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Battle of the Strategies

After a three week gap and the dust settling over the Red Bull saga, the Formula 1 circus rolled in to the Jiading circuit in Shanghai, China. After the practice sessions it was evident to see that the Lotus and Ferrari’s were quick on the long run pace. Tyre degradation was the biggest concern though as the soft compound was degrading at such a high rate.

Qualifying was uninspiring due to the teams conserving tyres for the race. Only seven drivers setting Q3 times with Button, Vettel and Hulkenburg settling for slow times or no times to optimize strategy on the Medium compound tyres. Lewis Hamilton made the most of the soft tyres and taking pole position.

As the five lights dropped the Mercedes of Hamilton had a good jump and pulled away from second position Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus who in turn was swamped by both Ferrari’s of Alonso and Massa. A clean start for the rest of the field behind as Kimi settled in to fourth position.

Fernando Alonso wanted to make an early impression and lay down a marker and on lap three with DRS enabled swept around the outside of Hamilton in to turn one and with a great run out of the final corner, Massa took second spot off Hamilton going in to turn one. The soft tyres, as predicted, dropped away after just six laps. Mercedes gambled and stacked their cars on pit entry, but thanks to some slick pit work Hamilton had a quick stop and Rosberg was serviced in quick sharp time also. Ferrari opted not to stop both cars and Massa lost out massively by staying out one lap longer and dropped to fifth and never recovered from that position.

With thanks to © Getty Images and ESPN

Mark Webber started from pit lane after his car stopped out on track in qualifying without fuel due to a fuel rig bowser error meant that his car was not carrying the required fuel sample putting him to the back of the grid. Red Bull decided to start the Australian from pit lane to break parc fermé and allow for setup changes. This all came undone on lap fourteen when Webber tried to pass the sister team car of Vergne in to turn six but the door was firmly slammed in front of him and it damaged the front wing. After his stop there was an issue with the rear left wheel at it popped off in turn fourteen forcing him to retire from that race.

Story of the opening part of the race was how Hulkenburg was able to get past both Button and Vettel and had great pace in front of Vettel. They pitted on the same lap for new medium tyres but a slow stop for Sauber allowed Vettel through. Sauber on the second stop switched the soft compound but left Nico out for too long and his race pace fell away and dropped backwards through the field.

Due to the strategic warfare playing out it allowed for plenty of overtaking but the DRS zones were too powerful and allowed for relative easy overtakes unless you are Kimi Raikkonen. The Lotus with clearly more grip tried to go to the outside of turns four and five to negotiate a slower Perez at the time but was pushed way out on the grass and speared in to the back of the McLaren damaging the front wing. The Iceman opted not to pit and to battle on, to his credit considering the understeer he still maintained great pace.

If it was not for that damage it would have been likely that Kimi could have made an impression on Fernando Alonso who at this point was romping away to an emphatic victory. Controlled, patient and calculated allowed the ‘all-round’ best driver to secure his first win of the season in front of Raikkonen and Hamilton.

The Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel was on the mirror strategy by starting on the mediums and running them all race until the last five laps where he pitted and came out thirteen seconds behind Hamilton’s Mercedes. Vettel’s imperious driving qualities once again prevailed by holding on to those tyres but also smashing the lap times and came right up behind Hamilton going in to sector three of the final lap. On the approach to turn eleven both cars had to negotiate a Caterham and Vettel ran too deep in to the corner, he ran under the one second marker required for DRS but could not make the impression in the final couple of corners and Hamilton took another podium for Mercedes.

One week now before the chaos resumes in Bahrain. This race will hold special regard for me after visiting the track in 2011 for the race to be cancelled and also my parents living in the volatile country for three years. Protesters have already started to use the F1 as leverage to make their voices heard once again for the human rights campaign. It is likely tyres will again be at the forefront of the teams minds. I for one sincerely hope the tyres are the only issue and the Grand Prix is not over shadowed by politics as the teams head to the Middle-East.

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