Wow – that was quite a race! Strategy, overtaking, action all through the field… who knew that this year’s Chinese Grand Prix would be such a classic?
One of the main highlights was the battle for the lead between Vettel & Hamilton, which I will analyse here. But I also want to look at the brilliant drive from 18th to 3rd by Webber and also the great pace of Rosberg’s Mercedes. These particular battles were all caused by the relative tyre strategies of each driver and how they managed the increased tyre wear of the Pirelli tyres over the course of the Grand Prix.
The Fight for Victory
So first let’s look at the race between Vettel & Hamilton. Both drivers planned to run two stop strategies for the race, but McLaren chose to switch both drivers to three stops as they had concerns over tyre degradation.
Looking at the first stints the drivers run almost identical lap times – save for Hamilton’s last lap of the first stint, which apparently he wasn’t supposed to do but had to – because Button had apparently stopped a lap later than he supposed to and therefore pushed Hamilton back a lap as well.
Hamilton’s second stint was a lot shorter than Vettel’s – it is in this stint where the team decided to switch strategies. Hamilton’s second in lap is much quicker than Vettel’s and after his second stop is between half a second to a second per lap faster. It was a great call that paid dividends for Hamilton, who made some great overtaking manoeuvres to keep up the pace without getting stuck behind traffic – finally catching and passing Vettel on lap 51.
Webber on a Charge
Webber’s strategy couldn’t have been more different – he started 18th after trying to qualify with a KERS problem and a set of hard (prime) tyres that wouldn’t warm up. But this meant that he had extra sets of unused soft (option) tyres for the race that others would have used in qualifying.
So he started the race on hard tyres and then used 3 sets of soft tyres for each of his pit stops. This was a great strategy because by using up the hard set first and pitting him early it gave him a clear track to make up ground on his subsequent stints on softs. Which if you look at his lap times in the next 3 stints you can see that he is faster than both his team mate and Hamilton.
It was still a big gamble and it required Webber to keep a clear head and stay out of trouble, but he did and overtook a lot of cars to make the strategy work. He wasn’t convinced of himself and a lot of people believe that he could overtake too easy because of the DRS, but without a fast car, a decent strategy and a driver who can punch in fast and consistent lap times without being held up, Webber would not have made up so much ground. Maybe if it was 2010 he could have got somewhere like 8th if he was lucky, but the new rules allowed him to really have a decent crack at the race. It was a great drive from him and he was my driver of the day, definitely.
A Great Drive From Rosberg…
The final part of the race that I want to look at is Rosberg’s strategy. He was leading the race for a while and managed to get a good result for Mercedes – fifth place. So how come he was able to lead the race?
Upon closer inspection of his lap times, it’s all to do with his first stint. He pitted a lap or two earlier than the leaders and had a faster in lap, allowing him to jump ahead of the other drivers – and he stayed there with comparable lap times in his next two stints. His strategy falls apart in his last stint however – because his next two in laps were slower (implying that he pitted slightly too late) and when he changed to the hard tyres to finish his race, his lap times dropped off. Perhaps the last set of tyres were not new, or he couldn’t get as much heat into them, or that the track didn’t rubber in as much as expected. But the end result was that he slowly went back down the field to finish in fifth place.
It’s still a great result and I think with Ross Brawn on the pit wall, we could yet see Mercedes get a ‘dark horse’ victory this year. Sadly in China this was not to be.
So that was the Chinese Grand Prix. A very entertaining race with plenty of stories throughout the field. The rule makers have got the mix just right in 2011 and I do hope that we see a lot more races like this – because it’s the shot in the arm F1 needs right now and I have had a lot of people come up to me and tell me how much they are enjoying F1 this year.
Roll on Turkey in 10 days!