Formula 1: Fernando Alonso and Ferrari Dominates in ChinaPosted by: Shelton Kwan onApril 14th, 2013
The drama in China unfolded on Saturday during qualifying, where Lewis Hamilton ran a perfect lap to grab pole from Kimi Raikkonen. Jenson Button, Sebatian Vettel, and Nico Hulkenberg both did not set a lap, which allowed them to start the race on the Medium tires, while the top cars were forced to start on the Soft tires that they qualified on. As the race progressed, this turns out to be a key strategic decision that helped the Red Bull, Sauber, and McLaren drivers through the race.
At the start, the Ferrari’s made a great start to follow Lewis Hamilton in 2nd and 3rd, as Kimi Raikkonen drops to 4th place. Vettel, on the hard tires, couldn’t get past Button and stayed in 9th place. Alonso puts pressure onto Hamilton throughout the first laps of the race, but can’t pass the Mercedes driver but stays close enough for DRS. Webber, who started from the pit lane on the soft tires, swaps to the mediums at the end of the first lap, a strategy that would reward him if the safety car appears during the race. The thought on everyone’s mind is how long the front runners can last on the fragile soft Pirellis. By lap 4, Hamilton is losing ground to Alonso, who puts the pressure on the 2008 Champion as DRS is activated. At the start of lap 5, both Ferraris made DRS work, and passed the Mercedes to lead the race 1st and 2nd. Rosberg drops to 8th and passed by Vettel, as Mercedes hit the cliff on the soft tires. The team decides to stack both drivers to swap to the soft tires, dropping them to the back of the field in 14th and 18th place.
Lap 7, the soft tires are just not working as both Ferrari and Lotus hit the pits to swap onto the Medium tires. This puts Hulkenberg, Vettel, Button, and Perez leading the race, who all started on the Mediums. As the pit stops worked itself out, Hamilton and Alonso, who’s in 6th and 7th place respectively, are the fastest driver on the track, as the Ferrari and Mercedes seems to be getting the most performance out of the Medium tires. As the 2 cars make their way up the field, Alonso is able to get past the leaders, as Hamilton starts losing pace and gets stuck behind the Force India and McLaren.
Lap 16, more drama unfolds, as Raikkonen crashes into the back of Perez after driving slightly off the track and wrecks the endplates on his front wing. The words from Raikkonen are self-explanatory… “What the hell is he doing?”. A lap later, Webber slows as there’s a problem with his rear right. A few corners later, Kimi makes the pass stick on Perez and takes 4th place. The action doesn’t stop there, as Webber’s wheel finally fails and falls off right in front of Vettel, who luckily avoids it without damaging his car. Webber is forced to retire 2 corners from the pits. At this stage, the McLaren of Jenson Button leads the race on the Medium tires that he started the race on, defending against Alonso in 2nd and Hamilton in 3rd.
Lap 21, as DRS is re-enabled, Alonso makes the pass on Button to take the lead of the Grand Prix. Raikkonen closes up on Hamilton, as they battle for 3rd place. The fight doesn’t last long, as both drivers drop into the pits to swap onto a new set of Mediums. Raikkonen, with a damaged nose and front wing, decides that it’s not affecting the car too much aerodynamically, just pits with a tire change, leaving the broken pieces on the car. Alonso stays out for another 3 laps before pitting with Button, and both drivers rejoins the race in front of Hamilton, as both him and Raikkonen gets stuck in traffic after their pit stops. As Hamilton clears the traffic, he starts setting fastest laps of the race. Vettel and Hulkenberg leads the race at this point, but both drivers still have to use the Soft tires at some point in the race.
By lap 27, Alonso is on a tear on the Mediums, as he works his way up the field. Hamilton chases down his ex-team mate Button in the McLaren, and easily passes him after several battles in the DRS zones. Lap 29, Vettel is told not to fight with Alonso as part of their strategy, and Alonso easily passes Vettel for the lead. He doesn’t hold back, as he’s 1.5 seconds a lap faster than the entire field leading the race. Vettel pits for another set of Mediums, which drops him back to 8th place and still needing at least one more stop to get onto the Softs. At this stage on lap 32, Alonso leads (and continuing to pull away from) Hamilton and Raikkonen, with Button a surprising 4th place.
Lap 35, as Raikkonen closes up on Hamilton, drops into the pits to try to pull an undercut on the Mercedes. Hamilton pits on lap 38, but is unable to join in front of Raikkonen, putting him behind the Lotus. Hamilton isn’t giving up, as he sets purple sectors and the fastest lap of the race chasing down Raikkonen. Kimi sees this, and responds with the fastest lap of the race on the next lap. Alonso, way up in the lead, pits on lap 41 and comes back out behind Vettel, who still needs 1 more stop on the softs. A lap later, Alonso is flying on the fresh Mediums and easily passes Vettel for the lead again. Things are looking good for Alonso and Ferrari at this point.
As the race unwinds, Button pits on lap 50 to swap onto the Soft tires, and drops down to 7th place. With fresh Softs, he easily passes Massa for 6th place and starts setting purple sectors. Vettel, who pits on lap 51, comes back out in 4th place and starts putting down stunning laps 3 seconds faster than the leaders to try to close up on Lewis Hamilton in 3rd. With traffic slowing down Raikkonen and Hamilton, and Hamilton’s Mediums falling off, Vettel closes up within 1/2 a second of Vettel, who gets within the DRS activation zone. With 3 corners to go, the fight is on for the final place of the podium, but Hamilton holds on to stay in 3rd place as Vettel makes a mistake and loses a few tenths prior to the back straight. If there was another lap, things would’ve been a lot different in this fight. The remaining leaders stay on the Mediums and finish the race in the same positions, with Alonso taking the win, followed by Raikkonen and Hamilton on the podium. These split strategy races are great for F1, as it makes the finish unpredictable until the latter parts of the race. Let’s see what the next race in Barain next weekend brings!
Final Top 10 Standings
Fernando Alonso / Ferrari
Kimi Raikkonen / Lotus-Renault / + 10.2s
Lewis Hamilton / Mercedes / +12.3s
Sebatian Vettel / Red Bull-Renault / +12.5s
Jenson Button / McLaren-Mercedes / +35.3s
Felipe Massa / Ferrari / +40.8s
Daniel Ricciardo / STR-Ferrari / +42.7s
Paul Di Resta / Force India-Mercedes / +51.1s
Romain Grosjean / Lotus-Renault / +53.4s
Nico Hulkenberg / Sauber-Ferrari / +56.6s