Rosberg Keeps Button at Bay to Take Maiden Win in Shanghai


Nico Rosberg leads the field at the start of the Chinese Grand Prix - Photo Credit: Pirelli
Nico Rosberg leads the field at the start of the Chinese Grand Prix - Photo Credit: Pirelli

 

Nico Rosberg made good use of his maiden pole position to take his first grand prix victory today in Shanghai and give Mercedes their first victory as a works team since 1955.

A clever two-stop strategy allowed the German to lead much of the action-packed grand prix, and kept a charging Jenson Button well behind him at the end of the race.

Button finished in second place after his chances of victory were ruined by an problem in his final pit stop, and Lewis Hamilton claimed his third third-place finish of the season after overtaking Sebastian Vettel on the penultimate lap.

Rosberg’s team-mate Michael Schumacher retired after his first pit stop when his Mercedes team failed to fit his front right wheel properly. The seven-time world champion was the only retirement of the afternoon.

Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel brought the Red Bulls home in fourth and fifth place, ahead of Romain Grosjean, who finished a race for the first time this season.

Williams picked up a good result after Bruno Senna and Pastor Maldonado finished seventh and eighth. Fernando Alonso and Kamui Kobayashi picked up the final points of the afternoon with ninth and tenth respectively.

Nico Rosberg got a great start from pole position, easily getting away ahead of Schumacher, who followed him into the first corner.  The two McLaren drivers also got off the line well, with Jenson Button jumping from fifth up to third and Lewis Hamilton making it from seventh to fifth.

Kobayashi was the big loser at the start, dropping from third place down into the clutches of his Sauber teammate Sergio Perez, who started eighth, during the opening corners of the first lap.

At the end of Lap 1, Rosberg had a 0.7-second lead from his team-mate, Schumacher was second and Button was third. Raikkonen remained in his starting position of fourth, Hamilton was up to fifth, Perez and Kobayashi were sixth and seventh and Alonso led Webber in eighth.

At the end of Lap 6, Mark Webber made an early switch from the soft Pirelli tyre to the harder compound. The stop dropped him down to P20 but a series of fast laps from Webber encouraged others to start making their stops.

At the end of Lap 12, it was the turn of Michael Schumacher to make his first stop. However, on his out lap, he came to a halt at the side of the road. The front right wheel had not been fitted during the pit stop, and his race was over. The mechanic responsible for that wheel was left pounding the ground in frustration.

Rosberg came in one lap later than his team-mate, but he remained in front of the challenging McLaren duo, who had already made their stops.

The flurry of pit stops left Sergio Perez, who was yet to stop, leading the grand prix from Felipe Massa, who was also yet to take on a second set of tyres.

Perez lasted to the end of Lap 16. He re-emerged right down in tenth place, perhaps because he had stayed on worn out tyres for just a couple of laps too long.

Whilst Perez was in the pits, Rosberg re-took the race lead from Felipe Massa on track. The fresh tyres on the Mercedes compared to the worn tyres on the Ferrari mean that the move was pretty straightforward.

At the end of Lap 20, Rosberg had a reasonably comfortable lead of 4.7 seconds from Button. Hamilton was a further 2.1 seconds back, and short train of Mark Webber, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso was a further 3.4 seconds off the back of the McLaren duo.

Then, on Lap 21, Webber became the first driver to make his second stop. He was given another set of the medium tyres. McLaren reacted by bringing Hamilton in on the next lap. The Brit changed his soft tyres for set of the medium compound, and emerged from the pit lane comfortably ahead of Webber.

Button was in at the end of the Lap 24, switching to the harder tyre. The two McLaren drivers were now in amongst the field having made their stops, while race leader Rosberg was enjoying some clear air out in front.

When Grosjean pitted at the end of Lap 32, this put Button back up to second place and 14.5 seconds behind leader Nico Rosberg, who had still only made one pit stop. At this stage of the race, Button was two seconds-a-lap quicker than the leading Mercedes, who was clearly attempting a two-stop strategy.

But Rosberg made his second stop at the end of Lap 34, a little outside the window for a two-stop strategy. The German emerged from the pits ahead of an intense battle for third place between Sergio Perez (who had stopped once) and Lewis Hamilton (who had stopped twice).

Button now led the race, but had to stop again. The question around Shanghai now, was whether Rosberg could make this latest set of tyres last until the end of the grand prix.

Perez made his second stop at the end of Lap 35, thus ending that particular battle for third. Another one was about to blossom however, with Fernando Alonso quickly coming up to the back of Hamilton.

That battle continued into the pits at the end of Lap 38. Hamilton entered the pits for his third stop with Alonso close behind him. Another slick stop from the McLaren pit crew got Hamilton out of the pits in front of the Ferrari driver.

Button pitted from the lead one lap later, but then disaster struck! There was a problem with getting the new left-rear tyre onto the McLaren, and instead of emerging from the pits in clear air, Button came out in traffic in sixth place. He was over 20 seconds behind Rosberg with just 17 laps remaining.

The pressure was now off Rosberg, and all he had to do now was guide this car home on degrading tyres as Button fought his way back up through the field.

Button made it up to fourth relatively quickly, and then got stuck behind the two-stopping Raikkonen and Vettel, who were running second and third. Webber and Hamilton joined the back of this train of cars, but for several laps there were no changes in position.

But then on Lap 48 Hamilton made a bold (and successful) attempt to get past Mark Webber, and then Kimi Raikkonen also made a mistake, allowing Vettel and Button past. Once Raikkonen had lost second place, he started to go backwards quickly – his set of soft tyres, which had completed more than 20 laps, were clearly past their best and had dropped off their performance cliff.

It was now Vettel in second place, but he was being closely pursued by Hamilton, who had much fresher tyres. At the end of Lap 50, Rosberg had a comfortable lead of 25.1 seconds, and had just 6 laps over which to nurse his tyres home.

Button used DRS on Lap 51 to make it past Vettel and get up into second, but by now was too far away from Rosberg to challenge for the race lead.

Hamilton got past Vettel with two laps of the race remaining to steal the final podium place, and now heads the championship standings. One lap later, Vettel fell victim to team-mate Webber as well, and finished down in fifth.