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Totally Tyred Out

Tyre strategy defined the Chinese Grand Prix and the best man did win! Image courtesy Ferrari (For editorial use only)

Tyre strategy defined the Chinese Grand Prix and the best man did win! Image courtesy Ferrari (For editorial use only)

Have you recovered from last weekend’s racing day marathon? I haven’t, but I can’t wait for some more madness. Even as we get ready for our next instalment at the controversial Bahrain circuit, it’s time for my race review.

Don’t groan. I promise not to give you a blow-by-blow, just a few highlights, that’s all.

After all there were so many important protagonists – the Finger notwithstanding. Without doubt though, the showstopper was Pirelli’s infamous tyres. It was enough to send the teams scrambling for cover, as racers popped in and out of the pitstop – the first as early as the 5th lap with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg ditching their soft compound tyres.

You will not have to think too hard, if years from now, we are asked to define the 2013 Chinese Grand Prix. Tyre management – that’s what it was all about. Sure, it gave us an exciting race, unpredictable till the very end. But it also left many traditionalists wondering when we would see ‘real’ racing and not mere strategy. Speaking of strategy, Red Bull seemed to fail in theirs, as The Finger ran a muted race in the beginning and played good boy, conserving his tyres. Vettel tried to make up for it in the final laps, chasing down a determined Hamilton, but failed to grab the podium. No matter what the critics may say, one thing was for sure Pirelli ensured a thrilling run in China that kept everyone on their toes.

Luck continued to elude Mark Webber as he retired early. Image courtesy Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool (For editorial use only)

Luck continued to elude Mark Webber as he retired early. Image courtesy Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool (For editorial use only)

Except for Mark Webber that is. The poor man. I am sure he was eager to prove himself after the debacle that was Malaysia. But, it was not to be. He started from the pit lane and things seemed to going well until a collision with Vergne left him with a damaged wing. Then, to top it all, he lost his right-rear wheel and failed to finish. To top it all, he has been awarded a three-place grid penalty for Bahrain and his team has been fined €5000 for the rolling wheel.

Fernando Alonso was a man with a mission and was victorious. Image courtesy Ferrari (For editorial use only)

Fernando Alonso was a man with a mission and was victorious. Image courtesy Ferrari (For editorial use only)

The two stars for me, however, were Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. What can I say? They were brilliant, consistent, determined and focused. Ferrari’s strategy was on course and Alonso came out on the top, despite tricky racing conditions. And then there was the Ice Man. He did have an iffy start and then a little bit of a tiff with Sergio Perez’s car, which left his car with a flapping nose. That didn’t quite stop him. Kimi Raikkonen stayed ahead, quite comfortably, of a charging Hamilton and Vettel to finish 2nd.

The best men won! Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton celebrate. Image courtesy Mercedes AMG F1 team (For editorial use only)

The best men won! Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton celebrate. Image courtesy Mercedes AMG F1 team (For editorial use only)

Meanwhile, Jenson Button finally worked his McLaren up to 5th position, his performance improving – slowly, but surely. It hurts McLaren fans like me to see Button not up to his mark. Here’s hoping though that the season will just turn better for him.

No Show

I am surprised by the performance, or lack of, of two teams that showed so much potential last year. First there’s Williams, a team that saw a podium finish last year courtesy Pastor Maldonado, and that was almost always in points. The team brought in Valtteri Bottas with much pomp this year. Three races down and the two drivers have still to prove themselves. While Bottas ended his run at the Chinese Grand Prix with a 13th position, Maldonado (who provided us with much angst last year) ended at 14th.

Then, there’s Sauber. Newbie Esteban Gutierrez ended his race (and Adrian Sutil’s too) after he crashed into the Force India car. Teammate Nico Hulkenberg though showed consistency, even leading the race (thanks to the tyre mayhem up front) for 7 laps, ended at 10th with points for his team.

The 2013 Chinese Grand Prix Moment

I feel Webber’s pain. He has had several tough days at work. Not only did his Red Bull lose its right-rear wheel, but the Aussie then had to watch as the errant wheel careered around, rolled past his teammate coming up behind him and came rolling to a halt right in front of him. Not a nice moment. Here’s hoping third time’s lucky in Bahrain.

Cheering myself hoarse as Lewis Hamilton fought for his 3rd spot on the podium even as a determined Vettel roared up behind him. It was a close fight to the finish (two-tenths of a second to be precise) and Lew-Lew grabbed his first podium as a Mercedes driver.

The Numbers So Far

Three races down, The Finger still sits neatly at the top with 52 points to his name. But he better watch out. The Ice Man is right behind with 49 points. Alonso follows with 43, and Hamilton with 40 points. The championship is wide open. What will Bahrain bring? Guess we don’t have long to find out!

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