Jenson Button won a thrilling Chinese Grand Prix today, his second win of the season and one which puts him on top of the drivers’ championship.
It was a 1-2 finish for McLaren with Lewis Hamilton following his team mate home having made twice as many pit stops. It takes McLaren to the top of the constructors’ championship.
“This victory is very special,” said Button, who stopped only twice in the race. “It is not luck we came out on top today. We chose correctly in the conditions. It was a tricky race and again we called it right. It’s not just about being quick, it’s about calling it.”
Like Melbourne, this was another race about Button’s correct strategy choice of tyre in changeable conditions and in which Hamilton made up for the wrong calls by charging through the field, with some stunning overtakes.
McLaren confirmed that it was Button’s own call to stay on slicks. Hamilton also confirmed that he personally made the wrong decision – and a very late one, he was almost past the pit entry – to switch to intermediates.
“I had an eventful race,” said Hamilton. “Jenson made a better choice on the tyres, It wasn’t easy. I chose very late (to go to inters) and clearly it wasn’t the right choice.”
Button is fast disproving all the critics who said he was out of his mind to join McLaren after winning the championship last year. He’s outqualified Hamilton 3-1 and has won two races thanks to making the right calls and relying on his own instincts. Once again, as in Melbourne he made the right decision and it gave him the platform to win.
It was a drizzly start to the race and Button chose to stay on dry tyres shortly after the start, when most of the field went for intermediates. Nico Rosberg and the two Renault drivers and Kovalainen did the same thing.
It was the right decision, as the intermediate tyres went off almost immediately and everybody was soon back into the pits to switch back to slicks. This meant that the leading group opened up a large gap over the others.
This gap was reduced to nothing by a safety car, which was deployed on lap 22 for clearing debris from Jaime Alguersuari’s front wing.
This helped the big names, who had lost out through making the wrong tyre calls early on and it was tough on the four drivers who had made the right call.
If the decision to deploy the safety car seemed marginal and possibly made in the interests of the show, it was fully vindicated by the race it gave us as a result.
One of the highlights for F1 fans was the first mano a mano battle between Hamilton and Schumacher. There were two battles today and in both of them Hamilton showed the seven time champion huge respect, giving him a lot of space. Schumacher was lacking rear end grip and traction and Hamilton was 2 seconds a lap faster at that point, but Schumacher used all his race craft to stay ahead for as long as he did.
“Michael was very aggressive, probably one of the most aggressive drivers I’ve ever raced against, but he did a great job,” said Hamilton.
They had a second battle later in the race in the rain, after Schumacher made an earlier call for intermediates than the rest and got back ahead of Hamilton.
There were controversial incidents involving both McLaren drivers; Button slowed right down into Turn 14 in preparation for the restart after the safety car, causing the rest of the field to bunch up and almost caused a mass collision. But this brought no sanction from the stewards.
Hamilton raced Vettel into the pit lane on lap 6 for the stop where they reverted to slicks. He got ahead. But Red Bull did the faster stop and, as they were released from the pit boxes, almost simultaneously, Hamilton came into the path of Vettel, who resisted him, by gently easing him towards the right. Both drivers were reprimanded for their driving, the second race in a row for Hamilton.
It was another great day for Rosberg and Kubica, who have both had strong starts to the season and made the absolute most of the cars they have. Rosberg qualified fourth, led the early stages and lost the lead to Button on lap 19, when the rain began to fall again and the lap times went off by 10 seconds.
Rosberg went off track and rejoined, but it allowed Button to close and he eased past on the run down to Turn 14. But Rosberg took another podium and once again eclipsed his team mate Michael Schumacher. It is the first time in Schumacher’s career that he has been beaten by a tem mate four races in a row. Schumacher said afterwards that he didn’t judge how to use the current generation intermediate tyres properly.
“It was not good for me and not good from me, ” he said candidly. “It is frustrating that I was not able to get my tyres together better. My strategy in that respect was not very impressive as in the last 10 laps my tyres were just gone.”
Kubica had another very clean race, built on the platform of his “best ever” qualifying performance, made all the right calls and looked after his intermediates well to take a strong fifth place, from eighth on the grid.
For the fourth time in four races the pole sitter did not win the race. Red Bull had dominated qualifying, but things went wrong for them when they made the early stop for intermediates. Webber damaged his front wing and the front jack, which then affected Vettel’s stop. After that it was a fight and they seemed to take more out of the intermediate tyres judging by the rate at which they wore them out.
“Today was chaotic,” said Vettel. “To get sixth isn’t bad. We started on pole but we struggled quite a lot with some conditions. It’s very on/off in these conditions. We need to understand why we were not able to be there straight away on tyre temperatures after restarts and pit stops.”
Fernando Alonso made another storming drive through the field, but this time he was recovering from his own mistake, jumping the start, which brought a drive through penalty. He made five visits to the pits in total and yet still managed to recover to take fourth place, helped significantly by the safety car for the Alguersuari incident.
* Watch out for my FX Pro Strategy Briefing early next week in which we will fully analyse how and why the key decisions were made in this race.
CHINESE GRAND PRIX – Shanghai, 56 laps
1. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1h44:42.163
2. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 1.530
3. Rosberg Mercedes + 9.484
4. Alonso Ferrari + 11.869
5. Kubica Renault + 22.213
6. Vettel Red Bull-Renault + 33.310
7. Petrov Renault + 47.600
8. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 52.172
9. Massa Ferrari + 57.796
10. Schumacher Mercedes + 1:01.749
11. Sutil Force India-Mercedes + 1:02.874
12. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth + 1:03.665
13. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1:11.416
14. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth + 1 lap
15. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth + 1 lap
16. Senna HRT-Cosworth + 2 laps
17. Chandhok HRT-Cosworth + 4 laps