Lewis Hamilton won his first pole since moving to Mercedes during the off-season, joined on the front row by Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus). Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) and Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) qualified third and fourth respectively. Tire wear was a theme throughout practice and qualifying, with the soft option tires degrading in as quickly as 3 laps but being substantially faster when new. This wear rate saw both Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull, P9) and Jenson Button (McLaren, P8) go out for Q3 on the medium prime tires, allowing them to start the race on same but effectively abdicating any chance of winning the pole.
Mark Webber (Red Bull) lost fuel pressure during Q2, was forced to abandon the car on-circuit and tumbled to P14 as a result. Formula 1 officials impounded his car afterwards, opening the possibility that he would be forced to start from the back of the field. Conspiracy theorists noted the funny timing of Webber’s problems given the new heat his rivalry with Vettel was given by the latter’s having ignored team orders to take the victory in Malaysia.
Without sufficient fuel in the car for the FIA to test, Webber was forced to start from pit lane. He was, however, also allowed to continue to work on his car in the interim, having not qualified and therefore escaping post-qualifying impoundment.
Both Ferraris (Alonso and Massa) passed Raikkonen at the start, with Hamilton holding on to P1. Red Bull brought Webber in at the end of Lap 1 to switch him onto the harder tires. Alonso and Massa both passed Hamilton at the end of Lap 5. Alonso pitted during Lap 7, also changing to the harder compound. Massa followed suit one lap later.
Nico Hulkenberg (Sauber), who also started the race on the harder compound, was left in the lead following the first batch of pit stops, followed by Vettel and Button. Vettel outpitted Hulkenberg during Lap 15 (of 56) to change positions. Button remained on track to take the lead, with Alonso and Hamilton second and third.
Webber retired following on-track contact. The contact with Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso) damaged his left front, but during the subsequent pit stop his right wheel tire was not fully secured and came off on track.
Alonso passed Button on-track to take the lead during Lap 21, with Vettel moving up to P3 shortly after. Rosberg retired during Lap 22. Both Alonso and Button pitted during Lap 24, with Alonso maintaining his lead and reentering the race in front of Hamilton and moving Vettel to the lead with Hulkenberg in P2. Alonso passed Hulkenberg for second during Lap 27 and took P1 two laps later as Vettel was instructed to not spend time defending and behaved accordingly.
Vettel pitted from the lead on Lap 32, but still did not move to the softer option tires and came out in P8. The Top 3 were Alonso, Hamilton, and Raikkonen. Raikkonen came in during Lap 35, coming out in P8 and moving Button to P3. Vettel passed Button two laps later as Alonso built a 12.3-sec lead on Hamilton.
Hamilton pitted during Lap 38 and come out in P7, moving Vettel and Button into P2 and P3 respectively with Alonso 19.2-sec in front. Alonso pitted during Lap 41, with Vettel passing the Ferrari at pit exit, but Alonso getting back out front by Lap 43. Both Raikkonen (P3) and Hamilton (P4) passed Button, who still had made just the one early pit stop.
Alonso’s lead stood at 7 sec during Lap 49, with Vettel still having to pit to take the soft tires. Button came in to take his own softs during Lap 50, returning to the race in P7. Vettel came in during Lap 52 and exited in P4, 14 sec behind Hamilton in P3 with Raikkonen having assumed P2.
Alonso won pulling away from Raikkonen, with Vettel doing his best to reel Hamilton in on the options, but being thwarted at the end. The win moved Alonso to third in the season standings. Daniel Ricciardo's P7 was the best finish of his career.
Driver standings - Top 10
52 - Sebastian Vettel (Germany) - RBR-Renault
49 – Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) – Lotus-Renault
43 - Fernando Alonso (Spain) – Ferrari
40 - Lewis Hamilton (Great Britain) - Mercedes
30 – Felipe Massa (Brazil) - Ferrari
26 - Mark Webber (Australia) - RBR-Renault
12 - Nico Rosberg (Germany) – Mercedes
12 - Jenson Button (Great Britain) - McLaren-Mercedes
9 – Romain Grosjean (France) – Lotus-Renault
8 – Paul di Resta (Scotland) – Force India-Mercedes
Constructor standings - Teams scoring points
78 - RBR-Renault - Vettel, Webber
73 – Ferrari – Massa, Alonso
60 - Lotus-Renault – Raikkonen, Grosjean
52 – Mercedes – Hamilton, Rosberg
14 – Force India-Mercedes – Adrian Sutil, di Resta
14 – McLaren-Mercedes – Button, Sergio Perez
7 – STR-Ferrari – Daniel Ricciardo, Jean-Eric Vergne
5 – Sauber-Ferrari – Nico Hulkenberg, Estaban Gutierrez
Next event: Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix – Bahrain International Circuit – Apr. 19-21, 2013