Alonso wins race of champions

2013 Chinese Grand Prix review

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Exciting or artificial? Unpredictable or incomprehensible? Meaningful or meaningless?

Whatever your view about the current generation of Formula One racing – and there are many – there’s no denying we enjoy close competition at the moment. Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso, and Lewis Hamilton left the Shanghai International Circuit separated by 12 points at the head of the table.

The third round of the season produced another different winning team and driver. Alonso produced the perfect response to that uncharacteristic slip-up in Malaysia three weeks ago.

The Ferrari driver showed he has mastered the quirks of modern era Formula One as well as anyone. He used the new second DRS zone on the pit straight to take the lead off Hamilton, and decisive work in traffic relieved the strain on his tyres and helped him build a decisive lead.

Raikkonen slips back at the start

For the second year in a row it was a Mercedes on pole position. This time it belonged to Hamilton and he duly converted it into the lead, aided by the Lotus of Raikkonen alongside him making a sluggish getaway.

That allowed the two Ferraris to pounce: Alonso took up second behind Hamilton and Felipe Massa followed him, passing Nico Rosberg up his way up from fifth on the grid.

The top seven drivers all started the race on their soft tyres from Q3. But they were wary of the fragility of their rubber, and the opening laps were a tentative affair.

At first it looked as though Massa was shaping up for a move on his team mate. He had a run on the other F138 at the hairpin on the second and third laps but each time he backed out of it. Had he made a move stick, and gained the precious first call on strategy, his day would probably have been far more rewarding.

At the end of lap four Hamilton had both Ferraris attacking him with DRS and the result was inevitable. They both filed past him on the run to turn one.

Both Mercedes were already in tyre trouble – Rosberg was overtaken by Nico Hulkenberg and Sebastian Vettel on the same lap. In a bold move Ross Brawn called both drivers into the pits despite them being separated by just 4.25 seconds.

The pit crew performed the stacked pit stops with impressive composure. Although Rosberg’s cost him almost two seconds more than his team mate’s did, spending another lap on softs would probably have been more detrimental.

Ferrari decided against stacking the stops for their leading drivers as they were separated by little more than a second. That left Massa to toil around for another lap which, at 1’46.9, was over two seconds slower than anything else he did all race.

This left him mired in the midfield. “If anything maybe we should have stopped one lap or two laps earlier,” admitted technical director Pay Fry afterwards. “It’s always difficult when you know all that traffic is there. And that just got him into the traffic which had damaged the front tyres by the time he got through.”

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Hulkenberg takes the lead

With Massa out of the way the drivers who had started on medium tyres now led. They were headed by Hulkenberg, who had impressively passed Vettel and Jenson Button on lap four, and was being pursued by the pair of them.

Next up were Sergio Perez and Paul di Resta. They had swapped places on the opening lap when the Force India driver got too close to his team mate at the exit of the hairpin, banged wheels with him and bounced onto the grass.

Then came those who’d already made their first stops: Alonso and Hamilton picked their way past Jean-Eric Vergne on lap nine to take sixth and seventh. Raikkonen did likewise two laps later.

This stint decided the battle for the lead. While Alonso picked off Di Resta and Perez on consecutive laps, Hamilton seemed to lack his usual incisiveness in traffic. Team principal Ross Brawn later revealed a chunk of rubber in the W04’s front wing had upset its handling.

That was news to its driver after the race: “If there was, that might be the reason why I had so much understeer,” said Hamilton. By the time he cleared Perez, Alonso was 4.6 seconds up the road.

Raikkonen hits Perez

Raikkonen had a little more difficulty passing Perez. He tried to get around the outside of the McLaren on the curving run towards turn six. He’d made a similar move on Hamilton on lap five without success, despite Hamilton giving him room.

Attempting the same with Perez, Raikkonen wasn’t quite as close to the McLaren and Perez stuck to his line. Raikkonen took avoiding action but got onto the grass and swiped the back of the McLaren.

For the second time in as many races Raikkonen got on the radio to condemn the driving standards of a rival for a move the stewards found no fault in: “What the hell he’s doing?” Raikkonen fumed. “He just pushed me off the circuit.”

The news from his team wasn’t good either: “You’ve lost the cascade and have a hole in the nose,” said Mark Slade, adding this too was the “same as last race”. Lotus later put the cost of the damage at a quarter of a second per lap, which made Raikkonen’s subsequent recovery all the more impressive.

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Webber’s rotten weekend ends early

While the stewards were quick to tick that incident off their list, there was plenty more going on to keep them occupied. On lap five Esteban Gutierrez had missed his braking point at the hairpin and used Sutil’s car instead.

No fewer than three of the incidents up for investigation concerned the luckless Mark Webber. Having started last as per his penalty from Saturday, Webber had ditched his soft tyres at the earliest available opportunity and made rapid inroads into the midfield.

On lap 15 he tried a move on Red Bull stablemate Vergne at turn six – moments before Perez and Raikkonen came to blows at the same spot. It was rather a long-range effort and Webber seemed to put his faith on the Toro Rosso driver having seen him and being prepared to leap out of the way. He hadn’t, and the pair collided.

The front wing on the RB9 was badly damaged so Webber headed back to the pits where the next act in his weekend of misery unfolded. His right-rear wheel was unsuccessfully secured during the stop and it worked loose at the very spot where he’d run out of fuel 24 hours earlier. The wheel carried on without him and briefly considered performing an ironic service to its former master by wandering into the path of his team mate.

Webber was also one of eight drivers who the stewards deemed had used their DRS in a yellow flag zone. Ordinarily DRS is automatically disabled by race control in such circumstances, but a telemetry fault has prevented them from doing that since the start of the season. All the drivers were exonerated under “mitigating circumstances”.

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Alonso takes charge

Around the same time Hulkenberg headed for the pits followed by Vettel where the pair exchanged positions due to a slow Sauber pit stop. Button, running a two-stop strategy, now assumed the lead which he held until lap 21 when Alonso zapped past him in the DRS zone.

Button followed Alonso into their pits on lap 23 for their first and second stops respectively. Vettel now became the race’s sixth leader. But when race engineer Guillaume Rocquelin got on the radio to tell him not to bother defending the position from Alonso it became clear their focus was on securing as many points as they could on a day when the RB9 was not the class of the field, rather than fighting tooth and nail for victory.

Hamilton continued to slip back from Alonso during their third stint and Raikkonen remained bottled up behind the Mercedes. On lap 34 Lotus decided to force the issue, bringing Raikkonen in for his final pit stop.

This was Lotus wielding the E20’s kindness to its tyres as a weapon. Mercedes baulked at the idea of giving Hamilton a final stint in excess of 20 laps, and when he followed Raikkonen’s lead three laps later he came out behind.

By this time the rubber debris in Hamilton’s front wing had seemingly worked loose. His handling improved and he spent the final stint latched onto Raikkonen’s tail, but unable to find a way back into second.

Hamilton was at least enjoying a better race than his team mate, who had retired for the second time in three Grands Prix. This time the culprit was his rear anti-roll bar which failed after his second pit stop.

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Vettel attacks

As the race drew to a close those who started on medium tyres had to confront the need to run the softs. Hulkenberg had done so in his third stint and struggled. To his dismay, when he changed back to the medium tyres he still couldn’t find any pace, so Ricciardo and Grosjean demoted him to tenth.

Button put the softs on with seven laps to go and treated them with kid gloves as there was no realistic chance for him to catch the cars in front. But Vettel went into full attack mode when he made the switch on lap 51. Having emerged from the pits 11.5 seconds behind Hamilton he was just 1.9 seconds behind as they began their final tour three laps later.

As they wound through the infield turns Hamilton was delayed by a lapped car in front of him. Here was Vettel’s chance to get payback for Austin last year – and make it three podiums out of three in 2013.

But Charles Pic stuck to the racing line as Hamilton and Vettel filed around him. The Red Bull driver braked a fraction too late for turn 11, giving Hamilton precious breathing space in the DRS zone on the back straight. The Mercedes came out of the hairpin still ahead and even a hefty lock-up at the last corner wasn’t enough for Vettel to capitalise.

Alonso claims victory

Alonso seized his and Ferrari’s first win since Germany last year with Raikkonen over ten seconds in arrears. Hamilton and Vettel crossed the line separated by a fifth of a second.

Behind them Button crossed the line in fifth and urged his team to be pleased with the result. “I don’t think we could expect anything more,” he said on the radio afterwards. “As a team I think we did a fantastic job,” he added, “the pit stops were very good.”

Having nursed his tyres at first Button got his foot down on the final lap, gaining almost two seconds. Sixth-placed Massa had been hoping to take advantage of late tyre trouble for Button but Rob Smedley told him, “he was able to do a 38.0 at the end so obviously he was just scared about the tyres.”

Ricciardo’s race engineer Marco Matassa praised his efforts which were rewarded with a career-best seventh place: “Consistent driving, outstanding performance, congratulations.” “Grazie,” Ricciardo beamed back.

Di Resta survived the rough-housing with his team mate early on to claim eighth ahead of Grosjean and Hulkenberg. Perez struggled with degradation and slumped to eleventh ahead of Vergne and the Williams pair. Valtteri Bottas passed his team mate on the penultimate lap but the two FW35s were over 20 seconds behind the next car.

The race which had begun with three world champions at the head of the field ended with all five in the highest positions. The debate on whether F1 is overloaded with gimmicks will rage on but it isn’t stopping the cream from rising.

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2013 Chinese Grand Prix

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Author information

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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61 comments on “Alonso wins race of champions”

  1. Well, that was fun; a chase to the last corner for 2, 3, 4.
    I wonder what would have been if Vettel had pitted one or two laps earlier or Hamilton just broke the DRS zone in the first few laps.

    But like many here I am just wondering how many drivers are driving not as fast as they can but as slow as they dare?

    And perhaps I am also hoping that Williams can get some luck for a change.

    1. I was thinking he should have as well as he was perilously close at the chequered flag, but now looking at his lap charts he was dropping off quite significantly towards the end, so perhaps he might’ve not indeed made it stick. I guess sadly we will never know, because it was thrilling to watch him take seconds out of Hamilton’s lead!

    2. Vettel’s tires appeared to be going off badly that last half a lap or so. If he had stopped a lap earlier, his situation at the end may have been even worse. I was wondering if stopping a lap later would have been the right call, but then he probably wouldn’t have had enough time to catch Hamilton anyway. I guess they called it right, and it sure made for an interesting last couple of laps! Crazy that those soft tires only had 3 or 4 fast laps in them.

    3. I wonder what would have been if Vettel had pitted one or two laps earlier…

      Well, here are Vettle’s laps before the pit stop:
      And after the pit stop:
      Another lap on the soft tyre would be one, maybe even two seconds slower. It looks like his pit stop was timed perfectly.

      1. In the end, his Saturday strategy did not work as expected. His race pace was good, he could manage P4 or P5 on Saturday and run a “normal” strategy, i.e., starting on softs and I bet we would be fighting for the win.

        1. @jcost

          Our strategy seemed to work today.

          – Sebastian Vettel

          Red Bull decided to abandon Q3, because their car was eating soft compound like crazy. They pitted Webber on the second lap for a reason, and Vettel… Well, we saw how fast his soft tyres were going off. He had a fresh set, and on his fourth lap he was already as slow, as on used set of mediums! Qualifying and starting the race on this rubber just wasn’t possible for them.

          They made the right call and with more clean laps at the beginning, they could have finished on podium, or possibly get the win.

          1. @maroonjack

            everybody’s soft tyres were going off pretty quickly.

          2. @jcost
            They were going off, but not that quickly. Top 7 managed to qualify on softs and they were able run on used tyres for 5 to 7 laps in the race, with a lot of fuel on board.

            Vettel’s car was light, his soft tyres were fresh, yet after four laps they were as slow as his old mediums. I think guys at Red Bull knew what they were doing, so let’s just agree to disagree here ;)

    4. His tires were “dying” after two laps, yet I think he could have done provided he hadn’t slight messed up braking when he was right on Hamilton’s tail. I only wonder whether it was his mistake or tires just were no longer in a shape to make the final blow.

      1. *could have done it
        *slightly messed up

      2. He ducked under the Caterham and the inside of the track was covered in marbles there which messed up his braking.

      3. HAM was held up by that same Caterham as well. Had this not happened, VET would probably not have come that close to HAM. I think.

        These teams have developped software to help them calculate the fastest way of driving the race distance, computing data on tyre degradation, expected lap times, fuel load, temperatures, etc…
        I would not be surprised that these computers showed that Vettel’s strategy was the quickest. McLaren adopted it as well.
        However, THE big risk and variable in that kind of strategy, is traffic.
        And it looks like traffic is exactly what lost VET the race. He didn’t get clear laps in the early stages of the races which cost him too much time.

  2. The debate on whether F1 is overloaded with gimmicks will rage on but it isn’t stopping the cream from rising.

    Well said: one thing we can establish from this is that it is still very much clear who the best drivers are now, even in the midfield (with Hulkenberg and the like). Which is just making me itching to see what Felix Da Costa could do!

    1. Indeed, and it was a very difficult day for the “number two” drivers. Especially Massa and Grosjean should have been further up, but also Gutierrez, Perez, and others were far off their team mates.

      1. @adrianmorse – precisely. Whatever you give them, the best drivers will always show why they are considered the best: look at Bianchi even – he’s in a backmarker team and far from an established driver, yet everyone can pick up on the fact they guy’s definetly got talent…

  3. I understand why somebody would like such races. But for me it seems to be a waste of time to watch them drive in a show run for 50 laps until 1 guy gives up on tire management and starts to race.
    F1 has now the strongest field of drivers since the mid 90s, so let them loose and have them put up the show not Pirelli orchestrating it.

    1. @tmf42 Mid ’90s? Where the only two drivers who would become world champions on the grid between 1995 and 1999 would be Schumacher and Hakkinen? Or are you referring back to the ’80s?

      1. @craig-o yes the 80s up until mid 90s when the MSC reign began.

        1. @tmf42 I wasn’t around in that era, but it sounded as if they had to be very conservative back then as well, especially with fuel and with turbo. The cars were so fragile back then from what I’ve read and watched in highlights the drivers had a job just getting it to the finish in a lot of races. I felt really it was the 2000’s where cars were able to push constantly throughout a race (except 2005), and we had pretty naff racing most of the time.

          1. back in those day i would be luck to stay awake long enough to watch the whole race due to it being so boring.
            people have either short memories or never watched racing back then,
            what we have now is sooooo exciting yet still the better drivers are in the front, just seeing other drivers in front of the best for a few laps has me on the edge of my seat plus how great it must feel for them to be mixing it with some of the best around,
            plus the experience they are gaining from being up there even if not for long.
            i am loving this passing lots of different strategies, it used to be so dam boring but now there is something happening all the time,
            i think its too complicated for those that dont enjoy this new type of racing, i personally think it is fantastic… makes your brain race ahead to try and work out where each driver will slot back in…

        2. MSC era was great, the only thing missing was the constant championship contender line up (apart from Hakkinen) like today. 97-00 and 03 are some of the best ever. It did have boring races, but it was always like that. There was no DRS and no one was waiting for the car in front to have its tyres worn out and then make a pass

      2. ?? 1996 Hill, 1997 Villeneuve

  4. It’s taking a long time for the rookies to score their first point, also interesting to see that there’s been a huge difference between team mates not just in the race but also in quali, the “number 1” driver of each team is much faster in this early part of the season.

    1. The problem for the rookies is not only is reliability so good these days, but as no one is pushing no one spins out or runs wide or anything apart from the odd incident.

  5. What would low grip, low degradation tyres be like?

    1. Slow with few pit stops?!?

    2. watch the 2010 season so you can remember what it was like! ;D

      1. Or better yet the grooved tyres that lasted a whole race from 2005.

      2. I thought the 2010 tyres were high grip tyres?

        I think what really needs to be done is what the 2014 rules are doing, and reduce down-force. These tyres that degrade so quickly can not work when following another car as they just get destroyed with under-steer and other turbulent air problems, caused by the massive reliance on aerodynamics. It would be great to actually see drivers racing up to the back of each other and then actually being able to follow close behind to try to make overtakes. Right now, seeing a driver race up to the back of another is no sure way of there being an overtake, and it really does show the non-overtaking circuits (DRS required with current aero for overtakes) compared to the overtaking circuits (DRS isn’t needed for overtaking with current aero, so like China) in clear light. With less down-force, I imagine that there will be more overtaking through still being able to get enough of a slipstream, and then being able to pass. It also could mean that more overtaking will be done out of the exit of corners, rather than going into them.

        (Kind of got side-tracked from the tyres point… Oh wells :)

  6. A great performance from Alonso and Ferrari. Dominated the field today. Great drives by Button for making a 2-stop work and by Hulkenberg for being up there with the big boys yet again! Also to Kimi and Lotus, for probably providing the shock of the weekend as I don’t think anybody expected them to be so quick! Bring on Bahrain! F1 2013 might be able to make it exciting for a change!

    1. On pure pace and natural ability Lewis and Kimi are alone at the top.

      1. Alonso and Vettel have a hell of a lot of pure pace and natural ability too. Kimi and Lewis are not “alone at the top”, by any stretch of the imagination.

    2. Yeah Hulkenberg did a solid job in 10th.
      Ricciardo was a stand-out performer though. Considering he was driving that STR and managed 7th.
      Surprised so many have overlooked his efforts. Clearly the quicker of the two in that team. He was closing in on Massa in the final laps. A few more and he may have got him.

  7. Pirelli really needs to work on their durability, particularly on the soft and hard compounds. the super-softs (not that we have seen them yet) and mediums are fine as is. The softs are fast but are shredding like cheese. The hards degraded almost worse than the mediums did in Malaysia!

    I don’t want three stops a race, it’s way too many stops for an F1 race that lasts 90-100 minutes. For me the perfect amount of stops is around a 2 stopper. Have some races inbetween a 1 and 2 stopper & others be inbetween a 2 & 3 stopper to mix it up and see a variety of strategies. What I don’t want to see that much of is what we saw a lot of today: drivers “racing” each other, but not for position as they are on different strategies.
    Make the tyres wear but not to the point the softs were in China.

    1. You are not racing, the F1 car has no back seat, just keep quiet and enjoy.

  8. “…Alonso wins race of champions…”

    Great headline for an imense drive from Alonso!

  9. Keith, congratulations on the longer post-race analyses you are producing this year, they are first class.

      1. rob from inverness
        15th April 2013, 6:36

        Agreed: the report is just excellent.As are Keith’s page of pitstop times, tyre strategies etc. Without TV here in France (Canal+ only) I followed the race with an excellent commentary by Patrick Tambay on radio RMC + a ceratin wedbsite which shows position, time of last lap and position, as well as a running text.This turns out to be a very good way to follow the modern races of pit stops and subsequent recovery of front runners.

        1. French resident here (south), I had RMC on in the car for the start, and its good. But I got back home for lap 4 or 5. A website showing where the car’s on track in excellent, watching a race with the live timing is a good idea.

          I have a satellite and a SKY box decoder, and can just about get all the free to air channels. suchs as bbc1… unfortunately I would not advise on this as they are using a different satellite soon to stop Europeans picking up uk tv.

          You can use a proxy, I use one call expat sheild to get iplayer, might be of some help to you?

    1. I concur

    2. Same here, it makes reading them – and remembering the action again as well as finding out things missed the first time – greatly enjoyable.

      I find these race reports are right up there with the stats and records article, although there its a big part the comments coming up with even more interesting tid-bits that make them a gem.

  10. One surprise in the race is how many cars started on the soft tire. I had expected the majority of the cars from Button back to be on the mediums. I wonder if this didn’t ruin the strategy for those like Button and Vettel starting on the mediums – to make it work they needed the front runners to pit early but then get stuck behind those on the medium tires.

    Beyond the difference between the options and primes, and thought there was a pretty healthy delta between someone on a new set of mediums and an older set.

  11. The race which had begun with three world champions at the head of the field ended with all five in the highest positions. The debate on whether F1 is overloaded with gimmicks will rage on but it isn’t stopping the cream from rising.


    F1 can give the drivers toasters for cars and still the same guys will come out on top. Gimmicks (DRS, using both tire compounds, pencil eraser tires) are all artificial and wont be able to please everyone.

    As long as the rules are enforced equally to all drivers, that’s fine for me.

    Great review!

    1. F1 can give the drivers toasters for cars and still the same guys will come out on top

      Possibly true, but neither you nor I would be bothered to follow the toaster race season (apart from watching one race for fun, perhaps).

      So while the result is a compliment to the talent of these guys, it should not be perceived as validation for the gimmickry by extension.

    2. Here’s an idea: let’s place red and green marks on the race track. When a driver hits a red mark, he is forced to pit, when he hits a green mark, he is allowed to use a shortcut. Also, let’s place sprinklers on the track. The driver starting from the pole position will decide when they will be turned on during the race. Oh, and we can have drivers go out of the car and do jumping jacks at every pit stop. And you know what? I bet that it won’t stop the cream from rising and pretty much the same guys will come out on top.

      The fact that gimmicks do not dramatically affect the order doesn’t mean, that they are good for the sport.

  12. Lotus apologized Kimi for the start, how come I never heard Red Bull apologizing Webber for the starts, well at least not in the manner Lotus did so.

    1. @peatree I guess one has to actually care to apologize.

      1. Antonio (@antoniocorleone)
        15th April 2013, 13:16


  13. This was Lotus wielding the E20′s kindness to its tyres as a weapon.

    Yes the E20 was kind. But isn’t this the E21 we’re talking about at the present?

  14. As always, great review Keith. Realised subtle things that I hadn’t noticed during the race (like Alonso making much rapid progress in his 2nd stint compared to Lewis and Kimi).

  15. It was not a great race but tyres strategies created enough suspense and a thrilling finish in the form of Vettel’s late charge to steal P3 from Hamilton. In between, it was very poor. DRS made overtakes way to easy and poor tyre choice by Pirelli destroyed the race. Racing drivers were just “tyre managers” for 80% of the race.

  16. “For the second time in as many races Raikkonen got on the radio to condemn the driving standards of a rival for a move the stewards found no fault in”
    Come on Keith, even Skysports played later on a replay on the Skypad, where it was clearly shown that Perez should have been penalized and that Kimi was right to complain about.
    It’s clear in article 20.3 Perez did’n leave one car width
    “Any driver moving back towards the racing line, having earlier defended his position off-line, should leave at least one car width between his own car and the edge of the track on the approach to the corner.”
    I think you’re being a little unfair with Kimi. Please correct it.

    1. Correct what? Raikkonen did complain and the stewards didn’t find anything wrong with it. There’s nothing wrong there.

      The rule you’ve cited doesn’t apply because Perez hadn’t moved off-line to defend. Presumably that’s why the stewards didn’t find anything wrong with it.

      1. Different points of view for me and you then. Skysports saw it my way, but i have to accept yours and the stewards’ also, though i disagree. Besides, the damage on Kimi’s car would not be reverted by a penalty on Perez, Kimi should have judged better before trying a risky move on that part of the circuit. It’s just that I don’t think Raikkonnen is a driver who is often complaining for no reason, which is what your comment suggests. No comment @Ivano.

  17. Alexander (@)
    15th April 2013, 12:40

    Kimi had his accident on lap 16, wich means he had to do 40 laps with the damage(0,25s/lap), this equals the ten secs Alonso won by.. I believe that if he/lotus hadn’t messed up the start he would have won.

  18. DRS isn’t needed at a circuit like this with the tyres they are using. They should drop it all together for China and any of the new circuits that have multiple wide corners which drivers can use different racing lines.

    DRS ruined this race

    1. Agreed, DRS should only be used on a few circuit per year such as Monaco. Or failing that, put it in a place where overtaking is difficult/uncommon. One example that I have seen folks suggest on this site is the start/finish straight at Spa.

  19. in addition to the race of champions, the last 5 races were won by the 5 current world champions

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