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Looking back at the Chinese GP

Apologies for the lack of articles recently. I have been spending holiday time with family.

China produced another extremely exciting race with Red Bull winning their first ever race in Formula One. The rain, which was worse than predicted gave the drivers a real challenge. They really had to work for their money, which is what everyone wants to see.

We saw a few stunning performances, along with some error strewn races, too.

So let’s have a look at the main stories to take away from the Chinese GP weekend.

 

Exceptional performance from Red Bull and both their drivers.

This one-two finish for Red Bull was more than deserved. In the first two races, Red Bull threatened to deliver a great result but it just didn’t happen. The potential was there for all to see though.

Vettel was second in Melbourne, until the tangle with Robert Kubica. In Malaysia Webber said he could have won had the heavy rain and red flag not arrived when it did.

In China it all came together for the team. The team opted to go light in qualifying and Vettel grabbed pole position with Mark Webber third. In the race the car was in a class of its own, and both Vettel and Webber drove brilliantly. The Red Bull seems to work really well in the wet conditions.

The car was very well balanced, and kept its heat in the tyres more efficiently than anyone else. They were so fast that their light fuel load didn’t put them at a disadvantage at all.

Vettel’s move on Jenson Button for the lead after his final pit stop (and before Jenson’s last stop) demonstrated how much quicker Red Bull was.

At times Sebastien Vettel was over two seconds a lap quicker than his nearest opponents. Unlike most other drivers in the race he didn’t make a single error all afternoon. He made it look so simple, which the sign of a great driver.

He has a great feel for tricky conditions, just as he showed at Monza last season. This race has shown us that the victory in Monza wasn’t just a one-off. If anything this performance was even more impressive

He really is the real deal and surely a future world champion. The added pressure on him this season doesn’t seem to be getting to him at all. He also isn’t getting carried away with his success. He still has the same charming personality and has his feet firmly on the ground. He has the maturity of a driver well beyond his years.

Mark Webber will be disappointed not to have won the first race for the team. However, he still finished a very strong second, and is right up there with Vettel in the championship standings. Considering the tough winter that Mark Webber has had, he can still feel very proud.

If someone had told him after his accident (when he broke his leg) that he would get a second place within the first three races of 2009 he probably wouldn’t have believed them. Apparently he is still limping slightly when he isn’t in the car.

Red Bull will now be hoping they can get their new diffuser sorted out as soon as possible. Once they have got that sorted they will be a real force to be reckoned with.

 

Brawn GP still have the fastest car but China demonstrated their only major flaw

Red Bull may have dominated this week, but Brawn GP are still the quickest team on the grid. Fuel corrected Barrichello was actually the real star of qualifying. Button was second quickest when you took fuel loads into account, whereas the Red Bulls would only have been fourth and fifth.

In dry conditions Brawn GP’s race pace is also still stronger. The car is easy on it’s tyres so therefore is quick at the end of a race stint. Had the race have been dry Brawn GP ought to have cruised to another one-two, once the race strategies had played out.

However the race was wet and this changed things completely for Brawn GP. Brawn GP have hardly done any running with this car in the wet. This race shows that the car doesn’t work brilliantly in these conditions. The car had trouble keeping heat into it’s tyres, and that’s why it struggled to keep the Red Bull cars in sight.

Brawn GP won in Malaysia mainly because Button had the race won before the storm arrived. In the wet they were then able to hold onto their position. Button had commented back then that the car was badly balanced in the wet.

Brawn GP will have to work on making sure the car works more effectively in the wet conditions in the future.

Finishing third and fourth, though is still a very useful result. Button has scored 26 points out of the first 30 available. Brawn GP are also still comfortably ahead in the Constructors championship. That is great championship form. If you had told Jenson last season that he would score 26 points in the first three races of 2009 he probably would have fainted.

Again he beat Rubens Barrichello comfortably. He is now starting to establish a clear gap over Rubens. Rubens needs respond to his team mate or risk ending up in the same situation as he did at Ferrari.

Overall losing this race hasn’t done Brawn that much harm, especially as Red Bull had only scored one point before this race.

If it is hot and dry in Bahrain as you would expect then Brawn GP should be victorious again. However Red Bull are closing in.

Another nightmare for Ferrari, although Massa was one of the stars of the race

Unbelievably Ferrari have scored no points for the third race running. They were even slower here than they had been in Australia and Malaysia. Due to reliability problems with their KERs system, they opted not to run it in China. This lost them even more time.

However despite this Massa drove a fantastic race. He was storming his way through the field, and made mince meat of his own team mate. When the Safety Car came out he was sitting in a very strong position.

He could very well have challenged Button for the final podium place. Unfortunately reliability struck yet again, and Massa pulled out of the race with an electrical problem.

Kimi Raikkonen didn’t suffer reliability issues but failed to make an impression. His main highlight of the race was an ongoing battle with Lewis Hamilton.

Ferrari have now got to work extremely hard to solve their issues. If they don’t get some big results soon they may have to write off this season and start focusing on 2010. The atmosphere in the team seems very pessimistic and negative at the moment.

This is very unlike the Ferrari team we have seen in the past. Stefano Domenicali has to change this as a matter of urgency.

Ferrari have to get their KERs system working again, and get the new diffuser up and running as soon as possible. If Ferrari don’t produce something in Bahrain (where they tested extensively over the winter), and Spain (where all the teams bring major upgrades) then it’s very hard to see them bouncing back.

I think the loss of the dream team compromising of Michael Schumacher, Jean Todt, Ross Brawn and Rory Bryne is now really starting take it’s toll on the team. Who wouldn’t miss four people of that calibre? They are simply irreplaceable.

Ferrari simply haven’t done as good a job at adapting to the new 2009 rules as others have, with the added problem of decision making and reliability being very poor too.

Are Ferrari now sinking into oblivion? Or can the new-look team show their worth and fight back? The next few weeks are going to give us the answer.

 

Piquet Jnr and Nakajima are the front runners in the F1 sack race

Both drivers had a poor weekend in China. Piquet Jnr qualified 17th for the third time this season. He maybe didn’t have the new bits on the car that Alonso had, but the car is still quicker than 17th position. In the race he spent more time spinning than making his way through the field.

This is now three races where he has performed well below what should be expected of him. The question is how long are Renault going to persist with these poor performances?

Bahrain and Spain are going to be the two most important races of his career. By then he should have the new parts on his car. If he still can’t make it through the first stage of qualifying, and make an impact on the points, then its difficult to see him staying with the team for much longer.

If Renault did decide to let him go then it’s hard to see who would want to give him a second chance.

Nakajima had a similarly poor race full of errors. Normally these crazy races are the sort he excels in. He has shown in the past at how good he is at keeping his head, but in this race that didn’t happen. Nakajima also made an error and crashed heavily in Melbourne.

Qualifying has been the main weakness in his F1 career so far, and that weakness has remained. He has been nowhere near Rosberg in qualifying so far this season.

Like Piquet, Nakajima has a very important couple of races coming up. However he is part of William’s Toyota engine deal. He brings vital sponsorship to the team so his seat is still pretty safe for now despite a poor start to 2009.

 

McLaren pick up some useful points, but Kovalainen is their star

This weekend Mclaren looked in better shape. With new parts on including a new diffuser the car looked to be more drivable, and Lewis was the happiest he has been all season. He did very well to get the car to Q3 and eventually qualify ninth.

In the race he came through in sixth after a very eventful race. He approached the race in full attack and produced daring overtaking moves. This included overtaking Kimi Raikkonen numerous times.

On the other hand there were times when Lewis perhaps pushed a little bit too hard, and he went off the road three or four times. This current McLaren isn’t the same car he drove at Silverstone last season. This car is much harder to handle in wet conditions, and Lewis tried to extract as much out of the car as he possibly could and more.

The wet tyres also wore heavily on the Mclaren due to them doing a one stop race.

Kovalainen drove very well and for the first time in a while outshone Lewis Hamilton. He kept his car on the track throughout the race. He kept his head and ended up passing Lewis late on in the race, whilst on one of his off track excursions. Kovalainen then chased down Rubens Barrichello in the closing stages.

Whilst Kovalainen’s drive may not have been as exciting to watch as Lewis’s, he drove very maturely within the limits of the car and was consistent. Along with Vettel he was one of the only drivers not to go off the track, and he took full advantage of that. If you took the Red Bull drivers out of the equation Heikki would have been my star of the race.

Hats off to Buemi

Sebastien Buemi proved his doubters wrong again. In Sepang he had a difficult weekend when he started at the back of the grid. Here he fought back with a vengeance.

In qualifying he managed to sneak into Q3 with a great lap. In the race the tough conditions didn’t phase him and he took no prisoners. Just like in Melbourne he was battling with Ferraris.

The only error was touching the back of Vettel. He dropped back a bit after this incident but still finished the race with a championship point. Impressively this was his second points finish in his first three F1 outings.

At the moment the decision to put him in the car has proved to be a shrewed move, as opposed to a crazy move as deemed by many (including myself).

He is also putting his more experienced team mate into the shade. In China Bourdais wasn’t even able to get past the first part of qualifying.

 

Adrian Sutil suffers Deja-Vu

Adrian Sutil’s best drives in F1 have all come in wet conditions. This was another one of those races. During the safety car period he came into the pits and brimmed his car with fuel. This strategy worked very well and he fought his way through the field.

In the last part of the race he had got himself up into sixth place. He was fighting tooth and nail with both Mclarens, Glock, Heidfeld and Buemi.

Sadly like in Monaco there wasn’t to be a happy ending. He got caught out in the river heading down to turn six and hit the barriers. Race over.

If Adrian Sutil had got those three points Force India would have gone above Ferrari in the Constructors Championship!

Despite no points it proved again that Sutil does have talent, and he used this opportunity to remind the paddock of that.

 

Expected title contenders are not in the hunt

The amazing thing about this season so far is that we have title contenders that we never expected. It’s as if the grid has turned back to front almost. The new order we are seeing emerge in F1 is fascinating and great to see. It’s great to see different people at the front of the grid.

Here is a list of the five drivers who most people, would have probably expected to be contenders, before the main preseason tests started.

Lewis Hamilton

Fernando Alonso

Kimi Raikkonen

Felipe Massa

Robert Kubica

So far in 2009 Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso have been the only drivers of this five, who have actually scored any points at all. The odds on that happening before the season would have been extremely high.

Unless there is a dramatic turnaround it’s looking like none of these names are going to be serious contenders. Of course F1 can change quickly so don’t rule any of them out just yet. If there is going to be a big improvement it needs to come within the next couple of races otherwise it will be too late.

The Spanish GP is going to be vitally important for teams like McLaren, Ferrari, BMW and Renault. This is the traditional race where all the major upgrades arrive. If these teams don’t improve sufficiently at that race, then it’s hard to see them making a giant comeback in the title race.

The key championship contenders at the moment look to be Brawn GP and Red Bull. I think these two teams will battle each other hard throughout the season. Brawn GP have the quickest car at the moment, but Red Bull have some big developments to come including the new diffuser.

Ross Brawn has also promised a big upgrade for his team in Spain. They will not be standing still, and they have a big enough budget to develop the car till the end of the season.

Toyota and Williams have shown bursts of pace this season. I think both teams will win in 2009 but I not sure whether they are consistent enough to join Brawn GP and Red Bull in a championship bid.

 

Looking ahead to Bahrain

Bahrain will be very different to China. In China it was cool and wet. In Bahrain it’s going to be sunny and very hot. The demands will be completely different.

In the dry Brawn GP definitely still have the quickest car. They will become the team to beat once again unless we get a rare desert rain storm. It will be interesting to see how strongly Red Bull can challenge Brawn GP in dry conditions.

I think Toyota will also be very close challengers. Unlike Brawn and Red Bull, Toyota tested extensively in Bahrain during the winter. This could give them a small advantage.

Ferrari also tested in Bahrain so they should get their first points of the season.

This promises to be another great race but Brawn GP should just edge it and return to winning ways.

The first three races of F1 2009 have been quite spectacularly, and I can’t wait to see what happens in the fourth chapter in Bahrain this weekend.

 

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April 20, 2009 - Posted by | Race reviews

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