First front row start since his comeback makes Raikkonen a strong contender for victory

2013 Chinese Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Although not the most thrilling session ever witnessed, qualifying laid the groundwork for what should be an exciting race.

Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso are poised to do battle from the front three positions.

Further back Sebastian Vettel believes starting on medium compound tyres will give him a strategic advantage – but he starts from the fifth row. And Mark Webber will have to repeat his climb through the field of 2011 after being relegated to the back of the pack.

The start

Hamilton starts from pole position at Shanghai for the third time in his career. Providing he gets off the line well he should be able to hold the lead at least as far as turn one, as it’s a short run to the first corner and not a bend which invites overtaking moves.

Raikkonen will be alert to the threat from Alonso behind him. The Ferrari driver usually gets off the line well and is perfectly set up for one of his typical moves around the outside at the start.

Those three will all start on the soft tyres they qualified on, as well as Nico Rosberg, Felipe Massa, Romain Grosjean and Daniel Ricciardo. Jenson Button will be on the medium compound tyres.

Vettel and Nico Hulkenberg have free choice of tyres having not set times in Q3, as do the rest of the drivers. Vettel has already indicated he will start on mediums.


Hamilton expects he will be vulnerable to Raikkonen and Alonso in the opening phase of the race – particularly the Lotus, which has been able to run the soft tyres for longer than its rivals.

If he can soak up the pressure from them for what is likely to be a brief opening stint on soft tyres he should be in better shape on the medium tyres.

But the near-1.4km acceleration zone leading to the turn 14 hairpin would be difficult enough to defend on even without a DRS zone halfway along it and another one on the pit straight. An early safety car period would be a welcome sight for the Mercedes driver in this scenario.

Raikkonen used the Lotus’s race pace to excellent effect in Australia, winning from seventh on the grid. Romain Grosjean showed its potential in Malaysia, running a comparable pace to the leaders despite being delayed early on. Starting from the front row for the first time since his comeback, Raikkonen is in a strong position to win.

Vettel’s progress from ninth on the grid will be especially interesting. His first priority will be to clear Button’s McLaren – DRS should allow him to overcome the Red Bull’s usual straight line speed deficit (see table below).

After that running ‘off-strategy’ should give him greater opportunity to run in clear air and make up time. But, as we saw with Adrian Sutil in Australia, the cost of postponing the inevitable stint on the softer tyres can be high.

Two years ago Webber climbed from 18th on the grid to finish on the podium at Shanghai. But he was pessimistic about his prospects for a repeat even before he lost another eight places:

“I think in 2011 I was probably in a unique position where I had probably more tyres than other people,” he said.

His rivals have also approached qualifying from the point of view of trying to save as many tyres as possible: “I’m up against that type of strategy as well in terms of my position. Might make it a little more difficult but I”m looking forward to the challenge. A lot of gearbox to look at tomorrow and try to make my way forward.”

Qualifying times in full

Ricciardo was pleased to get Toro Rosso back in the top ten for the first time in almost a year. But his previous best qualifying performance – sixth in Bahrain last year – was a precursor to a disastrous first lap in which he lost ten places. “I’ll give it all I’ve got to make the most of this seventh place on the grid,” he said.


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’35.7931’35.078 (-0.715)1’34.484 (-0.594)
2Kimi RaikkonenLotus1’37.0461’35.659 (-1.387)1’34.761 (-0.898)
3Fernando AlonsoFerrari1’36.2531’35.148 (-1.105)1’34.788 (-0.360)
4Nico RosbergMercedes1’35.9591’35.537 (-0.422)1’34.861 (-0.676)
5Felipe MassaFerrari1’35.9721’35.403 (-0.569)1’34.933 (-0.470)
6Romain GrosjeanLotus1’36.9291’36.065 (-0.864)1’35.364 (-0.701)
7Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso1’36.9931’36.258 (-0.735)1’35.998 (-0.260)
8Jenson ButtonMcLaren1’36.6671’35.784 (-0.883)2’05.673 (+29.889)
9Sebastian VettelRed Bull1’36.5371’35.343 (-1.194)
10Nico HulkenbergSauber1’36.9851’36.261 (-0.724)
11Paul di RestaForce India1’37.4781’36.287 (-1.191)
12Sergio PerezMcLaren1’36.9521’36.314 (-0.638)
13Adrian SutilForce India1’37.3491’36.405 (-0.944)
14Pastor MaldonadoWilliams1’37.2811’37.139 (-0.142)
15Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso1’37.5081’37.199 (-0.309)
16Valtteri BottasWilliams1’37.769
17Esteban GutierrezSauber1’37.990
18Jules BianchiMarussia1’38.780
19Max ChiltonMarussia1’39.537
20Charles PicCaterham1’39.614
21Giedo van der GardeCaterham1’39.660
22Mark WebberRed Bull1’36.1481’36.679 (+0.531)

Sector times

Unusually, despite taking pole position by almost three tenths of a second, Hamilton was not fastest of all in any of the three sectors. But he did produce his three quickest times on his pole position lap.

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton24.796 (2)28.293 (2)41.395 (2)
Kimi Raikkonen24.604 (1)28.610 (6)41.547 (3)
Fernando Alonso25.019 (5)28.384 (4)41.362 (1)
Nico Rosberg24.875 (3)28.305 (3)41.624 (4)
Felipe Massa25.020 (6)28.287 (1)41.626 (5)
Romain Grosjean24.963 (4)28.636 (7)41.765 (8)
Daniel Ricciardo25.249 (10)28.818 (8)41.864 (9)
Jenson Button25.292 (12)28.831 (9)41.661 (6)
Sebastian Vettel25.053 (7)28.588 (5)41.702 (7)
Nico Hulkenberg25.412 (14)28.960 (11)41.889 (11)
Paul di Resta25.232 (9)29.158 (16)41.873 (10)
Sergio Perez25.336 (13)29.068 (13)41.910 (12)
Adrian Sutil25.253 (11)29.078 (14)42.074 (14)
Pastor Maldonado25.482 (16)29.061 (12)42.302 (15)
Jean-Eric Vergne25.471 (15)29.124 (15)42.394 (16)
Valtteri Bottas25.864 (18)29.382 (17)42.523 (18)
Esteban Gutierrez25.652 (17)29.670 (18)42.440 (17)
Jules Bianchi25.895 (19)29.848 (19)42.854 (19)
Max Chilton26.101 (21)29.955 (20)43.481 (22)
Charles Pic26.160 (22)30.283 (22)43.012 (20)
Giedo van der Garde26.049 (20)30.181 (21)43.136 (21)
Mark Webber25.227 (8)28.897 (10)42.024 (13)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Nico RosbergMercedes319.8 (198.7)
2Lewis HamiltonMercedes319.4 (198.5)-0.4
3Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso319.0 (198.2)-0.8
4Felipe MassaFerrari319.0 (198.2)-0.8
5Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso318.7 (198.0)-1.1
6Fernando AlonsoFerrari318.4 (197.8)-1.4
7Paul di RestaForce India317.6 (197.3)-2.2
8Adrian SutilForce India317.5 (197.3)-2.3
9Jules BianchiMarussia317.2 (197.1)-2.6
10Romain GrosjeanLotus317.2 (197.1)-2.6
11Max ChiltonMarussia317.0 (197.0)-2.8
12Kimi RaikkonenLotus317.0 (197.0)-2.8
13Esteban GutierrezSauber316.1 (196.4)-3.7
14Nico HulkenbergSauber316.1 (196.4)-3.7
15Sergio PerezMcLaren315.5 (196.0)-4.3
16Charles PicCaterham314.6 (195.5)-5.2
17Giedo van der GardeCaterham314.1 (195.2)-5.7
18Jenson ButtonMcLaren311.5 (193.6)-8.3
19Sebastian VettelRed Bull310.2 (192.7)-9.6
20Mark WebberRed Bull309.8 (192.5)-10.0
21Pastor MaldonadoWilliams308.8 (191.9)-11.0
22Valtteri BottasWilliams308.7 (191.8)-11.1

Over to you

Who do you think will come out on the top in Shanghai? How will the Red Bull drivers fare from their compromised starting positions?

Share your views on the Chinese Grand Prix in the comments.

2013 Chinese Grand Prix

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Images © Lotus/LAT, Daimler/Hoch Zwei

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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67 comments on “First front row start since his comeback makes Raikkonen a strong contender for victory”

  1. MB (@muralibhats)
    13th April 2013, 13:45

    Last time when a Red Bull was sent to the back of the grid for the same reason AND Hamilton was on pole.. Kimi won the race!

    1. Zantkiller (@)
      13th April 2013, 21:11

      Also the last four deaths of former British prime ministers have been followed immediately by victory for the team from Enstone.
      Death of a British PM? Look out for Lotus

      It seems like everything is pushing for a Raikkonen win.

    2. Just love how you think …

  2. Looking at the sector times it would appear that Massa also made a mistake in the last sector.

  3. Red Bull will surely start Webber from the pits and do some set-up changes to try and reclaim some of the deficit in straight line speed, otherwise Webber’s got a job of making up places being 10 km/h down on the Mercedes and about 6/7 slower than the bulk of the pack!

    1. Yup, Webber starts from the pits and does something similar to what SV did in abu dhabi and they wil effectively have kept both their drivers far away from each other for the entire race so that they don´t jeopardize the team´s points. It´s clear as day!
      With those long straights, I see RBR changing gearing to help Mark in top end speed.

      1. Im not sure that’s such a good idea. Increasing top speed by changing gear ratios and/or taking of some rear wing angle will heart acceleration and overall lap time. Is high top speed really needed dubble DRS? If Webber is aiming to finish in the top10, then he needs to make up time on the leaders/pack.

        1. The problem is, there is a rev limit of 18,000 rpm and if the car is geared to top speed at the rev limit even with DRS the car can’t go faster. The Red Bull scheme has always been to qualify up front, us maximum downforce (thus reduced top end speed) and not have to overtake other cars, except for lapping. With Mark at the back of the field he will, obviously, have to overtake lots of cars; the team might want to change gear ratios to allow a higher top speed, and reduce downforce a bit to allow the car to reach the rev limit without DRS. We’ll see.

      2. Gearing ratio changes not allowed after P2

        1. They are if you break Parc Fermé and start from the pitlane.

          1. No they aren’t, see sporting regs 28.6 a – e, especially d also 34.1 and 34.2

    2. considering that this year they have only 2 allowed overtimes it would be quite a gamble for the rest of the season as well. So it’s not like Abu Dhabi where the decision to do this was a lot easier.

      1. overtimes = breaches of curfew for mechanics.

        1. @tmf42 – true enough, when is the curfew set though? The set-up changes shouldn’t take too long I wouldn’t imagine.

          @me4me – it’s not just wing angles though, many parameters can be changed which may just help general race pace as well as overtaking, which will of course be necessary. He may find it difficult otherwise.

          1. @vettel1 – not sure about exact times, it’s 8 hours. last year it was 6 hours from 1am to 7am.
            It took 2 crews the whole night to prepare Vettel’s car in Abu Dhabi – the changes are quite extensive as you said.
            Also Mark would run into the risk of going on track with an untested setup and considering the tyre situation that would be another gamble he / the team might not want to take.

          2. @tmf42 true true, it might be too big an undertaking and indeed a gamble. They could maybe just take some wing angle off which shouldn’t be too extensive, as Vettel last year also had gearbox changes and the like.

          3. @vettel1 that’s true, but the principel is still they same. If they could simply add top speed without sacrifices, they would have done so. I Think they won’t do it cause they need laptime rather then top speed. We’ll have to wait and see tomorrow i guess :)

          4. @me4me – you want a different car in qualifying than in the race, put it that way! We’ll see though as you said.

    3. @vettel1 I kinda wonder is it as straightforward as that,i mean how do they know what will the setup changes do to car balance,and oh so much more,what will it do to tyre wear.There must be a reason why they set up a car like they do.Yes they may gain in top speed,but what if tyres can’t take it,don’t know,curious situation.

    4. Similarly Vettel could have his job cut out getting past Button when he is quite a bit slower. At least Webber will have a car that can go a bit faster due to the setup changes.

  4. I just hope that those who set times in Q3 beat those who didn’t, for the sake of future qualifying sessions.

    1. @jleigh – You know, I bet this strategy of not bothering with Q3 isn’t even going to work (despite everyone saying it will, which would give me a pleasant surprise). Vettel did the same thing in Spain last year, and though he he had a good race, he and RBR were way off the winning pace of Maldonado/Alonso/Raikkonen.

      1. @david-a I agree. As far as I can see, the drivers who start on softs (particularly the slippery Mercs) shouldn’t have much trouble in the traffic after they pit because of the newer tyres, and then will close in on the likes of Vettel and Button. If it all runs usually, those who start on the mediums will be ahead up until they pit for softs, when they will then have to try and chase down and overtake using the softs, which the tyres are clearly not capable of.

        1. The thing is both button and vettel will be on the softs at a time when the car is lower on fuel and there is more rubber on the track. They will also be new softs, not ones that have been destroyed in qualifying. Buttons and vettels softs will be far more effective if they get the stops timed right.

          1. +1 This.

            The better strategy is soft’s at the end when everyone else is wearing out their hard’s. With that said I agree with @jleigh that it is important for future qualifying runs that this does not work out.

          2. I know that’s the idea, I’m just not convinced the tyres will be sufficiently better in the latter stages to let drivers try and actually race with them. Just look at what happened to Sutil in Aus when he tried to race on the super softs.

  5. There’s something slapstick about Button’s 2:05 cruise around the track. I’d like to think he was singing Frank Sinatra songs at the top of his lungs while tapping his fingers on the cockpit.

  6. I have a question- How does a team determine, i.e. what factors come into play when choosing between the soft and supersoft or options tyres? How do we know after looking through the relevant factors that yes, most teams will start with supersoft and not soft, or vice versa?

  7. I have a feeling its going to be Alonso then Raikkonen n lewis fighting it out for 2nd and 3rd…
    Massa may be up there as well as he starts well…Does anybody know if the even positions are dirty enough to put you at a disadvantage????

  8. Hamilton was not fastest of all in any of the three sectors. But he did produce his three quickest times on his pole position lap.

    Not always a fan of his, but surely he is something special in the qualifying. This is what other F1 drivers can often only try to emulate.

    1. I would love to see Vettel and Hamilton competing in qualifying in the same car.

      1. @matt90
        It would be Hamilton by a country mile no doubt!
        SV is no slouch but surely you can´t say at this point that the Merc is as good as the RBR!

        1. Probably not, but we don’t how much better the Red Bull is.

        2. @karter22 Give me one reason why not. The Mercedes was ridiculously planted on the ground. The Mercedes was faster than the Red Bull throughout the weekend, and would have probably locked out the front row had Rosberg not gone off on the last corner.

          For the record, I think Vettel would beat Hamilton on qualifying if they had the same cars, but only just.

          1. @guilherme
            The Merc has come a long way from it´s previous 3 year but still, you cannot say this just by one race in which for some reason, it suits them.
            It´s still to early to judge but in the development stages, they will fail and once again, RBR will overtake them.
            I still believe that Hamilton is the fastest qualyfier in F1 at the moment, more so than SV.

        3. Last year the McLaren was the quickest car on the grid. The combination of the (supposedly) quickest driver over a lap plus quickest car should have resulted in a good dozen poles or more for Lewis. In fact he managed seven (plus one which was taken away) to five for Vettel.

          Hamilton is a top qualifier, but there’s no evidence that he is “faster by a country mile, no doubt” than Vettel.

    2. Hamilton was not fastest of all in any of the three sectors. But he did produce his three quickest times on his pole position lap.

      Nice to see some consistency from Lewis rather than being outright fastest – guess the consistency in his performances translating into results (still early days) is one benefit of his move to Merc.

  9. Something has gone wrong with the sport when drivers are cruising around, or not even setting times in qualifying. We have some of the best rules that F1 has seen for years with the Q1/Q2/Q3 split, slick tyres and low fuel loads – and they’re all being utterly wasted by these ludicrous Pirellis.

    1. @sgt-pepper agreed on the Pirelli’s but disagreed partially on the rules: the top 10 tyre rule is the main reason for the frankly dismal Q3 session. Vettel say would have done a lap on the softs had it not been for that rule.

      1. (@vettel1)

        the top 10 tyre rule is the main reason for the frankly dismal Q3 session

        Although I see where you’re coming from, and I was also initially doubtful of the top 10 tyre rule when it was introduced, in retrospect I think it’s worked quite nicely in keeping the mid-field a little closer to the front runners. However it doesn’t really work with the terrible tyres, that’s the issue.

        Qualifying tyres are absolutely fine, but the compounds Pirelli are bringing to the track are utterly ridiculous.

    2. I would say it is more down to the stupid tyre rules than the tyres. Why on earth are the top10 drivers punished for being good? Get rid of the rule requiring the top 10 to use the same tyres they qualify on in q3……

      1. Antonio (@antoniocorleone)
        13th April 2013, 23:23

        Either change the rule or make it to be valid for all (in that case the marussias and caterhams wont participate at all :D).

  10. The FIA seriously need to change the rules. They go on and on about “the show”, yet have the silly rule that dictates the top 10 must start on the tyre they set their fastest qualy lap with?!

    It’s just a let down when drivers neglect to go out in Q3 because of this rule (and the flimsy pirellis).

    Anywho, I can see Alonso and Raikkonen swapping places into the first corner. The top 5 will be duelling it out but the first stint for them will be so short that I can’t imagine anyone pulling out a decent gap over their competitors.
    It will get very interesting when they pit and get dropped back into traffic. I’m sensing quite a few angry team radio clips tomorrow! No matter what happens, it looks as though it’ll be a fascinating race.

    Button and Vettel are also major players here despite their relatively low grid positions. Their option stints will be watched very very closely. I doubt they’ll leave that stint till the end, due to the tyre fragility. They wouldn’t want to do a Raikkonen – China ’11!!

    I can’t wait to see how it pans out.

    1. u mean ’12

    2. If tyre life is so short there’s a chance that both drivers will pit on the same lap. Look for congestion in the pits tomorrow.

    3. I am very late on my reading, but I couldn’t help:


      They go on and on about “the show”, yet have the silly rule that dictates the top 10 must start on the tyre they set their fastest qualy lap with?!


      It will get very interesting when they pit and get dropped back into traffic… No matter what happens, it looks as though it’ll be a fascinating race.

      I think that to say the top ten rule is bad for the show is not a good argument. Without it, we’d have a more “stable” field and larger gaps pre-first stop. We would not have the interesting shuffling of positions… A good argument should be “This rule artificially spices the show.

  11. Is there any news on the blocking/impeding that Sutil was complaining about in Q1? There’s been no mention of it so far, so I can only presume it wasn’t that serious.

    Also worth noting is that Mercedes brought upgrades to this race, which seem to have made a significant difference. I can’t imagine this is all in the tyres, but admittedly RBR seem to be under performing to some extent this weekend, and Mercedes look to have had the beating of the Ferrari’s on one-lap pace so far this weekend too. Tomorrow’s long runs might be a different matter though.

    1. Also worth noting is that Mercedes brought upgrades to this race, which seem to have made a significant difference.

      We should wait until after the race to draw any conclusions. But even assuming a Merc wins the race it does not necessarily mean the car has gotten significantly better. Rosberg won here from pole last year and Schumacher would probably have been on the podium with him but for a pit-crew foul-up. Some tracks seem to suit certain cars better than others, and Shanghai seems to suit Mercedes.

  12. 18 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1’38.780
    19 Max Chilton Marussia 1’39.537
    20 Charles Pic Caterham 1’39.614
    21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1’39.660

    No wonder Tony wants Kova back (if the rumours are true). Bianchi is on a class of his own… Marussia is so far ahead right now !

    1. That might be because the Marussia is better but Chilton is useless, rather than the Caterham drivers being particularly poor.

      1. I think this is more likely, it’s easy to look good when you’ve got a useless teammate. Pic also proved himself to be pretty solid last year.

      2. @matt90 Too early to label Chilton as ‘useless’ although I’ve always thought that another season in GP2 would’ve been the better option for the sake of learning skills such as perfecting car setup. Thinking with perception, he’s up against a driver, who’s driven for Force India in FP sessions as their test drivers for two years, coupled with his prestigious background of being part of Ferrari’s academy for young drivers, the experience is bound to be influential in his impressive showing, which you can’t take away of course.

  13. Hamilton has achieved in 3 races what Schumacher did in 3 years with Mercedes. 1 pole and 1 podium.

    Great job by Lewis and Mercedes so far. I thought it would be very difficult for Lewis to beat Nico at this track. That is why i predicted Nico to get pole and Lewis the win. If soft tyres last for 8-10 laps, i think Mercedes could get a 1-2.

    1. @jugnu – to be fair to him, Schumacher didn’t have as good a car nor did he have as good luck. For sure though, Hamilton’s done a great job and pulled a blinder from moving from McLaren it seems! The silver arrows are looking far better than the mobile Vodafone sponsorships…

    2. @jugnu Like Max said above, Schumi didn’t have the car and not much luck during those years. The car was not fast enough for a win or pole in its first two years alone. Then lady Bad-luck came to meet Schumi in 2012. But still, nice work from Lewis. Pleased for the guy, although I’d take a sneaky pick on Rosberg for the win tomorrow.

      1. There were a total of 2 races in those 3 years where Mercedes legitimately had the pace to win. China 2012 and Monaco 2012. Schumi was horrendously unlucky in both.

        1. Was never a fan of Schumi…. But have to say the comments by Max , Suvan and Kingshark are spot on… But no doubt that Lewis has been very impressive in Merc so far..

  14. Would love to see Kimi pull out a win here and he has a good chance to do it. the longer he and Grosjean can go their first stint with good lap times the better. Then, will Vettel get around Button easily in the first stint? And then around Ricciardo too? If Vettel or Button are hung up in traffic in their first stint, their strategy may go out the window. This should be a very interesting race.

    1. Antonio (@antoniocorleone)
      13th April 2013, 23:45

      The start will be important for vettel. If he losses places at the start than his strategy will not work as much as he imagined it will…

    2. why Ricciardo? He is on soft so will stop after a few laps anyway. If not, his tyres will be shot and he will be a sitting duck compared to the RB.

      1. If Vettel can get close to the front runners (top 6) before they pit, past Button and Ricciardo, his strategy will have a much improved chance of working. If he gets mired in traffic, his advantage diminishes. Of course, anything can happen on the start and probably will.

        I’m really hoping to see a race where any of the top guys – Hamilton, Kimi, Alonso, Massa, Rosberg have a chance to win. Also would not be surprised to see Grosjean on the podium.

  15. Antonio (@antoniocorleone)
    13th April 2013, 23:39

    I think that kimi is going for a two stop tomorrow which will backfire on him. Lewis and Fernando seem to be best choices for 2 of the 3 podium places and the other place will be most likely for Nico with Massa and Seb right behind…and all that in no particular order, just assuming from the raw pace that these have shown through the weekend.

  16. Considering Kimi’s race’s last year were compromised by bad qualifying. I suspect he will be the one to watch. Does anyone know of the rumour that Button will be pitting at Merc since they offer better service. It is working for Lewis at the moment.

    1. MB (@muralibhats)
      14th April 2013, 4:37

      Button did pit at the same team when he switched to McLaren right?

  17. Not sure of Vettel’s strategy. He will be running softs at the end, a time when there’ll be a lot of marbles off-track…

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