Saturday, 14 April 2012

Chinese Grand Prix Qualifying

Not totally unexpected, in view of some of the trends in practice and qualifying thus far in 2012, but great to see Nico Rosberg on pole position for the first time in his Formula 1 career.  The traditionalists will also be purring, as this was the first F1 pole for Mercedes as a team entity since the Fangio/Moss days of 1955.

I'm tempted to say that the qualifying sessions in Shanghai have produced a win-win situation for the watching billions.  A new pole-sitter, close times and some fancied runners for various reasons further back on the grid than they are accustomed to being. 

Some people might view this as a "topsy-turvy" grid, but it is not, really.  Mercedes have been there or thereabouts in testing, practice and qualifying, so it was only going to take a minor shift in conditions,circumstances or luck for them to achieve today's outcome.  The other "surprising" grid positions are also not totally out of kilter with what has already been seen or predicted so far this year.

The main talking point, other than Rosberg's pole, will undoubtedly be Sebastian Vettel's failure to make the top ten.  Funnily enough, I was thinking of saying something to the effect that the recent criticism and scrutiny of Vettel has been premature and misguided.  The German will clearly not be thrilled to be where he is on the grid, but even now I'm not reading too much into it.  Just one of those things!  It is more instructive to look at times, and any mitigating circumstances, rather than pure positions.

Going back to Mercedes, the onboard shots with Rosberg suggested a very stable, responsive and easy-to-drive car, but of course doubts linger about their capacity to maintain a consistent race performance, partly because of their tyre-wear "issues".  One also wonders whether Nico's entry into the limelight might galvanise Michael Schumacher into an assertive and aggressive race performance tomorrow?

It remains to be seen whether McLaren, for all their prowess in race trim, will be hampered by their grid positions.  On balance, I think not, because of the nature of the track, and the uncertainties surrounding the cars in front of them. 

The Sauber and Lotus performances in qualifying have ceased to be surprising or unusual.  Consistent top ten positions should now be the norm for these two teams.  Kimi Raikkonen's times today have gone slightly unheralded, because of the feats of others, but his position is more proof that he never really "went away", and belongs on the rarefied air near the front of the grid.

What is very noticeable this season is how guarded and equivocal team personnel and drivers are being in their comments post-qualifying and pre-race, eschewing bold predictions or bravado.  They all realise just how competitive and fluid the current F1 landscape is, and few people are able to foresee future events with any degree of certainty.  This can only be a good thing!

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