Fernando Alonso and Scuderia Ferrari score impressive China Grand Prix victory - Pirelli tires play crucial role in race results
British Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton led from the start for the first laps of the race, but could not contain Fernando Alonso’s challenge by lap five as first the Spaniard's red car overtook the silver arrow from the outside, followed by his Brazilian's team mate F138 who passed by the right-hand side of the Mercedes.
The leaders quickly removed their non-durable soft-compound Pirelli tires – Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg on lap five, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen on the sixth and last but not least Felipe Massa on lap seven. That left all of them to run to the finish line on varying sets of mediums, whereas German Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver Jenson Button and Sauber driver Nico Hulkenberg were amongst those who started on mediums and would thus had the choice to make very late stops to switch to soft tires. The latter strategy would have almost turned the result of the race upside down.
These extraordinary circumstances put Nico Hulkenberg and his Sauber into the lead from lap number seven to 14, but when he encountered an unscheduled and
By the 15th lap, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver Jenson Button, who had yet to stop, led Fernando Alonso driving for the Scuderia Ferrari and Sergio Perez in the second Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, who also had yet to visit his pits. Lewis Hamilton at that stage of the race was fourth under continuous pressure from Kimi Raikkonen, with Sebastian Vettel in sixth position.
Fernando Alonso, however, closed the gap and eventually passed the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes of Jenson Button on the 21st lap, before pitting again on the 23rd lap. That temporarily put German Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel back into the leading position from Nico Hulkenberg between laps number 24 and 28, when Scuderia Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso confidently came back in front of Sebastian Vettel to score his 31st career triumph.
As German Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel stopped for another set of medium tires on the 31st lap, Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen moved back into second and third position respectively. The Finn had collided with Perez on the 16th lap, sustaining face-lifting to his front wing, but over the remaining distance of the race the Lotus had the upper hand over the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes despite increased under steering tendency, and after Lewis Hamilton’s final pit stop on the 37th lap, Kimi Raikkonen had the advantage. Without his modified front wing touch with Sergio Perez, the Iceman would have finished the race on the highest podium place and gave Fernando Alonso a run for his money.
Out front, Fernando Alonso was never really troubled, nursing his tires, while at the same time maintaining a very swift pace. Kimi Raikkonen and Hamilton battled to keep Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button within eye contact, and moved ahead of them when they pitted for their soft tires. Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver Jenson Button visited his pits on lap 49, followed by German Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel on lap 51. The German was slightly delayed, and that eliminated his final shot for the podium.
Kimi Raikkonen, with his face-lifted front-wing clearly was not going to catch race leader Fernando Alonso, but he still had to keep an eye on Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton who was still pushing hard even though his tires were slowly but surely hitting the cliff. As a matter of fact, it was Sebastian Vettel who was really driving spectacular lap times as he slashed the gap ruthlessly to Lewis Hamilton. It must be mentioned here, that it did not help a lot that the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes driver came across Caterham backmarker Giedo van der Garde on the last lap, which enabled German Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel to get right on to the gearbox of the Mercedes.
Lewis Hamilton finally passed by the Dutchman, but as Sebastian Vettel also dived aggressively by, he ran wide in the next corner, and that was enough to save Lewis Hamilton’s podium position, the second in succession. By the finishing line, he was only two-tenths of a second ahead of Sebastian Vettel as Scuderia Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso led Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen home by 10.1s with Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton a further 2.1s behind.
Jenson Button on the other hand kept pushing to take a respectable fifth for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes ahead of Felipe Massa, who lost his early challenging pace when he got stuck in the midfield after having to make his first stop a lap later than Fernando Alonso. Again, an unsuccessfully timed pit stop prevented the Brazilian Ferrari driver to score a better result. Daniel Ricciardo was in the fight for vital points right from the beginning, and took his Toro Rosso to an excellent seventh, ahead of a hot battle between Paul di Resta’s Force India (another to stop late for softs), Romain Grosjean’s Lotus and Hulkenberg's Sauber. Paul Di Resta was lucky to survive a brush at the end of the first lap with team mate Adrian Sutil, which momentarily sent him off the track.
Sergio Perez was 11th, leading home Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso and the Williams’ of Valtteri Bottas and Pastor Maldonado. Jules Bianchi took 15th for Marussia after a race-long fight with Charles Pic, which saw the red and black car finishing just two seconds ahead of the Caterham. Further back, Max Chilton beat Van der Garde for 17th place.
Adrian Sutil was one of four drivers to retire from the race after his Force India was demolished by Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber under braking for Turn 14 early on, an incident that will see the Mexican rookie drop five places on the grid in Bahrain as a penalty.
Mercedes’ Rosberg retired with a broken rear anti-roll bar, and Mark Webber retired when his Red Bull lost its right-rear wheel, thus being converted to a Tuk-Tuk, as he tried to creep back to the pits. This incident cost Red Bull a fine of 5000 Euros.
The week-end did not start full of hope for Mark Webber, who had started from the pit lane with a heavily readjusted car after the fuelling problem he suffered from in qualifying. Unfortunately after a strong performance in the opening laps, he was delayed in a clash with Vergne which damaged his front wing.
The stewards investigated several drivers after the race for possible use of DRS under yellow flags - notably Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber, Kimi Raikkonen, Bottas, Ricciardo and Chilton - but decided not to issue any penalties.
After three rounds of the spectacular 2013 Formula 1 season, Sebastian Vettel still leads the drivers standings with 52 points, from Kimi Raikkonen on 49, Fernando Alonso on 43, Lewis Hamilton on 40, Felipe Massa on 30 and Mark Webber on 26.
In the constructors’ stakes, Red Bull are leading with 78 points, from Ferrari on 73, Lotus on 60, Mercedes on 52, and McLaren and Force India on 14 points only.
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