Alonso wins in China

14/04/2013
NEWS STORY

Even before the cars have turned a wheel today fans - and drivers - are unhappy with the current state of Formula One.

Yesterday, for a horrible few minutes, we faced the prospect of the drivers going out for Q3 for show, as opposed to setting a competitive time. The mandate given to Pirelli to produce tyres that deliberately degrade is turning the sport into a farce, exactly what it doesn't need what with the team orders debate still rumbling on.

Then again, wasn't the team orders row in Malaysia precisely about the current state of the sport, strategy over racing? Weren't the Red Bull and Mercedes duos told to hold station in order to preserve their cars?

Hours before today's race we were receiving emails from readers, frustrated that the sport is becoming too strategic, a view best summed up by Mark Webber who, looking ahead to the opening stages of the race, said: "It'll look good in the first five or six laps having everyone fighting but it's a little bit WWF at the moment," he said, referring to wrestling not World Wildlife. "If you race people, then you're in trouble. So just don't race; put the tyre on and don't race anyone. Just try and get home."

A farcical state of affairs.

Consequently, though we already knew that pole position isn't that important here, we now face the prospect that the entire qualifying session was a waste of time. The option (soft) tyres are like cheese and consequently drivers will want to ditch them as soon as possible, hence the cat and mouse strategy.

Having seen Webber demoted to the back of the grid after his car ran out of fuel in Q2, Red Bull have taken the option to make numerous changes to his car and therefore he will start from the pitlane. Might they also opt to pit him after just one lap.

Back on the grid, Vettel and Hulkenberg deliberately didn't set a time and can therefore choose what tyres to start the race on, while Button, who qualified eighth, is the highest placed qualifier on the prime (medium) rubber.

We have a scintillating grid but the fact is that the strategic question mark over it, courtesy of strategy, suggests it might have little bearing on the race itself.

Maybe the current state of F1 was best summed up by Kimi Raikkonen yesterday. When asked if he preferred the 'old fashioned' racing when the sport was a series of sprints, courtesy of aero rules and refuelling, and F1 2013 which is all about controlling pace and managing the car, he said: "It makes no difference, because this is what we have and you'd better like it or do something else."

This is one of the most exciting drivers in F1. If he's not getting a buzz from it and feels it's all about doing what the rules dictate, what hope for the fans.

A lot of people still have strong opinions about what happened in Malaysia - though we could have done without yesterday's s**t stirring from the media suggesting that short fuelling Webber was deliberate. If F1 becomes too strategic, if drivers hold position and opt not to race the sport faces a backlash.

As we said, it's a scintillating grid, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Alonso, Rosberg, Massa, Grosjean, Ricciardo, Button, Vettel and Hulkenberg, one which, in normal circumstances would have the mouth-watering.

However, with the uncertainty over the option tyres, and a change mandatory, strategy is the order of the day. Jenson Button, the master of tyre management, might well have made a shrewd move in opting for primes, while we don't yet know what Vettel and Hulkenberg will start on. Then again, Perez, starting from twelfth, is usually pretty good with his tyres, as are the Force India duo.

Make no mistake, Pirelli is not to blame. It was given a remit of producing tyres which deliberately degrade. It fulfilled the remit. The problem here is the constant playing with the rules in an attempt to stage manage the 'racing'.

There's late drama when a fuel leak is discovered on Paul di Resta's car, serious enough for marshals to be on stand-by with fire extinguishers. With Mr Happy looking more miserable than ever there is concern as to whether he'll make the start. Five minutes after the pitlane opens the Scot is given the all clear, problem resolved.

Talking on the grid, Bernie Ecclestone reveals that from Spain (Barcelona) more tyres will be made available on Fridays, to allow more running, while he hints at changes to qualifying also. Intriguing.

As the pitlane closes, fifteen minutes before the start, the air temperature is 26 degrees C, while the track temperature is 36 degrees.

As the field prepares to head off on the parade lap, Vettel is on primes, as are Hulkenberg, di Resta, Perez, Vergne and Bottas, and, of course, Button. These guys will be leading once the option runners begin pitting, but what of lap 56.

As the grid takes shape, Webber peels off into the pitlane.

They're away. A poor start from Raikkonen as Massa falls into line behind Hamilton and Alonso. They get through the first complex of corners with no problems.

A ferocious battle between Gutierrez, Perez and Maldonado, as Webber is told that he is pitting this lap. The Force Indias battling also, Sutil runs wide as di Resta refuses to give ground and the two bang wheels.

At the end of lap one, it's: Hamilton, Alonso, Massa, Raikkonen, Rosberg, Grosjean, Ricciardo, Button, Vettel and Hulkenberg.

Alonso maintains a steady gap to Hamilton as DRS is enabled at the start of lap 3. The leading ten are covered by just 5.9s. At the rear, Webber, still in twenty-second, posts fastest lap (43.511).

As Alonso challenges Hamilton, Hulkenberg gets the better of Vettel. Hamilton is struggling, the Mercedes driver passed by both Ferraris on the main straight, courtesy of DRS, as Raikkonen also closes. Ricciardo pits.

Vettel, having passed Button now sets off after Rosberg.

At the end of lap 5, Hamilton pits, as do Rosberg, Sutil and Pic.

Disaster in the pits for Sutil who has clouted Gutierrez then returns to the pits with a damaged rear wing and his exhaust on fire.

Next time around Alonso pits, as do Raikkonen, Bianchi and Van der Garde. Elsewhere, Webber is up to 16th.

Massa, Grosjean and Maldonado all pit at the end of lap 7, as does Chilton, as Hamilton goes quickest (42.612).

Hulkenberg now leads but has yet to stop, ahead of Vettel, Button, Perez, Di Resta, Vergne, Alonso, Hamilton, Bottas, Raikkonen, Webber and Massa.

Alonso and Hamilton make short work of Vergne, while there is talk that the Frenchman and Hulkenberg used DRS illegally.

Massa, who lost out during the stops, passes Webber with ease. Stewards will investigate the Sutil/Gutierrez incident after the race. They are also investigating Bottas and Vergne for overtaking under yellow flags.

Raikkonen goes around the outside of Vergne in T1 at the start of lap 12 as Massa also closes on the Toro Rosso driver.

Hulkenberg maintains a 1.1s lead over Vettel, with Button a further 3.6s down the road.

Alonso passes di Resta and closes on Perez, Hamilton shadows the Spaniard. Vettel complains that Hulkenberg is holding him up, if he could pass the Sauber he believes he could be half-a-second quicker.

DRS almost makes overtaking too easy here, Alonso sweeping past Perez with ease. "Fernando is very quick," observes Hamilton.

At the end of lap 13, Vettel pits. However, Hulkenberg also stops for fresh rubber.

It's a poor stop for Sauber and it allows Vettel to pass Hulkenberg. Di Resta also pits.

More misery for Webber as he clouts Vergne in T6 spinning the Toro Rosso around. The Australian heads back to the pits for a new front wing. For a brief moment it looked as though it was two Red Bulls not a Red Bull and a Toro Rosso.

More drama at T6 as Raikkonen clouts the back of Perez. "What the hell is he doing," shouts the Finn.

Having pitted Webber has more problems; the Australian crawling back to the pits complaining of a problem with his right-rear.

Replay shows Raikkonen running wide before his clash with Perez.

As the stewards reveal they are investigating the Webber/Vergne incident, the Australian grinds to a halt at T14 his right rear having become detached and gone walkabout.

So, deep breath. After 17 laps, Button leads Alonso, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Perez, Massa, Vettel, Hulkenberg, Rosberg and Grosjean. All but Button and Perez have pitted.

At the end of lap 19, Massa and Rosberg make their second stops as Perez and Vettel battle for fifth, the German coming off best.

Alonso is all over Button, the Englishman doing a sterling job of holding off the Ferrari. However, with DRS now enabled it is inevitable that the Spaniard will eventually nail the McLaren and so he does, at the start of lap 21.

Rosberg is back in the pits, the German now having slipped down to fifteenth.

Hamilton and Raikkonen both pit, the pair rejoining in ninth and tenth.

The stewards announce no further action in terms of the yellow flag incidents or the Raikkonen/Perez clash.

As Raikkonen goes quickest in S1, Alonso is told he will be pitting at the end of the next lap. In the Mercedes garage it's game over for 2012 winner Nico Rosberg.

Preparing for his first stop, Button calls for more front wing. The Englishman subsequently stops, as do Alonso, Grosjean and Ricciardo. Alonso rejoins in third and Button fifth.

Stewards announce that Button and Grosjean are under investigation for using DRS in a yellow flag zone.

At the end of lap 24, as Hamilton posts a new fastest lap (41.483), Perez finally pits.

Vettel leads Hulkenberg, Alonso, Button, Hamilton, Raikkonen, di Resta, Massa, Grosjean and Perez.

As Alonso goes quickest (41.090), teammate Massa is all over di Resta. The Spaniard subsequently sweeps by Hulkenberg to take second.

Button asks about Hamilton's tyre situation, when told he replies; "do we want to fight, do we want to fight?" "Yes," he is told. The McLaren driver has Hamilton filling his mirrors.

As Hamilton uses DRS to pass Button, Vettel is told not to waste time defending against Alonso as they are on different tyre strategies. That said, The German has little say in the matter when the Ferrari driver makes his move.

At the end of lap 29, Hulkenberg stops and changes to the options. Currently, he and Perez are the only drivers on the softer rubber.

Button is now under pressure from Raikkonen, the Finn sporting a damaged nose following his clash with Perez. Elsewhere, Vettel is told to "box, box".

For once, Vettel obeys orders, rejoining in eighth behind Massa. Fellow German Hulkenberg posts a new fastest lap (40.630).

Fresh out of the pits, Vettel nails Massa to take seventh and then di Resta to take sixth, the German on a stormer on fairly cool tyres. Di Resta subsequently pits.

Passing Hulkenberg to take fifth, Vettel posts a new fastest lap in the process (40.391). Elsewhere, Pic and Chilton pit.

After 34 laps, Alonso leads Hamilton by 11.1s with Raikkonen a further 5.1s behind. However, the Finn subsequently pits, as does Bottas.

Rejoining in eighth, Raikkonen has had his front wing adjusted but no new nose despite the obvious damage. Elsewhere, di Resta nails Vergne for tenth.

Facing a lot of traffic ahead, Button is worried about his tyres. The amount of marbles on the track dictate that one doesn't want to run off line to overtake.

Vettel nails Button with ease, as Hulkenberg and Massa pit. The pair head back down the pitlane side-by-side the Sauber driver eventually giving way to the Ferrari.

The Mercedes crew get ready and at the end of lap 37 they are joined by Hamilton. He rejoins just behind (fourth placed) Raikkonen and Ricciardo. Grosjean and Vergne also pit.

As Ricciardo and Van der Garde pit, Alonso, who has yet to stop a third time, enjoys a 19.2s lead over Vettel.

As if there wasn't enough going on, the stewards announce that they are investigating a whole heap of drivers, including Vettel, for using DRS during a yellow flag zone. Others under investigation are Webber, Raikkonen, Bottas, Ricciardo and Chilton, not forgetting the ongoing investigation of Button and Grosjean.

At the end of lap 41 Alonso makes what should be his final stop. He takes on more primes and rejoins in second behind Vettel, who has to stop again.

Vettel leads Alonso, Button, Raikkonen, Hamilton, di Resta, Massa, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo and Perez.

On the main straight, at the start of lap 43, Alonso sweeps by Vettel to take the lead. Elsewhere, Hamilton is all over Raikkonen.

Button has nothing to offer when Raikkonen makes his move on the main straight at the end of lap 44, with Hamilton also following through shortly after. Frustrating but clean.

As Button slips down to fifth, Perez is passed by Grosjean, the Mexican slipping out of the points.

With Alonso seemingly assured victory now, the big question is who will join him on the podium. While Vettel is currently second he has to stop again, as does Button. Therefore Raikkonen and Hamilton look good, but can the Finn hold off the Mercedes with that damaged nose. Di Resta, in sixth, also has to stop.

As Ricciardo passes Hulkenberg for eighth, Button is told that his current pace is very good. At the end of the lap (49) he makes his final stop, finally taking on the soft rubber and rejoining in seventh.

On his fresh rubber Button nails Massa, the McLaren driver going quickest in the final two sectors.

Having seen Button's pace, Red Bull calls Vettel in. The German pits from second, 7.1s down on Alonso, and rejoins in fourth, 12.7s down on Hamilton. The German is told he can "race to the finish".

However, Button isn't told to fight but defend, against Massa, his option tyres already having lost their edge.

11.5s down on Hamilton, Vettel is 9.7s clear of di Resta. Button is 5.1s down on the Scot but only 2.6s ahead of Massa who has Ricciardo 3.3s behind.

Vettel posts a new fastest lap (36.808) as di Resta pits from fifth. The Force India driver rejoining in eighth.

Despite the fact that his tyres are going off, Vettel is closing on Hamilton, getting the gap down to 5.2s. With two laps remaining, the Englishman is advised of the fact.

As they begin the final lap, Vettel is 2s down on Hamilton, the German's pace remorseless.

With Pic ahead, Hamilton calls for blue flags. They both sweep past the Caterham. The German runs a little wide and then locks up in the final corner, making a desperate, but hopeless, bid to nail the Mercedes on the run to the flag.

Alonso takes the flag, giving Ferrari its first win of the year, its, and his, first since Germany last year.

Raikkonen takes a thoroughly well-deserved second, ahead of Hamilton, Vettel, Button, Massa, Ricciardo, di Resta, Grosjean and Hulkenberg.

Perez is eleventh, ahead of Vergne, Bottas, Maldonado, Bianchi, Pic, Chilton and Van der Garde.

An entertaining race, especially Vettel's assault on the final lap, but the big question mark, other than the ease with which drivers were making up positions courtesy of DRS, is the whole strategic mess that F1 has got itself into and one which will get worse as teams look back on how yesterday's qualifying tactics impacted today's result.

Of course, the other big factor here, and another matter the FIA must address, is that with so many investigations ongoing into use of DRS in yellow flag zones today's result could yet see some significant changes. That said, none of the podium finishers are under investigation.

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Published: 14/04/2013
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