Race 3 of the 2012 Formula 1 season brings the series to Shanghai for the Grand Prix of China. Even before the race itself, drama was running high. Nico Rosberg drove to his first pole in 111 races and in the process gave Mercedes its first since Juan Manuel Fangio at Monza in 1955. At the same time, defending champion Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) failed to make into Q3 for the first time since 2009, taking 11th
on the grid and being out-qualified by teammate Mark Webber for the third time this season. And with Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) getting a five-spot grid penalty for a transmission change, Michael Schumacher joined Rosberg to create the first all-Mercedes front row since the same 1955 race and Schumi’s first front-row start since Japan in 2006. Finally, Kamui Kobayashi’s (Sauber) P3 qualifying effort was the best by a Japanese driver since Takuma Sato started from the same spot at Hungary in 2004.
Rosberg and Schumi held 1-2 through Turn 1, with Jenson Button (McLaren) jumping to P3. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) and Lewis Hamilton held down 4th and 5th respectively after 4 laps.
Mercedes seemingly perfect strategy started to unravel during Lap 14, however, when Schumacher came into the pits and failed to have his right-front wheel fully attached, forcing him off course once he had re-entered the fray. The Top 3 on Lap 15 after the first pit stops was Sergio Perez (Sauber), Felipe Massa (Ferrari), and Rosberg. Perez flat-spotted his tires right before his first pit stop and came out in P9. Rosberg retook the lead during Lap 17, passing Massa. By the time the first pit cycle was completed in full, Rosberg, Button, and Hamilton held down the Top 3.
By Lap 30, with neither he nor Rosberg having made their second stop, Vettel had worked himself up to P3. After 36 the order stood as Button, Rosberg, Hamilton, with Rosberg having pitted shortly before after losing 2 sec/lap to Button and Button himself needing to pit again. But when he does disaster strikes, in the form of difficulties changing the left rear, and drops him down to P6. With Button’s mishap, Raikkonen and Vettel slotted in at 2 and 3. During lap 48 (of 56) Vettel made it past Raikkonen, and when Raikkonen made it into the marbles (boulders?) Button made it past into P3.
Button took P2 from Vettel during Lap 52, with Rosberg more than 24 sec in front. Hamilton made it past Vettel for 3rd during 55. And his teammate Mark Webber put the champion into P5 during the final lap.
Rosberg gets his first career victory and Mercedes its first since ’55. It’s the third different constructor to win this season in what is shaping up as the most competitive contest in years, particularly when teams like Williams are also in the fight, Bruno Senna moving from 14th on the grid to finish in 7th and Pastor Maldonado from 13th to 8th. When the dust settled though, Button and Hamilton took the 2-3 for the race to move to 1 (Hamilton)-2 (Button) in the standings, moving Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) into third.
Driver standings - Top 10
45 - Lewis Hamilton (Great Britain) - McLaren-Mercedes
43 - Jenson Button (Great Britain) - McLaren-Mercedes
37 - Fernando Alonso (Spain) - Ferrari
36 - Mark Webber (Australia) - RBR-Renault
28 - Sebastian Vettel (Germany) - RBR-Renault
25 - Nico Rosberg (Germany) - Mercedes
22 – Sergio Perez (Mexico) – Sauber-Ferrari
16 – Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) – Lotus-Renault
14 - Bruno Senna (Brazil) - Williams-Renault
9 – Kamui Kobayashi (Japan) – Sauber-Ferrari
Constructor standings - Teams scoring points
88 - McLaren-Mercedes - Hamilton, Button
64 - RBR-Renault - Vettel, Webber
37 - Ferrari - Alonso, Felipe Massa
31 - Sauber-Ferrari – Kobayashi, Perez
26 - Mercedes - Rosberg, Michael Schumacher
24 – Lotus-Renault – Raikkonen, Romain Grosjean
18 - Williams-Renault - Senna, Pastor Maldonado
9 – Force India-Mercedes – Paul di Resta, Nico Hulkenberg
6 – STR-Ferrari – Daniel Ricciardo, Jean-Eric Vergne
Next event: Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix – Sakhir - Apr. 20-22, 2012