At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I didn’t expect that to happen. Everybody, including me, was concerned about Mercedes shredding their tyres and losing a significant edge due to lack of DRS. Of course, Brawn had said that the team had focused on race pace, and how true that was.
I offered three tips, of which one came off. There was no hint of rain, and fortunately the few retirements that did occur did not bring the safety car out.
Irritatingly, whilst I don’t think Raikkonen was truly on for a podium he ran in second for quite some time before providing a perfect example of what happens when tyres ‘fall off the cliff’ [lose enormous quantities of grip due to being run too long]. If I’d suggested a hedge then it might well have got matched, but I didn’t and that was a mistake on my part.
Hamilton did not run nearly as well as I’d imagined he would, and this was due to two factors, in my view. Firstly, McLaren buggered up its strategy and put him out in traffic. Secondly, and this is related to the first point, the DRS zone, which I think has been shortened substantially, was nowhere near as effective as last year. Many cars (McLarens, Lotuses and Saubers especially) seemed hard to pass on the straight. Vettel couldn’t get near the Sauber ahead of him and it was only when Raikkonen’s tyres let go that he managed to pass the Finn (similarly, Hamilton did not make the progress many had imagined he would).
The biggest shock of the day was the performance of the Mercedes car and Nico Rosberg. I think the enormous margin of victory was due to both car and driver. Schumacher, who sadly had to retire after a pit stop failure meant one of his wheels wasn’t attached properly, was running in a comfortable second, far behind Rosberg but a moderate margin ahead of Button. If he’d finished a 1-2 could’ve been on.
The Mercedes was well-known for shredding its tyres but in China their car was perhaps the very best at managing them, and this was coupled with the best outright pace in both qualifying and the race. If Mercedes can repeat this form throughout the next 17 races, we might be seeing Schumacher race wins and possibly a Rosberg/Schumacher title challenge. However, this is just one race, and we’ll have more information (presumably) about how the Mercedes can manage in hot temperatures when we visit Bahrain next week (I just checked the official site and apparently temperatures are usually around 29C, so let’s hope it’s nice and hot).
Although Rosberg was a run-away winner the battle for second place was tremendously tight, with about six cars as close as train carriages for the last 20 laps or so. Vettel will be pissed off that he got into second, after a very ropey start, only to be passed by Button and then Hamilton and then Webber [who must’ve been cackling with glee]. I’m beginning to wonder whether Webber might be a top 3 bet, but if Mercedes can conserve their tyres then I think he’ll struggle to achieve a top 3 title finish.
Meanwhile, Kobayashi, after a stellar qualifying, had a dog of a start and ended up just 10th. I’m glad Mr. Putney hedged that bet. Perez only got 11th and Grosjean impressed (and proved me wrong, again) by getting a very decent 6th and surviving another tussle with Maldonado. The Lotus definitely has the pace, but going soft at the end cost Raikkonen dearly (interestingly, there seemed to be little speed difference between the compounds in the race, similarly to Australia which used the same soft/medium combination).
Williams also enjoyed more good results after their 2011 annus horribilis, with Senna 7th and Maldonado 8th and Alonso, after making a mistake and going off track, could manage only 9th.
I am a bit disappointed with myself for not suggesting a low odds hedge on Raikkonen for the podium, but it is nice to at least get one of the tips right. Not a great start to the season, but there is some room for optimism. For a start, we got an entirely dry race and this gives us a better idea of the pecking order. Secondly, all my tips came off or not based on judgement, not blind chance (such as gearbox failure).
I never would’ve predicted a Rosberg win, but great credit is due the German driver. He absolutely deserved it, and if and the team can reproduce this pace then the title may be something he can aspire to this year.
Bahrain is at a more pleasing time, I think, so qualifying tips (well, probably one) will probably be offered, assuming it goes ahead.