Chinese GP: Rosberg joins the elite
Nico Rosberg has won the Chinese Grand Prix after Mercedes successfully pulled off an astonishing bluff to beat Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 15/04/12 3:04pm
A jubilant Nico Rosberg has become the 103rd different driver to win a Grand Prix after Mercedes successfully pulled off an astonishing - and vindicated - bluff to win in China ahead of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.
Confounding the widespread belief that the team would be unable to match their qualifying pace in race trim in a car considered to be a tyre eater, Mercedes out-thought and out-paced their McLaren counterparts on an entirely-unexpected two-stop strategy to claim a victory that catapults Rosberg into the ranks of title contenders.
Yet such a sober summary doesn't begin to tell the tale of Shanghai and a slow-burner of a race that turned into a red-hot classic in the closing stages when Button and Hamilton - the new championship leader - successfully hunted down Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber to claim their place on the podium.
As three-stop strategies met two-stops on track, bedlam broke out around the Shanghai International Circuit in dramatic fashion, with the two McLarens cutting a swathe through the field while Kimi Raikkonen suddenly plunged from second to twelfth in a matter of two laps, and five minutes, as his Pirelli tyres turned off and left him a sitting duck along the long backstraight.
Quite whether Rosberg would have suffered a similiar fate to both Raikkonen and Vettel - both of whom adopted a similar two-stop strategy - had Button's charge not been halted by a slack pit-stop and been able to harrass the Mercedes to the line will be forever debated and never answered, but the German appeared nerveless from start to finish as he claimed his maiden victory.
"We didn't think they were going to two-stop," admitted McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh. "I don't think many guessed they were going to two stop."
"Jenson was very unlucky with the last stop and the wheel nut problem. Without that he would have got out into clear air and he would have been much closer. Would he have been able to catch and hunt him down? Actually I don't think he would because there was no real drop off with the tyres on Nico's car."
Quite so. No matter McLaren's capacity for shooting themselves in the foot, Rosberg looked in complete control throughout. Michael Schumacher's challenge flickered for a while but the former World Champion appeared no match for his younger compatriot even before he was forced into the grand prix's only retirement after his Mercedes pit-crew failed to reattach his front-right tyre.
It was a race that defied almost every pre-race prediction. As Rosberg dominated in a manner that Schumacher even in his pomp would have been proud of, the expected threat from the two Saubers failed to materalise with the slow-starting Kamui Kobayashi out of the reckoning almost by the end of the first lap, while Lotus' strategy unravelled in spectacular style as Raikkonen's tyres fell off the now-infamous metaphorical cliff.
What had been a fascinating game of chess for the opening three-quarters of the race turned into something akin to wacky races with only Rosberg in a position of any security. Even as the Mercedes crossed the line, twenty seconds ahead of Button, the drama still continued as Webber, belatedly reaping the benefits of a three-stop strategy, eventually found a way past the World Champion. Evidently unimpressed, Vettel's response was to brand his straight-line pace "ridiculous" on his car-to-pits radio.
Behind the squabbling Red Bulls, Romain Grosjean brought a crumb of comfort to the Lotus team by securing sixth place, while Williams maintained their recent revival as Bruno Senna led home Pastor Maldonado. On any other day, the South American's feistiness would have been a major talking point. This Sunday, amid the breathtaking drama, it was a mere footnote.
Hamilton's appearance in the post-race press conference almost said it all. Grim-faced after finishing third in Melbourne, the same result brought a beaming smile in Shanghai. He enjoyed it. Barring Raikkonen, they probably all did.
And everybody watching surely did.