Inside Line: 2012 Chinese Grand Prix
10:02, 16 Apr 2012
2012 Chinese Grand Prix
Like waiting for a bus, all of Nico Rosberg’s fortunes all came at once after a long and patient wait. After 110 grands prix of limited success, struggle and pain racing for both Williams and Mercedes, the German joined the grand prix winners club - and in some style too.
Consistent in practice, supreme in qualifying and commanding in victory - this was long overdue performance for Nico. In racking up both his maiden pole and victory on the same weekend, Rosberg also joined an even more exclusive club over the weekend. With a significant weight off his shoulders, more will surely be expected of the Mercedes driver - who has been biding his time in the shadows of compatriots Michael Schumacher and Sebastien Vettel in recent seasons.
The same will surely be expected of Mercedes AMG after the marquee’s first victory since 1955 as a works team. Now in their third season back in the sport, their comeback has been underwhelming with the team rarely threatening for a race victory. After a mixed start to the season of solid qualifying coupled with poor race pace, everything came together in China this weekend for the Brackley-based squad.
Quick in a straight line and boasting a superior tyre management, it was almost the perfect weekend for Mercedes - Schumacher's early retirement thanks to a loose wheel nut the only blotch on the entire weekend. It was a desperately disappointing moment for the seven-times world champion, who could have easily pushed his team-mate all the way for a first victory in nearly six years. Nevertheless, Schumi couldn't hide his delight at his teammate's success, with Mercedes finally announcing themselves as genuine race winners.
Whether or not this was one of those brief flashes in the pan for Mercedes remains to be seen. No doubt the Shanghai circuit this weekend suited the F1 W03 with the car showing no signs of the poor Pirelli degradation that plagued the team in the previous two races. With the next race in Bahrain expected to be considerably hotter than in Shanghai, it may be a tougher task to replicate this performance next weekend.
Following Rosberg in second and third, the McLaren pair of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton respectively - with the latter leading the championship with his third successive third place finish. Indeed it could have easily been more for McLaren particularly Button - who will rue a poor second stop which cost him valuable time allowing Rosberg to stretch his lead at the front.
Though Hamilton has yet to finish higher than third in 2012, he should be more than happy with his position in the championship thus far. After a desperately poor 2011, Hamilton approached 2012 with the task of keeping it simple, cool, calm and collected. There may be no wins just as yet for Hamilton, but both Hamilton and McLaren can be wholly satisfied with their effort and position after these opening three races.
Defending champion Sebastian Vettel branded his straight-line speed "ridiculous" after a third straight struggle for both the German and his Red Bull team. Having gotten fed up with his spec chassis after Friday's free practice, he decided to revert back to his older spec RB8 set up for qualifying and the race in the hope of gaining extra performance. It was a decision that failed to pay off.
Starting 11th there was never a hint that the German would challenge for the win. Nevertheless, it was still a credible effort from Vettel with a hard-earned fifth place which the German claimed to be more than satisfied with. Red Bull will improve with upgrades in the next few races to come, but they also run the risk of falling too far behind so early on.
No sooner than half an hour after the chequered flag had the teams began to pack up their freights in preparation for Bahrain in just under a week's time, a race which was only confirmed for definite on Friday by the FIA. Both the FIA and Bernie Eccelstone's FOM are confident of a smooth weekend in the Arab Spring-torn gulf state, but with just days to go it still remains to be seen.
It's a controversial decision without doubt with some leading figures and drivers claiming the FIA were putting money ahead of safety in their decision. Having said this, the Bahraini organisers have a contract with the FIA and have a legal obligation to stage the race - even more so after last year's last-minute cancellation. We can only hope that this will not be a decision that the Formula One world won't live to regret a week from now.
Driver of the day: Nico Rosberg - without question. From Friday onwards he was the form driver. A scintillating qualifying lap set him up perfectly for Sunday, where he produced a near-flawless drive from the off on a somewhat risky two-stop strategy - which underlined his skill in managing and conserving his Pirelli tyres.
Good weekend for: Mercedes after two years of underperformance; Geoff Willis and Aldo Costa of Mercedes who have overseen the of this year's chassis after a winter switch to the team; McLaren for consolidating their position atop of the championship and to the majority of the field who produced one of the most exciting races of recent months with some thrilling wheel-to-wheel manoeuvres and racing.
Bad weekend for: Felipe Massa who once again failed to finish in the points and even at one point had to yield to let Alonso through once again; the Chinese Grand Prix organisers who again had to turn a 60,000-seater grandstand into a giant advertising board for the fifth year running and the Mercedes mechanics who unfortunately forced Michael Schumacher to retire prematurely in a race he could have easily won.
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