Fernando Alonso won the 2013 Chinese Grand Prix in a masterful display of tyre strategy and quick driving. Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton joined the Spaniard on the podium, even as Sebastian Vettel pushed hard to catch Hamilton near the end. Some teams and drivers chose to try a two stop strategy while most of the field chose a three stopper. Red Bull started Vettel on the harder tyre and ended him on the softs, but it just wasn’t enough to allow the reigning world champion to pass Hamilton before the end.
There was some dicing over position on the start, as Alonso and Felipe Massa dove in under Raikkonen to take second and third early. Alonso would parlay that move into the win with good pit strategy, passing Vettel in the later stages as the two traded the lead over pit strategy. Shanghai saw a number of retirements, including Mark Webber’s loss of a tyre on track, and Nico Rosberg’s second retirement in three races. Raikkonen fought back after his difficult start, seeming to make the most passes throughout the race.
Though Hamilton (1:34.484) won pole commandingly in a thrilling final lap dash to the line with seven other competitors, Saturday’s qualifying sessions seemed rather dull at times as teams saved tyres for the race. Raikkonen was second fastest in the single lap fight over pole, with Alonso and Rosberg sitting on the second row. Webber’s day went from bad to worse, as the Australian ran out of fuel in the middle of Q2, then dropped back downt he qualifying order to start last as he did not have fuel enough for the required FIA sample.
His teammate Vettel posted no complete lap time in Q3, so he qualified ninth on a strategic set of medium tyres. Button will also start on the harder and, for this weekend, better compound, nursing his tyres around on a lap more than thirty seconds off Hamilton’s pole pace. There were no incidents in quali as there were in the practices, mainly because teams were so busy saving tyres they did not allow their drivers on to the track. Of the forty-five minutes for quali, the track saw at least fifteen of them without a driver lapping.
Rosberg (1:36.717) and Mercedes had a good start to the weekend, leading a team 1-2 in the first practice. Massa (1:35.340) led the Friday afternoon session, with teammate Alonso (1:35.391) taking the honors on Saturday morning. In all three sessions, some combination of the above mentioned and Webber, Vettel, and Raikkonen were in the top five.
Perez saw his third race weekend at McLaren off to a bad start: running off the pit entrance and into the barrier at the end of FP1 and gently into the barrier at Turn 8 in FP2. He damaged the car only a little, with major front wing and nose damage to 2012 spec parts Friday morning. Grosjean continued to complain of a lack of rear downforce as has become tradition on Fridays in 2013, while Sutil had a spin moments after Perez in the same spot on Friday afternoon. Webber started the race from pit lane while Button, Vettel, Hulkenberg, di Resta, Perez, Vergne and Bottas started the race on the medium, harder, tyre.
Hamilton led the way as the lights went out to start the Chinese Grand Prix, though it was Alonso who slid in behind him into T1, with Massa behind his teammate. Raikkonen dropped to fourth as Grosjean moved up to take Rosbeg for fifth. The drivers went three across into T11, but somehow the field managed the first lap without incident. Webber pitted on that first lap to change tyre compound. At the end of L1, Hamilton led Alonso, Massa, Raikkonen, Rosberg, Grosjean, Ricciardo, Button, Vettel, and Hulkenberg.
Di Resta had a minor excursion off the track on the first lap, possibly with a bit of help from Sutil, but managed to rejoin and soon challenge Perez for thirteenth. Hamilton managed to putll out a bit of a margin on the Ferrari drivers, but it was not a safe one. By then end of L2, he had eight tenths over Alonso. That did not last, as Alonso soon gained on his former teammate as his current teammate pressured from behind. Hamilton soon began complaining of understeer in his Mercedes.
Vettel pushed his way through on Hulkenberg at L4 began, while the drama came at the front. First Alonso made his way around Hamilton for the lead through the DRS on the front straight, then Massa did so for second, leaving plenty of room for Raikkonen to push the former world champion to look for a way through into third. Ricciardo pitted for his first stop on L4.
First Pit Stops Begin (L5):
Hamilton pitted, as did Rosberg, Sutil, and Pic for their first stops on L6. Mercedes barely queued Rosberg behind Hamilton, with both drivers getting out quickly. Sutil had fairly consequential damage, with a damaged rear wing and a long stop that left the brakes needing extinguishing. On the track, Vettel continued to move forward while Gutierrez went straight on at a turn.
Alonso pitted on L7, as did Raikkonen, Bianchi, and van der Garde. Raikkonen rejoined just as Webber passed pit out, but managed to stay in front of the Australian. Massa relinquished the lead to Hulkenberg on L8 to pit, as Grosjean, Maldonado, and Chilton followed him on to pit lane. Meanwhile, Force India gave up the ghost with Sutil and retired the German’s car. He was not the first out, as Gutierrez had stopped on track after running into the German and going straight on through the turn earlier.
Hulkenberg led at the end of L10, from a posse of cars that had yet to stop. Vettel, Button, Perez, and di Resta completed the top five, all without stopping. Alonso had made his first stop and sat sixth, with Hamilton, Vergne (who had not yet stopped), Raikkonen, and Massa rounding out the top ten.
After the first flurry of pitstops from the then frontrunners, the race seemed ready to settle down for a few laps. Vettel chafed a bit in second, hoping that Red Bull would release him to gain a gap on those behind, but remained behind his fellow German for a while. A bit further back, Alonso picked off di Resta for fifth, dropping to within nine seconds of Hulkenberg in the lead. Hamilton had radioed to Mercedes that he could not keep up with Alonso, that he was quite quick.
Hulkenberg and Vettel, along with di Resta, pitted on L15. Alonso continued to move through the field, passing Raikkonen and Perez. Button soon led, still without stopping, over Alonso, Perez, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Massa, Vettel, Rosberg, Hulkenberg, and Webber, who was the next to stop, this time for his second time. Vergne followed his sister team driver into pit lane on L15.
However, the race became even worse for Webber, as the Australian lost positions and dropped into the garage, returning last in the running order after a poorly received pass attempt on Vergne. Raikkonen’s day was also going poorly as he ran into the back of Perez while attempting to pass the McLaren and getting squeezed to the side.
Webber had reported right side tyre issues which came to fruition as that tyre came off his car and rolled across the track. Webber parked his Red Bull at T14, ending his race. Back circulating, Raikkonen had soon caught Hamilton and began pressuring him for the final podium position.
Second Pit Stops Begin (L19):
Massa and Rosberg pitted for their second stops on L19, even as Button continued to lead the race on the set of tyres he used at the start. His McLaren teammate Perez also had yet to stop. Rosberg pitted for the third time on L21, from fifteenth, with van der Garde following him. Hamilton and Raikkonen pitted simultaneously, leaving the two world champions to continue their fight through pit lane. They rejoined in the order they pitted, with the teams keeping them apart enough to forestall pit lane dicing.
Rosberg remained in the garage, finally retiring on L23, even as Alonso neatly passed Button for the race lead. Alonso would pit for his second stop on L24, as would Button for his first. Grosjean and Ricciardo also pitted that lap. Alonso managed to get back out just ahead of Perez in third, with Button in fifth. Perez made his first stop on L25.
Halfway (End L28):
Of the eighteen drivers still running, seven had yet to stop more than once, twenty-eight laps into the race. That included leader Vettel, third place Hulkenberg, Button in fourth, di Resta in seventh, Perez in ninth, and Vergne and Bottas in 12th & 13th. Alonso sat second, Hamilton & Raikkonen fifth and sixth, Massa was then eighth, and Grosjean sat tenth.
Alonso soon regained the race lead, taking Vettel through the DRS zone as the German listened to his race engineer and did not fight the Spaniard. Hulkenberg pitted on L30 for his second stop. A bit further back, Hamilton had also taken third from Button, who soon came under attack from Raikkonen. The Finn slid right through on Button a lap later, taking fourth.
Just after, Vettel made his second stop for another set of the medium tyres, rejoining in eighth, then pushed his way through on Massa on his fresher rubber. Perez also pitted on L32. Di Resta and Bianchi pitted on L33, the former for the second time and the latter the third. On the track, Vettel continued to move forward with a pass on Hulkenberg for fifth.
Third Pit Stops Begin (L35):
Raikkonen stopped for the third time on L35, rejoining in eighth and just ahead of his teammate. Bianchi and Pic had made their third stops a lap or two earlier. With twenty laps to go, Alonso led Hamilton by more than twelve seconds. Button was third, requiring another stop, as did Vettel in fourth, who had just passed him for the remaining podium position.
Hulkenberg and Massa pitted from fifth and sixth on L37. They fought their way out of the pit lane, but Hulkenberg seemed to not get of the pit lane limiter early enough, leaving plenty of room for Massa to take the position. Hamilton made his third stop on L38, rejoining behind Raikkonen and Ricciardo. Grosjean and Vergne also pitted on that lap. Hamilton quickly made his way through on Ricciardo in the DRS zone, then the Australian pitted on his next time around. Maldonado next pitted on L40.
Meanwhile, a number of cars would be investigated after the race for using DRS under a yellow flag zone. Alonso made his final stop for Ferrari as L42 began, a clear but slowish stop. Vettel retook the lead while Alonso pitted, but still needed to stop for the soft tyres, and Alonso rejoined in second. Alonso soon took the lead back, sliding through under Vettel into T1. Button, on old tyres, soon succumbed to Raikkonen as the Finn took the final podium position. Hamilton made his one way through soon thereafter, around the outside through Turn 3.
10 Laps Remaining:
Alonso posted the race fast lap on L45, continuing to gain a gap on Vettel despite the latter’s need to stop again. Though Ferrari warned him to not push, and Alonso insisted he wasn’t, he continued to post fast laps in the lead as the final ten laps of the race elapsed. He led Vettel, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Button, di Resta, Massa, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, and Grosjean as the top ten. In that group, only Hulkenberg was close enough to use the DRS to pass the man ahead of him, but Ricciardo would soon open the gap enough to forestall that move, having passed the German just laps before.
Alonso continued to pull a gap out on Vettel as the laps ticked down. Button dashed into the pits from fifth for his third stop on L50, rejoining in seventh and ahead of Ricciardo. Button next passed Massa for fifth, using the DRS. Vettel made his regulation stop on L52, rejoining in fourth on fresh soft tyres. The German set off on qualifying style laps for the final four laps, but had more than eleven seconds to catch up Hamilton, let alone pass him.
Vettel continued to close to Hamilton even as the latter closed on Raikkonen. The Finn pulled out more than a second on Hamilton, but Vettel started the final lap just two seconds behind Hamilton, with traffic ahead of the Briton. Hamilton began telling the team that there should be blue flags to the Caterham ahead, which he passed, but Vettel continued to close. Alonso finished with the win, while Raikkonen sat safely in second, but Vettel looked ready to pounce on Hamilton in the final turns. Hamilton locked up into the final turn, but managed to hold off Vettel across the line and keep the podium.
Final Positions, 2013 Chinese Grand Prix:
Driver Team Gap Stops 1. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 3 2. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 10.1 3 3. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 12.3 3 4. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 12.5 3 5. Jenson Button McLaren 35.2 2 6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 40.8 3 7. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 42.6 3 8. Paul di Resta Force India 51.0 3 9. Romain Grosjean Lotus 53.4 3 10. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 56.5 3 11. Sergio Perez McLaren 63.8 2 12. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 72.6 3 13. Valtteri Bottas Williams 93.8 3 14. Pastor Maldonado Williams 95.4 3 15. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1 Lap 3 16. Charles Pic Caterham 1 Lap 3 17. Max Chilton Marussia 1 Lap 3 18. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1 Lap 3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 35 Laps 4 Mark Webber Red Bull 41 Laps 2 Adrian Sutil Force India 51 Laps 1 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 52 Laps