The third grand prix of 2013 saw the third winner mount the top step as Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso mastered a tactical battle in Shanghai.
Alonso’s winning margin at the chequered flag was ten seconds over the Lotus of Kimi Räikkönen, who with the top three from qualifying neatly reversed, was narrowly ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton. He in turn was just 0.2s ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Malaysia winner Sebastian Vettel, and to make it five world champions in a row, Jenson Button finished fifth for McLaren.
In an intensely tactical encounter, Button and Vettel had chosen to sacrifice starting position for race strategy on Saturday, starting eighth and ninth respectively but crucially not compelled to begin the race on the unfancied soft compound tyre. Vettel in particular had hopes of a better result that didn’t quite materialise – something he blamed on failing to clear a fast-starting Nico Hülkenberg early in proceedings. However with a speed advantage of several seconds per lap at the end of the race, he was only a lap away from third and possibly second.
“It was a little bit disappointing to lose out by such a tiny bit; a few corners more and we could have tried something,” he said. “Nonetheless, our strategy seemed to work today. We knew it would be difficult and that it was crucial to get clean laps, but we didn’t in the first stint. I was faster than Nico (Hulkenberg) but if you follow another car you lean on your front tyres too much and it was hard to find the right compromise, but overall we can be happy.”
Behind Button, Felipe Massa brought the second Ferrari home in sixth, ahead of a career-best finish of seventh for Daniel Ricciardo in a much-improved Toro Rosso. Paul di Resta was eighth for Force India, Romain Grosjean was ninth in the second Lotus and Hülkenberg’s Sauber rounded-out the top ten.
The race was not without incident. Shortly after the first stops Esteban Gutiérrez missed his braking point and ploughed into the back of Adrian Sutil’s Force India approaching the hairpin. The Sauber was out immediately and Sutil limped back to the pits to retire with a damaged rear wing. The stewards later handed Gutiérrez a five-place grid penalty for the upcoming Bahrain Grand Prix.
Mark Webber also incurred a grid drop for Bahrain: the Australian was making his way swiftly through the field after starting his Red Bull the pitlane. He misinterpreted the actions of Jean-Eric Vergne and broadsided the Toro Rosso, also at the hairpin, for which the Australian received a three-place penalty.
Another incident that called for the stewards’ attention was a collision between Sergio Pérez and Räikkönen on lap 19. Lining up a pass, the Finn ran into the back of Pérez’s McLaren. Surprisingly, neither picked up serious damage, though Räikkönen completed the race with a broken nose car and a car that was experiencing some handling problems. The stewards decided against issuing a penalty.
“I was next to him and he just pushed me on the kerb,” said Räikkönen. “I tried to avoid him but I went on the grass and hit him on the rear and damaged the front. That didn’t help but luckily it didn’t affect so much the handling, it was just a bit too much understeery but we could still fight for second place. For sure without the damage we could have been quite a bit faster.”
Räikkönen still had enough pace to get in front of Hamilton and stay there to the finish. From pole position the Mercedes slipped back in race conditions, and while able to stay in touch with the Ferrari and Lotus, was unable to challenge.
“It was a good race for me: quite happy with third,” said Hamilton. “Congratulations to Fernando, he did a great job and so did Kimi. They were both a little bit too fast for us during the race. I was able to apply a little bit of pressure to Kimi but not enough to get close to him and overtake. My tyres were shot at the end and there was nothing I could do really to hold off Sebastian.”
Under no pressure at the end was Alonso. Now alongside Hamilton as a double-winner in Shanghai, he controlled the race after assuming the lead from the long-running Button on lap 20 and, despite relinquishing that position in the pit windows, never looked anything other than in complete control.
“It feels great after the retirement in Malaysia,” said the Ferrari man. “The two races we finished this year; one second place and today the victory – so definitely the start of this 2013 campaign is looking good. We are very optimistic.”
2013 FIA Formula One Chinese Grand Prix
1 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:36:26.945 25pts 2 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus +10.1s 18pts 3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +12.3s 15pts 4 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing +12.5s 12pts 5 Jenson Button McLaren +35.2s 10pts 6 Felipe Massa Ferrari +40.8s 8pts 7 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso +42.6s 6pts 8 Paul di Resta Force India +51.0s 4pts 9 Romain Grosjean Lotus +53.4s 2pts 10 Nico Hülkenberg Sauber +56.5s 1pts 11 Sergio Pérez McLaren +63.8s 12 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso +72.6s 13 Valtteri Bottas Williams +93.8s 14 Pastor Maldonado Williams +95.4s 15 Jules Bianchi Marussia +1 Lap 16 Charles Pic Caterham +1 Lap 17 Max Chilton Marussia +1 Lap 18 Giedo van der Garde Caterham +1 Lap Ret Nico Rosberg Mercedes +35 Laps Ret Mark Webber Red Bull Racing +41 Laps Ret Adrian Sutil Force India Accident Ret Esteban Gutiérrez Sauber Accident