Sunday, 15 April 2012

Chinese Grand Prix 2012 - Review

Another absorbing and unpredictable Formula 1 race, and this time we have a new winner, which is always a healthy sign.

Looking back, whatever doubts which may have inhabited Nico Rosberg's mind prior to the race were largely dispelled by his confident and clean get-away from the starting grid.  Thereafter, making allowances for pit-stops, he had the measure of his rivals, once strategies had unravelled.

The emotion and relief amongst the Mercedes personnel at the finish was palpable, notably from Norbert Haug and Ross Brawn.  I am delighted for Haug in particular; he has always occurred to me as one of F1's good guys.

While the weather conditions in Shanghai did not exactly hinder Mercedes in their endeavours, at least some of the questions about the car's earlier shortcomings appear to have been answered, and Michael Schumacher alluded to this when interviewed after retiring from the race.

The failure of Schumacher to finish will have been the one blemish on the day for the Silver Arrows. Since his comeback, I am probably guilty of over-analysing Michael's words and body language, searching for signs of a mellowing or a weakening of resolve. To be fair, these things are extremely difficult to discern, because for much of his career he has been diplomatic and sanguine, being loyal and protective to team members, publicly at least.  His qualities as a team player were in evidence today, with what seemed to be genuine pleasure at Rosberg's victory.  The seven-times champion probably in turn senses that the team has turned a corner, and that he will be a beneficiary.

If we disregard the relatively serene Rosberg, this was quite a freakish, fluctuating race, which had a faintly surreal air to it throughout.  The battle for the other points positions in the latter stages resembled a Formula Ford thrash rather than a Grand Prix, but I have heard few complaints!  My head was hurting at times watching, as I tried to make sense of the constantly shifting fortunes and permutations. It goes without saying that tyres were the major contributory factor in determining the nature of the contest, but the generally unpredictable pattern of Formula 1,2012-style, also had a role in all this.

Because of the volatile nature of the race, I am loath to make too many concrete judgements on individuals teams.  The margins were so slender that even one minor misjudgement could have what must have seemed disproportionate consequences.  The teams and drivers may have to become accustomed to this becoming more the norm in this "new age" F1.  Frustrating for them, entertaining for neutral observers....

McLaren are first and second in the driver's standings, and lead the constructor's championship.  However, they may come away from Shanghai feeling that the waters have been progressively muddied since Melbourne.  Their advantage was admittedly slim even then, but matters are becoming even more complicated, and the spectre of Mercedes must now concern them more.  Jenson Button must have felt that this race was tailor made for his unruffled, mechanically sympathetic style, but even allowing for his botched final pit-stop, he had no real answer to Rosberg.

As for Lewis Hamilton, has he arrived at a satisfactory balance?. This season may well put a premium on consistency and accumulation of points, and he has been on the podium at all three races thus far.  At the same time, the close and frenetic competition this season will help to satisfy his racer's instincts. His demeanour after the race hinted at some contentment and optimism, but not complacency.

Sebastian Vettel salvaged something from what on Saturday, and even in the early stages of the race itself, threatened to become an embarrassing and dispiriting state of affairs. Even so, circumstance and the odd slice of luck may have played their part.  Still not wholly convincing.

I was impressed with Mark Webber today.  He never stopped trying, withstood one particularly disconcerting moment, and his persistence and perseverance were rewarded at the end.  Above all, he never stopped racing.  He was also very gracious afterwards when praising Rosberg and Mercedes for their win.

Assessing Ferrari's day is an onerous task.  Both drivers seemed to try hard, and in some respects the cards did not fall for them, although admittedly Alonso made a late mistake which cost him places. The final results marginally exaggerate how bad a day they actually had.

 Of the others, Lotus, Sauber and Williams maintained the favourable impression which they have made in the early races.  It was heartening to see both Williams entries well inside the points, with the drivers being impressively assertive, Maldonado building on his reputation as a man not to be trifled with!  Sauber were slightly unlucky, although some impetuosity on the part of their drivers may have contributed to this.  For Lotus, Romain Grosjean had a chance to exhibit some of his flair.

The pulsating late tussle behind the leader may be the thing which lingers most in the memory from the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix.  It is noticeable how much the drivers themselves are enjoying this season's racing, this being reflected in post-race comments today from Button and Hamilton, amongst others.  Some competitors are coping with these new conditions better than others...

When we assess Formula 1 in 2012, the plot thickens....

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