I slept in, again, but caught the latter half of the race and have a decent picture of the first half.
Button passed Hamilton pronto, and then retained the lead for almost the entire race. This was highly impressive. He built a gap over his team mate and later did the same thing over Vettel. This follows the unusually competitive qualifying performance Button put in. He may be the man to beat this year.
Hamilton never had the legs to beat Button, but was pretty unfortunate that the safety car emerged on his out-lap, allowing Vettel to leapfrog him by pitting immediately. On the plus side, he retained a podium spot and one race doesn’t make a season.
Grosjean had an encounter with Maldonado with meant the Frenchman’s brilliant qualifying was followed by a failure to finish, but he has showed promise for the future. Maldonado put in a stellar performance, until the final lap of the race when he crashed from an almost unbelievable 5th.
Mercedes had a day to forget. Schumacher jumped Grosjean off the line, and was running third until his gearbox decided to go on strike and ended his race. Rosberg made the mistake (or had the team make it for him) of remaining on the soft compound for two stints and only then shifting to the more durable mediums. He ended up a paltry 12th.
Red Bull had a much better race than qualifying, helped by a dollop of luck. Grosjean and Schumacher were both out, Rosberg’s strategy cost him and the safety car was perfectly timed for Vettel to pass Hamilton. Fortune notwithstanding, their race pace was relatively better than their qualifying performance and they’ll be delighted with 2nd and 4th for Vettel and Webber.
Ferrari had a mixed performance. Alonso somehow got the car, which was far better in the race than I’d expected, all the way up to 5th. Massa decided to crash into someone else this year, and hit his compatriot Senna (although, in fairness, this may have been due to suspension damage that had occurred prior to the crash).
Sauber were the most improved team from qualifying. Perez adopted his signature approach of not bothering to stop more than the single mandatory time, and made it work well. He achieved a good 8th, although it could’ve been a little higher (Raikkonen passed him on the final corner). Kobayashi did a little better and got a great 6th.
Raikkonen recovered from dire qualifying to score 7th, which he should be happy with. The Lotus seems pretty good, but it’s hard to say whether it can fight in the race with the big boys. He also provided some comedy radio moments including this:
“Why do I keep getting blue flags?!”
Engineer: “Kimi, they’re for the cars behind you.”
The points were rounded out by Ricciardo in 9th and di Resta in 10th. The Scot’s team mate, Hulkenberg, had to retire after picking up damage.
So, what did we learn?
Firstly, make no mistake. McLaren is top dog. They dominated qualifying and only failed to get a 1-2 in the race because the safety car came out precisely when it did. I put a small sum on both drivers for the title pre-season, and won’t be laying right now. Vettel’s 3.3 or thereabouts, and that’s too short. The safety car won’t help him every race, and Mercedes and Lotus will be stronger elsewhere too.
Secondly, the soft compound may’ve been marginally faster but the medium compound was king in the race. Superior durability overcame the small speed disadvantage. In the next race we keep the mediums but have the hard compound as well (which was last year’s medium). In China we revert to softs and mediums.
Thirdly, some teams have a great variance between qualifying and race pace. This might just be because it’s a new season and they haven’t quite got the setup sorted yet, so we’ll have to wait and see if it’s repeated. So far, Ferrari have been rubbish in qualifying and good in the race (well, Alonso was) and Red Bull have behaved similarly. And Sauber, now I come to think of it. Hard to comment on the Lotus and Mercedes because the latter had an early retirement and one chap made a mistake in qualifying and the latter also had an early retirement and then made a strategic mistake.
It was a bit disappointing that my solitary tip didn’t come off, but at least it had a reasonable chance.
We’re off to Malaysia next, in just a week’s time. The circuit has many straights, which may make the Mercedes a potential pole-sitter. Very early forecasts show rain is a marginal possibility. Let’s hope the race weekend is even more exciting, and profitable too.