Fernando Alonso had another astonishing afternoon in the Chinese Grand Prix, coming through from the 17th place to claim fourth spot.
Afterwards he said he had had enough of F1’s wacky races and wanted some more straight forward weekends, “We hope we get to have a normal race, ” he said. “These GPs with 5 pit stops don’t help us – I’m not even sure how many stops we had. Up to now we have only had one normal race, in Bahrain. I won that race, and we were first and second.”
The lottery of the weather has helped them. But it is the same for everyone. Alonso is new at Ferrari and still assessing team’s ability to steer a course through troubled waters. It may be a co-incidence, but in Melbourne, Malaysia and Shanghai, his old team Renault has made all the right calls with Kubica.
There were many strong performances in China, but Alonso’s really deserves a closer look because, had it not been for his mistake at the start, setting off before the lights had gone out, he could have fought Button for the win today.
He was third on the grid, ahead of Button but jumped the start taking the lead. He was one of the many who pitted for intermediate tyres on lap 2, dropping to sixth place. Realising that he was on the wrong tyre and that a penalty was heading his way, he pitted again on lap 5 for slicks, rejoining in 12th place.
Now on the right tyre, he served the drive through penalty on lap 6, his third time through the pits, while Button and Rosberg had yet to make a single one.
Each tyre stop was taking around 23 seconds today and a drive through is 5 seconds less than that, so Alonso had dropped almost a minute and was in 17th place by lap 6.
He didn’t stay there long, cutting through to 14th in a couple of laps at which point he came up behind his team mate, Felipe Massa. He stayed behind him until lap 19, when the famous overtaking incident in the pit lane took place.
As Massa saw it, “I ended up on a puddle of water coming out of the hairpin and slightly lost control of the car: he managed to get inside me, passing me going into the pit lane. I lost some places because of it, as I had to wait for his stop to be finished.”
The move was executed at the apex of the left hand corner in the pit lane entry road, where Hamilton went off in the 2007 race. Massa was forced wide onto the grass strip between the road and the gravel trap and then followed Alonso into the pit boxes. Alonso had no intentio of queueing up and losing more time. It was a graphic illustration of his mentality.
Massa lost six seconds by queuing up and more importantly he lost track position to Barrichello, so on lap 20 the Ferraris were 10th and 12th.
In the 10 laps it took Massa took pass his fellow Brazilian, Alonso passed Vettel, Schumacher and Sutil, so he was up to sixth place. He picked off Petrov for fifth and then leapfrogged Kubica for fourth at the final pit stops on lap 38 by staying out a lap longer on worn intermediates.
In Malaysia, Alonso had to fight his way up through the field from 19th position on the grid after getting the timing wrong in a wet qualifying. He also had to contend with a gearbox problem, which meant that he had no engine braking and had to go through a complicated procedure at the corners involving going into neutral and pre-select the gear he wanted to come out of the corner with.
“My main problem was that the gearbox was broken from the start, ” he said. ” I had to accelerate the engine at each corner to be able to change gear and I couldn’t brake as I wanted to.”
Barcelona is his home race and his first in the Ferrari, so Hispanic expectations are likely to be off the charts. All the teams will have major development steps by then and it may redraw the pecking order.
But for Alonso to be 3rd in the championship, with 49 points, just 11 adrift of Button and ahead of Vettel is quite an achievement, given what he’s been through in the wacky races of the first part of the season.