The Chinese Grand Prix has provided a whole host of fascinating talking points.
But in terms of the key decisions taken on the day, they revolve mainly around whether or not to pit for wet tyres in the first few laps and then how to recover from the wrong decision.
And these were game changing decisions, which decided the results of the race.
At the end of that lap the first batch of drivers wanting a switch to intermediate tyres came in. This included Adrian Sutil, who started 10th on the grid. By stopping first he gained places over drivers who were in front of him on lap 1, but who delayed their stop for intermediates to Lap 2, such as Schumacher, Vettel, Webber and Hamilton. Sutil was 8th and ahead of all those drivers once everyone who was pitting for inters had made their stops.
He probably thought that he would be further up than that, but this was the point at which the strategists realised that drivers like Button, Rosberg, Kovalainen and the Renault pair were not going to stop for wet tyres.
As we would see all day, if conditions changed and a decision needed to be made, the early adopters were usually the ones who gained from it.
It is worth pausing to consider the merits for a team of splitting the strategies at this point, bringing one driver in for intermediate tyres and leaving the other one out on track.
McLaren did this, as did Mercedes. In McLaren’s case the driver who made the wrong choice – Hamilton – still managed to get onto the podium, thanks to the intervention of the safety car. He beat two other drivers, Rosberg and Kubica, who took the correct option of staying out on dry tyres.
A split strategy like this is always hard for a team to take, unless one of the drivers is up for the risky option, as Button was in this case, because no-one wants to lose out.
In the case of Shanghai the wet weather looked set to stay, in other words there was no indication in the data the teams were studying to suggest that it was a passing shower, rather that drizzle and light rain would persist. So staying out in the face of that evidence was a risky decision.
It is quite interesting to see the quote from Alonso after the race where he explained how he and Ferrari arrived at their decision, “It was a decision taken by everyone, consulting via radio,” he said. “The winning decision was taken by Button. I do not know if we would have been capable of making the same choice. ”
What was it like in that moment when teams had to decide whether to leave one of their cars out on slicks? Speaking to engineers, it was quite surprising that the slicks worked in those conditions.
The track was quite warm before the light rain had started falling and the water that fell must have evaporated off the surface quite quickly.
Either way, after only one lap on the intermediate, Schumacher realised that he had made a mistake and pitted to refit slicks. He was the earliest adopter of this plan and was followed a lap later by Alonso, Barrichello, Hamilton and Vettel. By making the early call Schumacher went from 13th place to 6th. And whereas Hamilton, for example, was 51 seconds adrift of the leader by lap 7, Schumacher was only 38 seconds adrift, despite having been just ahead of Hamilton before making that second stop.
The other key decision was whether to go with the soft or the hard tyre at that second stop. There was a real mixture of choices here. Both Red Bulls went for hard, but struggled to warm them up. Hamilton went for hard too and was immediately almost a second faster, ripping through the two Red Bull cars in quick succession. His success on the hard tyre, coupled with the good fortune of a safety car, which took him from 47 seconds behind the leader to just 5 seconds behind, was the foundation of his recovery from that early wrong decision on tyres.
The hard proved to be the right choice in that situation, once they were up to temperature. Schumacher, Sutil and the Ferrari drivers went for soft, but then found that they didn’t last. The soft tyre only seemed to endure on Sunday afternoon for the drivers who used them from the start.
The problem all the runners on new softs then suffered from, but Schumacher worst of all, was left front graining as there are five corners in Shanghai, which really hammer the left front tyre.
All in all a big day for decision making and it was the key to success. As the winner, Jenson Button said after the race, “It was a tricky race out there and again we called it right and it means a lot. It is not just about being quick.”