Sebastian Vettel led the way for Red Bull in a one-two finish in a rain-soaked Chinese Grand Prix. The weekend was awash with rainstorms of many stripes such as real, constant rain, Flavio Briatore’s meltdown, Diffuser controversies and Lewis Hamilton’s dour face and tense atmosphere within the McLaren garage as well as Ferrari’s continued mega-collapse. Underneath all the semantics, litigation, rocky relations and Italian failure moved a silent bastion of speed. The REd Bull quietly took pole position with dramatic fashion using a bare minimum of laps to secure the coveted position. On Sunday, as the rain began to fall, there was a feeling of “wow, this may be Monza 2008 all over again”. It was!
In the first two races we’ve suggested that Mark Webber would be the litmus test for Red Bull’s real pace and it seemed that Red Bull was just slightly off from the Brawn GP, Toyota and Williams F1 teams at Australia and Malaysia. We submitted that Red Bull were the only ones that seemed to be within touch of the top double-decker Diffuser teams and the more significant point being that Red Bull not only had a standard diffuser but were not using the controversial KERS to increase their performance. We’ve been vindicated in our assertions today but that’s not to say that dry weather may have changed things more in favor of the Brawn GP cars. Bahrain will be a telling moment as one can usually count on dry weather in the desert.
Selfishly I think Sebastian Vettel drove an incredible race but then I would think that. Like so many great rain master before him, he had to pull away quickly under a SC start which all but ruined their light-fuel race strategy. But when called upon, Vettel delivered. He was more than Jenson Button could handle as the championship points leader struggled with tire temperature the entire race and never cam to grips with the car. It also seems the second Brawn GP driver Rubens Barrichello struggled as well. The race was really an exercise in strategy manipulation and calculation on the fly. What seemed to be a gamble for Red Bull’s team boss Christian Horner turned out to be a solvable dilemma through good pit stops and brilliant driving from both drivers. Renault’s Fernando Alonso got caught out by their race strategy as he had to pit within the first few laps of the race behind the safety car.
In essence the teams were all separated by what they thought would be the best strategy with the problematic Option tire that the FIA has foisted on the teams as part of their “managed tire” program. Several teams set their cars up for rain later in the race and others were focused on getting short stints up front to relieve them of the mandatory stint on option tires. The most interesting part of the race was to see how all the teams adjusted their strategies on-the-fly and several were successful in doing so. Scuderia Toro Rosso had a great day via their young rookie Sebastien Buemi who finished int he points and looked very good int he wet. While Jarno Trulli struggled all day only the be nearly eaten by Robert Kubica’s car climbing over the the top of Jarno’s; Timo Glock had another very impressive race climbing from a pit lane starting position to gain points. The unfortunate move of the race was watching Adrian Sutil bin his car while in the points. Points desperately needed by Force India. Last year it was Kimi’s fault for punting Sutil out of the points in Monaco but this year in on Adrian’s shoulders.
All of this leads to an interesting race in Bahrain but perhaps the real interesting part of the 2009 season will be in Spain when most teams suggest they will have a new diffuser fitted. This amid discussion and frank, defeatist comments made from a failing Ferrari that all but signal their year is over and that they should perhaps focus on the 2010 car starting now.
I couldn’t be more elated for Vettel. I’ve been a fan since the F3 Euroseries days with Paul Di Resta (another guy I wouldn’t mind to see in F1) and there isn’t anything not to like. Brilliantly talented, Monty Python fan and no manager. The kid has no manager! That’s incredible in F1 and more to the point he handles the PR better than many other more “notable” phenoms. Well spoken and always smiling, this young man is the future of F1.
1 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault) 56 laps
2 Mark Webber (Red Bull Renault) +10.9
3 Jenson Button (Brawn Mercedes) +44.9
4 Rubens Barrichello (Brawn Mercedes) +1:03.7
5 Heikki Kovalainen (Mclaren Mercedes) +1:05.1
6 Lewis Hamilton (Mclaren Mercedes) +1:11.8
7 Timo Glock (Toyota) +1:14.4
8 Sebastien Buemi (Toro Rosso Ferrari) +1:16.4
9 Fernando Alonso (Renault) +1:24.3
10 Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) +1:31.7
11 Sebastien Bourdais (Toro Rosso Ferrari) +1:34.1
12 Nick Heidfeld (BMW Sauber) +1:35.8
13 Robert Kubica (BMW Sauber) +1:46.8
14 Giancarlo Fisichella (Force India Mercedes) 1 lap
15 Nico Rosberg (Williams Toyota) 1 lap
16 Nelson Piquet (Renault) 2 laps
17 Adrian Sutil (Force India Mercedes) 6 laps, accident
Kazuki Nakajima (Williams Toyota) 13 laps
Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 36 laps
Jarno Trulli (Toyota) 38 laps