Thursday, 21 April 2011

Hamilton supreme in Chinese classic

Another thrilling race in Shanghai as Lewis Hamilton ended Sebastian Vettel's winning run with a late race charge...

Hamilton soars as Button loses out: Jenson Button had a good start and was holding the lead ok in the first stint. Of course with Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel close behind the timing of the first pitstop was key. McLaren ended up running a 3 stop strategy on both cars but the initial plan was to 2 stop. The team came out for Button on lap 14 but he didn't come in until the next lap. He then made a terrible error by pulling into the Red Bull box. That cost both him and Vettel time. One possible theory (and this is simply guesswork!) is that Button was trying to stay out for as long as possible to make a 2 stop work better but that the team, having seen others behind pit, were reacting to the pace of the likes of Rosberg and changing to a 3 stopper because of the speed of other cars. So perhaps there was quite a bit of radio conversation and who knows amidst the busy nature of racing in 2011 maybe Jenson got distracted at the key moment in the pitlane. His pace was subdued after that and he would eventually get outdone by Hamilton.

Indeed Hamilton had been compromised because he had to wait an extra lap to pit and fell back on worn tyres, being overtaken by Vettel and Felipe Massa in consecutive laps. However his second stint was better, aided by a fresh set of options he had saved. It was interesting that a week on from Malaysia he had made such an effort to do so and it was clear after qualifying that tyres were on his mind and that he had deliberately plotted a strategy designed to maximise his race performance. Going for the extra stop really played better into his more attacking style and into the final stint he was back in the hunt and did a clean job of taking the cars ahead for a great victory.

Vettel's streak broken as Webber fights back: Red Bull ended up with 2 cars on the podium yet the fact that disappointment was felt by the team shows how far they've come. Vettel got a poor start but recovered positions at the first stop to find himself behind Nico Rosberg. Red Bull went for a 2 stop strategy and although it turned out to be the wrong decision there wasn't much in it. Having done 15 laps in the race in his qualifying tyres, he only managed a 17 lap stint in the middle of the race. That left him 24 laps on the primes and it proved to be slightly too much to hold off Hamilton. One mistake i did feel Red Bull made was sending the German out for a second run in Q3 when it was pretty clear that pole position was in the bag. Easy to say with hindsight but Vettel's first run was a good one and he would have not eeked out much more time even if it had been needed. In previous seasons this would not have been a big deal but it seems that putting a heat cycle into these Pirelli tyres really does take some life out of them if they are then reused. Expect quieter qualifying sessions with the current circumstances.

On Saturday evening i was pondering the future of Mark Webber. Out in Q1, the 2 junior Red Bull drivers doing brilliantly in making the top 10 and a bit of pressure was building even at this early stage of 2011. Would he let his head drop or fight back? Sunday showed it was the latter as he come from 18th to take a superb podium. Qualifying was a poor show, he only used the prime tyres and the car seem fine. If it had not been surely they would have given him some options. Why they didn't give him more laps at least was bizarre from the team. Anyway his pace on Sunday was mighty and showed that the RB7 is still the quickest out there. There were some conflicting reports about whether he had his KERS working or not. The actual details were that it worked until lap 24. He actually could have remarkably beaten Vettel because he had an off early in the race which cost him around 4 seconds so without that he probably would have caught his team mate late on. We also seen from his race that using the prime tyre early could be a good tactic this year. If we get an early safety car at some races i can envisage drivers pitting to get rid of it or even pitting for it and pitting again a lap later just so they can get it out of the way.

Felipe finds some form: Felipe Massa was unhappy after the race. This is good though because rather than the mentality of "i beat Fernando, that'll do" it was a case of him wanting more from the afternoon. His pace was good for a 2 stopper and i felt that was the right approach from Ferrari because they didn't have the pace to the teams in front so it was worthwhile trying something different. Unfortunately for the Brazilian track position is not as important this year and he was caught by a few drivers late on. Still it was nice to see him in the mix and battling with the drivers at the front Not much to say on Alonso's race, the Spaniard didn't seem quick throughout and limped home a frustrated 7th.

F1 changes a roaring success: It really was a tremendous race and credit to Pirelli who seem have got it right with the tyres. The DRS system is making for much more close action. Some say it has made passing too easy. My response to that is that some of the overtakes are indeed 'simple' but for those few easy passes you get lots of good one's and good battles. It also created moves in other places. For example Hamilton was able to get close to Button with DRS which allowed him a chance of passing into turn 1. In my opinion we are much better with racing like this than than what we have witnessed in some other seasons. Remember we were at a circuit which has seen little overtaking in dry races. It also helps more variable strategies become viable. On Sunday we got over 80 overtakes and the whole race was absorbing and thrilling. A peak audience of 5 million in the UK says a lot as well.

There is some talk that in Turkey we could have 2 DRS zones, perhaps with just 1 activation zone. So say we had zone's on the back and pit straights. There would be an activation point before the first one and if you are within a second of another car you can then use your DRS in the 2 zones for that particular lap. Now i think that would be too much and is unneeded unless it is a case of having the zones made shorter. So rather than one big (800 metre) gain in the lap you could make two smaller (400 metre) gains. This could eliminate the 'easy' overtakes but still allow cars to get close. The FIA may trial this in Istanbul. Another way could be giving the drivers a finite amount to use it during the race but this doesn't seem to be in the pipeline for now anyway. i think it is feasible and certainly feel it would be a great way to make the KERS more tactical at least.

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