Throw all your cards up in the air and watch where they land. Search for the method in the chaos and you will find none; at least not at the grid in Shanghai.
I must admit, after the Sepang Surprise (rain and all), I was expecting a regular race. You know the sort, with the Hamiltons and Vettels at the top of the grid. After all, there can be only one Sepang-style race. But the Qualifying proved me wrong.
The usual suspects are off the radar. Instead, at pole with a stunning time of 1m 35.121s is Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes that boasts of a new innovative front wing. Teammate Michael Schumacher is at second, replacing Lewis Hamilton who faces a five-place grid penalty because of a gearbox change. It has been a long, long time since a 1-2 Mercedes line-up at the grid. More precisely, the last time we saw this was at the 1955 GP in Monza.
Kamui Kobayashi also made brilliant timing and landed a 4th on the grid, followed by the Ice Man in the 5th. Kimi Raikonnen’s comeback has been pretty successful so far, even though there have been no podium finishes. The grid continues down to Jensen Button, Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton, Sergio Perez, Fernando Alonso, and Romain Grosjean. The shocker though is current world champion Sebastian Vettel, who was very obviously struggling with his Red Bull throughout the qualifying. Felipe Massa continues his run of bad luck with 1m 36.255s, while Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna made a time of 1m 36.283s and 1m 36.28s.
Despite a brilliant qualifying by Rosberg, it isn’t, by any means a given that he will win the race. There is the mercurial weather, with temperatures dipping to 22°C at qualifying today. It left the racers struggling to maintain tyre temperatures. But that has been the trick to the Shanghai circuit hasn’t it? Getting the car set-up right with just the right set of tyres. The 5.451 km long circuit shaped like ‘shang’, a Chinese character, has several winding turns with high-speed straights that push the car and the driver to their limits.
So, who will be crowned king at Shanghai this season? Honestly? The bets are off. So far, McLaren has more or less ruled at Shanghai; Hamilton taking a first in 2008 and 2011 and Button in 2010. But neither can we ignore Perez and Alonso’s brilliant wins in Sepang. Both dark horses, who do have a few tricks up their sleeve. Just like Vettel and Webber, who are now desperate to grab a win. We don’t have too long to wait. And at least one thing’s for sure. This is bound to be another exciting race.
F1 hasn’t been sitting quietly through this incredibly long break, between the delightful cliffhanger episode in Sepang and the Shanghai showdown.
Crybabies and cucumbers had a field day, as an angry Vettel lambasted all those “idiots driving around” and called Narain Karthikeyan a “cucumber” after the Sepang race. Karthikeyan’s revenge was calling Vettel a “crybaby”.
Meanwhile an introspective Felipe Massa told the Ferrari website in an interview reprinted on the F1 website: “I feel there is confidence around me, that the team is united in its support for me and that is very important. Now I want to transform that into results to pay back all this support. I want things to return to normal, to a situation in which I can show my talent as I have always done and as the team know I can do.” Read the complete interview.
Giving him a much-needed boost was Rubens Barrichello. In an interview with Globoesporte.com, he gave Massa some much-needed advice. “He has to close his eyes, enjoy himself and remember he is doing this because he likes it…Whenever I lost myself a little bit, I ended up forgetting that and reminded myself that I am doing this because I like it too. We [the drivers] have to relax, and then we can improve. It’s just a moment, and every moment in Formula One is a cycle of life.” You can read the whole story here.
Speaking of Barrichello, the 39-year-old made his debut in IndyCar series this year, after he failed to get a seat in F1. He finally convinced IndyCar to give him ‘partial rookie’ status, despite his impressive F1 record. So, now, Barrichello, who is racing for KV Racing Technology, will get extra tyres and track time, and is also scheduled to take the oval rookie test at the Texas Motor Speedway in May. He has, meanwhile, said, that he would love to return to F1.
But perhaps the biggest closure has been in the Great Bahrain Debate. Teams, fans, the FIA, and Bernie Ecclestone went back and forth on the issue (i.e. will F1 race in Bahrain on April 20, because of the political troubles there). The matter was finally laid to rest with the FIA clearly stating that the race would take place as scheduled. However, this decision has led to a fresh wave of protests and violence in Bahrain.