th - finished 19th
Tyres - soft, soft, hard
Trulli drove a solid race, as you'd expect from someone with his experience.  Despite a continuing power steering problem and the usual complaints about tyre degradation, he showed that the Lotus has some underlying pace compared to the other new-for-2010 teams.

Jerome D'Ambrosio - qualified 21st - finished 20th
Tyres - soft, soft, hard

D'Ambrosio played a 2 stop strategy along with most of the tail end, but drove well to finish in front of his team mate.  Glock is no slouch, so despite the rookie having a trouble free race and a better tyre strategy, to  finish in front of his team mate by 30 seconds bodes well for his F1 career.

Timo Glock - qualified 22nd - finished 21st
Tyres - soft, soft, soft, hard
Glock had a tough time in China, being beaten by his team mate and only finishing in front of the HRT drivers.  He suffered from pitting too early and ending up in the path of the leaders, losing valuable time slowing under blue flags.  Add to this a troubled pit stop and Timo ended the day 30 seconds behind his team mate.

Tonio Liuzzi - qualified 23rd - finished 23rd
Tyres - soft, soft, hard
Liuzzi was a little too keen to start the race in China and as a consequence was awarded a drive-through penalty for jumping the start.  He then completed a 2 stop strategy to complete his first race of the year, and the race pace was only a little behind the Virgins.  In fact, if Liuzzi had not served a drive-through penalty, he would have finished right on the heels of Glock.

Narain Karthikeyan - qualified 24th - finished 23rd
Tyres - soft, hard

China was the first race finish of 2011 for Karthikeyan, finishing 2 laps down but only 1.1 seconds behind his team mate.  He was also the only driver to successfully complete a one-stop strategy.  This strategy could have paid real dividends if there was a safety car or 3, but regardless, it is an encouraging sign for the HRT team to have both cars complete the race.

Jaime Alguersuari - qualified 7th - DNF
Tyres - soft, soft

Toro Rosso set themselves up for a great weekend in China with both cars qualifying in the top 10, however Alguersuari lost his right rear wheel immediately after his first pit stop, ending up the only non-finisher of the field.

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