Race - Rosberg an F1 winner after Shanghai thriller 15 Apr 2012
How ironic was it that in a race that depended on tyre wear and strategy, it should all come right for Mercedes and Nico Rosberg as the young German scored his maiden Grand Prix victory by 20.6s as a fantastic war raged a long way behind him?
Rosberg was in charge all the way, proving convincingly that Mercedes have solved their tyre degradation issues. It was their first works victory since Juan Manuel Fangio won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza back in 1955, prior to their withdrawal from the sport.
To begin with Rosberg was chased off the grid by team mate Michael Schumacher, but the silver arrows would end up bookending the race as a snafu in Michaels first pit stop saw his right-front wheel incorrectly fitted. He thus became the races sole retirement and the team were subsequently fined 5,000 for his unsafe release.
Saubers hopes disappeared quickly after Kamui Kobayashi made a poor start from third and was swallowed up as McLarens Jenson Button and Lotuss Kimi Raikkonen forced through to third and fourth places and McLarens Lewis Hamilton quickly slotted into fifth ahead of Sergio Perez in the other Sauber.
But this was a race of tyre strategy, and Red Bulls Mark Webber was the first to ditch Pirellis soft tyres and to switch to the mediums on which the real bulk of the afternoons work would be done. Immediately he started setting fastest laps, from down in 20th place.
With Schumacher out on the 12th lap, Rosberg had no-one to ride shotgun for him, but even then it was clear he wasnt going to need any support. With an improved set-up giving his tyres a much easier time, this was always his race to lose. But second place was in doubt right up until the moment that Button slipped ahead of Sebastian Vettel on the 52nd lap, as the world champions super-long run on the medium Pirellis had finally overtaxed them. Hamilton was also hungry for the podium, and squeezed by the Red Bull two laps later. To make the indignity worse for Vettel, whod driven a great race after his disaster in qualifying, Webber also overtook him on Lap 54.
At one stage no fewer than nine cars were running nose to tail in the fight for the runner-up slot behind Rosberg. But so much depended on individual pit-stop strategy. Rosberg, Vettel, Lotuss Romain Grosjean, Williams team mates Bruno Senna and Pastor Maldonado, Perez and Raikkonen all stopped twice; Button, Hamilton, Webber, Alonso and Kobayashi three. So at different stages some drivers had a brief tyre freshness advantage, or others were trying to nurse their rubber to the finish after benefiting at times from its longevity.
On the 42nd lap Raikkonen held second for Lotus after a super drive, hounded by Vettel, Button, Grosjean, Webber, Hamilton, Senna, Maldonado and Alonso. And the Saubers werent far off, either.
Cars were running nose-to-tail, side-by-side, and wheel-to-wheel all round the track, in a race more reminiscent of the old slipstreamers at pre-chicane Monza. And it was all clean, nobody was being silly.
For many laps it was stalemate behind the black and gold car, but Raikkonens tyres were nearly finished and there was a sudden and wholesale reshuffle. From second on Lap 47 he plummeted within two laps to 12th as the battle now became the one between Vettel and Button, with Hamilton just fending off Webber. Then Buttons pass of Vettel set up the final denouement.
Grosjean held on for an excellent sixth and his first world championship points for Lotus, while Senna backed up his great run in Malaysia with another mature run to seventh ahead of Maldonado, who got his own back on Alonso for Melbourne by keeping the Spaniard at bay to the flag. After a hairy move on his own team mate, Kobayashi salvaged something on a disappointing day for Sauber by taking the final point with 10th.
Perez was thus 11th from Paul di Resta, who had a strong race in a Force India that lacked the speed to mix it with the train. Felipe Massa had a much better race for Ferrari, but ultimately it yielded only 13th ahead of the faded Raikkonen, with Nico Hulkenberg 15th from the duelling Toro Rossos of Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo. The Frenchman set some fastest laps mid-race after a tyre stop, but the STR7s, like the Force Indias, lacked sheer pace when it mattered most.
Vitaly Petrov drove strongly once again for Caterham to take 18th, while a great drive from Charles Pic saw the rookie finish 20th in his Marussia, 0.3s behind team mate Timo Glock. Pedro de la Rosa was HRTs better placed runner in 21st ahead of team mate Narain Karthikeyan, with Heikki Kovalainen 23rd and last after his Caterham had a very long pit stop near the end.
Thus, after the race of the season, Hamilton leads the world championship with 45 points to Buttons 43, with Fernando Alonso third on 37 after a tough afternoon. In the constructors stakes, McLaren still lead with 88 points to Red Bulls 64, Ferraris 37, Saubers 31, Mercedes 26 and Lotuss 24.
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