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Tires Tell the Story: Hammy Wins in Shanghai

Based on Sebastian Vettel’s qualifying performance on Saturday, it was fair to assume that he might have it all his own way again on Sunday in Shanghai, but in the end it wasn’t meant to be.  When the red lights went out, the both McLarens shot past Vettel, leaving the German to defend a move by Nico Rosberg, who was also having a look.

Vettel had compounded his poor getaway by wasting precious seconds by jinking to the right to defend against Jenson Button. The shortest distance between two points (the starting grid and Turn 1)  is a straight line, and taking a more diagonal line tends to be a classic mistake.

Perhaps if Vettel had slotted in behind Button, rather than trying to hold him off, the race might have ended differently.  Such ifs will doubtless be filed away along with memories of some of Vettel’s bumper car maneuvers with the likes of Robert Kubica, Jenson Button and team mate Mark Webber.

Vettel’s poor start essentially decided his race.  Not that he couldn’t have overcome it.  Although the McLarens of Button and Hamilton edged him out off the grid, they didn’t exactly rocket away into the distance.  Vettel was able to hang on their tails prior to the first pit stop window.

What cost Vettel the win was the team’s response to Vettel’s start.  They decided to put him on a two-stop strategy, to put the young German out ahead of the boys from Woking.  In fact, this worked for a time: Vettel led for much of the race.  But, as everyone is learning very quickly, the 2011 season is all about tire management, and committing Vettel to a two-stopper meant that by the end of the second stint his tires would be about as sticky as Formica.

Ironically, Red Bull decided to put Mark Webber on shorter stints, with more stops, with the result that he cut through the field from his Q1 slot and was able to take third spot on the podium. His was the drive of the race, and clearly a validation of the three-stop program.

Another irony: McLaren had originally opted to run a two-stopper for Hamilton, but it was a double-gaffe on the part of Jenson Button that put them on their back feet, and forced them to change course.  Button made his first pit stop one lap too late.  There was a domino effect: he pushed back Hamilton’s stop as well, which caused Hammy precious time as his tires decomposed.  It was only then that they switched Hammy to a three-stopper, which, in the end, allowed him to  take the win.

the other half of Button’s blunder: he stopped in Vettel’s pit box instead of his own.  He was able to roll forward into his own, which was adjacent to Button’s, when the Red Bull team waved him on, but the error cost him two seconds, which caused him to cede his position in the running order to Vettel.

McLaren, it must be said, learned their lesson from Malaysia, where Lewis Hamilton, having run through his supply of option tires early on, was forced to finish the race on worn primes, with the result that he was unable to mount much of a challenge.  this time, Hammy came prepared.  He had fresh options for his last stint, and as a result was able to cut through the top end of the field, and take the winner’s laurels.

Speed TV Commentator David Hobbs hailed Hammy’s overtaking genius, but in the current environment, with swiftly degrading tires creating huge pace differentials between cars, natural overtaking ability is being significantly enhanced by crumbling rubber.

Of course, the FIA had a mission this year to create more exciting racing.  The inherent characteristics of modern F1 cars, and the tracks they race on, almost seem designed to preclude overtaking at all. General rule of thumb: if two cars are relatively even on performance, overtaking will likely not occur. This years technical changes (KERS, DRS and the new tires) have dealt with the problem by introducing artificial pace differentials where they wouldn’t otherwise exist.  Is this a good thing?  Purists (team engineers) say no.  The fans say yes.

Results:

1. Lewis Hamilton Britain McLaren-Mercedes 56laps 1hr 36m 58.226s
2. Sebastian Vettel Germany Red Bull-Renault +00m 05.1s
3. Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault +00m 07.5s
4. Jenson Button Britain McLaren-Mercedes +00m 10.0s
5. Nico Rosberg Germany Mercedes-Mercedes +00m 13.4s
6. Felipe Massa Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +00m 15.8s
7. Fernando Alonso Spain Ferrari-Ferrari +00m 30.6s
8. Michael Schumacher Germany Mercedes-Mercedes +00m 31.0s
9. Vitaly Petrov Russia Renault-Renault +00m 57.4s
10. Kamui Kobayashi Japan Sauber-Ferrari +01m 03.2s

11. Paul di Resta Britain Force India-Mercedes +01m 08.7s
12. Nick Heidfeld Germany Renault-Renault +01m 12.7s
13. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Williams-Cosworth +01m 30.1s
14. Sebastien Buemi Switzerland Toro Rosso-Ferrari +01m 30.6s
15. Adrian Sutil Germany Force India-Mercedes +1 lap
16. Heikki Kovalainen Finland Lotus-Renault +1 lap
17. Sergio Perez Mexico Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
18. Pastor Maldonado Venezuela Williams-Cosworth +1 lap
19. Jarno Trulli Italy Lotus-Renault +1 lap
20. Jerome d’Ambrosio Belgium Virgin-Cosworth +2 laps
21. Timo Glock Germany Virgin-Cosworth +2 laps
22. Vitantonio Liuzzi Italy HRT-Cosworth +2 laps
23. Narain Karthikeyan India HRT-Cosworth +2 laps

Rtd Jaime Alguersuari Spain Toro Rosso-Ferrari 9 laps completed

Fastest lap:

Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault 1m 38.993s lap 42

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