Shanghai'd at the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix [spoilers]
2008 saw Lewis Hamilton of McLaren and Felipe Massa of Ferrari battle it out for the title until the very last turn of the the very last lap of the very last race of the season, but for many years before and every year since it's been utter domination: five years of Michael Schumacher, two of Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen in 2007, Jenson Button in 2009 and two years of Sebastian Vettel that bring us up to the present.
The question on every race fan's mind, then, is whether this year would again feature a single-team domination or whether we'd see another driver – or drivers – taking the lead. Heading out to Shanghai for this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix, only two races had already been decided, and each was won by a different man driving for a different team, and neither had won from pole. Would this round prove any different? Keep reading to find out.
We had at least part of the answer when qualifying was completed on Sunday as Nico Rosberg took his first pole position. The new wing on his Mercedes turned out to make the difference as his elder wingman Michael Schumacher qualified third – bumped up to second after Lewis Hamilton was penalized five grid positions for an unscheduled gearbox change – for the first all-Mercedes front row since 1955.
Equally surprising was the sight of Kamui Kobayashi of the Sauber team in third place on the grid. He was followed by Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus), Jenson Button (McLaren), Mark Webber (Red Bull), Lewis Hamilton (McLaren), Sergio Perez (Sauber), Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) and Romain Grosjean (Lotus). Defending champion Sebastian Vettel, who took the bulk of pole positions last season, could muster no better than eleventh, with onetime frontrunner Felipe Massa behind him in twelfth.
Having emerged from the Brawn GP team that took both titles in 2009, staffed by top talents and flush with fresh capital, the Mercedes AMG team is one that deserves to be performing better than it has, but would Rosberg and Schumacher be able to hold it together from their front-row start to the checkered flag?
The Silver Arrows lead the field off the line as Schumacher hounded his younger teammate. Sauber, however, suffered a disappointing start on the promise of its qualifying strength as Kobayashi dropped from third to fifth behind Button and Raikkonen while Perez succumbed to a charging Hamilton.
Otherwise it was a clean start to the race until Lap 12 when Schumacher went in to swap rubber. A pit-crew error saw a rear tire improperly affixed, which then separated and ended the multiple champion's race, leaving Rosberg to hold out in the lead on his own. And so he did, pulling further and further away from the rest of the field with clean air and an empty track in front and no one to fend off behind.
For much of the race Raikkonen was aptly showing that he hadn't forgotten his form while playing around in the WRC and NASCAR during his sabbatical from F1, holding on to second place for much of the race. But Lotus relied on his tires holding up for too long on a track that's notoriously difficult on rubber compounds, and with less than ten laps to go he lost it, dropping down from second to twelfth within two laps.
Behind him awaited an eager train of frontrunners who eagerly pounced on the opportunity to advance to the podium. Sebastian Vettel moved up to second from eleventh on the grid, followed by Button, Hamilton and Webber... each of whom passed the defending double champion in turn in the closing laps.
And so they crossed the finish line, Rosberg claiming his first win – and the first for Mercedes since withdrawing its last factory team from the sport way back in the 1950s. Button took second place, over twenty seconds adrift of the lead and five seconds ahead of his team-mate Hamilton to make it an all-Merc-powered podium. Webber and Vettel took fourth and fifth, followed by an impressive Romain Grosjean for Lotus. Bruno Senna and Pastor Maldonado took seventh and eighth for Williams, followed by Alonso and Kobayashi for the final points.
The results, three rounds into the championship, leave Hamilton still in the lead with 45 points to Button's 43, followed by Fernando Alonso in third with 37. McLaren therefore leads the constructors' standings with 88 points to Red Bull's 64, Ferrari's 37, Sauber's 31, Mercedes' 26 and Lotus' 24. The circus sails next for a still-controversial Bahrain, where anti-government protestors have sparked a debate over the political morality of the race scheduled for next weekend.
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