2009 Chinese Grand Prix review
Sebastian Vettel’s second Grand Prix win had a touch of deja vu about it – he started from pole position but the wet race started behind the safety car.
And at the end of it he had taken Red Bull to their maiden victory, just as he did for Toro Rosso at Monza last year. Webber followed him home in second as Red Bull scored an historic one-two in an incident-filled race.
Safety car start
The first eight laps of the race were spent behind the safety car, in scenes reminiscent of the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji two years ago.
A couple of drivers even managed to go off the track while the safety car was out – including Felipe Massa and Adrian Sutil. Sutil made an early stop for more fuel and, on lap seven, Fernando Alonso did the same from second place.
Just as Alonso was heading into the pits came word that the safety car was coming in. His light fuel load had already compromised his race but had the team known the end of the safety car period was imminent perhaps they wouldn’t have brought him in. It left him last, albeit with a full tank of fuel.
Vettel was the only driver to enjoy a clear view of the track ahead when the race started and made best use of it, quickly pulling out three seconds over his team mate. Webber largely kept pace with his young team mate at first, while Jenson Button (who passed team mate Rubens Barrichello early on) fell to over seven seconds behind by lap 11.
Vettel takes control
Webber’s chances of catching Vettel were soon thwarted. A mistake on lap 12 allowed Vettel to double his lead to six seconds. Then on lap 12 Webber surprisingly made his first pit stop – two laps before Vettel came in, despite having gone to the grid with more fuel on board. Had Vettel done a better job of managing his fuel during the safety car period?
Two other drivers were on the move in the early stages. The first was Lewis Hamilton, who picked off Kimi Raikkonen at turn 10 shortly after the start. On lap nine he took Jarno Trulli for fifth, but two laps later a spin dropped him back to tenth. He continued in this ‘one step forward, two steps back’ fashion for much of the race.
Sebastien Buemi, who had started behind Hamilton, copied the McLaren driver by first passing Raikkonen and then going off. Buemi stuck at it, though, and got back ahead of the Ferrari on lap 11 – and Massa arrived in the other Ferrari to follow him through.
Buemi and Massa caught Trulli next and easily passed the struggling Toyota. Raikkonen and Hamilton were almost falling over themselves to get past Trulli. Heikki Kovalainen, Sebastien Bourdais, Timo Glock and Nakajima got by him too.
Toyotas and BMWs everywhere
Next to catch the Toyota was Robert Kubica and, perhaps caught out by how early Trulli was braking, slammed hard into the TF109 at turn 16. Kubica’s BMW almost flipped but stayed an all four wheels and remarkably, after a visit to the pits for a new nose, was able to continue. Trulli’s race was over, however.
Meanwhile their team mates were getting stuck into each other as well. Timo Glock dived down the inside of Nick Heidfeld at the hairpin but succeeded only in damaging his front wing and tipping Heidfeld into a spin. Surprisingly, Glock went unpunished for a tangle that looked a lot like Kovalainen’s collision with Webber at Spa last year.
On lap 17 the safety car was summoned to clear up the carnage. The Brawn cars, which had inherited the lead after the Red Bulls had pitted, now surrendered it by making their first pit stops.
Buemi also headed for the pits but this came after a tangle with the race leader Vettel. In another echo of Fuji ’07, the Toro Rosso driver hit his Red Bull stable mate from behind. Fortunately both were able to continue, Vettel reporting no noticeable damage, and Buemi needing a new nose.
The other Toro Rosso of Bourdais tripped up as the race got restarted, spinning at the hairpin.
Before the safety car period Hamilton had passed Raikkonen a second time, and then lost it with another excursion off the track. Finally on lap 22 he made it stick with a brave pass on the outside of turn seven.
Vettel quickly built up a lead over Button, who had leap-frogged Webber at the first round of stops. Button was 7.6s behind the leader on lap 26, with Webber bearing down on him less than two seconds behind.
On lap 28 Button ran onto the painted white line before the hairpin and slithered wide, allowing Webber back into second. But Webber himself ran wide on the following lap, allowing Button through again. Not wanting to give the place up the Red Bull driver attacked once more and, in a copy of Hamilton’s move on Raikkonen, took Button at turn seven. Emerging from a ball of spray, Button hardly saw his rival coming until they were side by side.
Rosberg gambles, Hamilton spins
By lap 33 Vettel had a 17 second lead over Webber and 21 seconds over Button. Barrichello had dropped 16 seconds behind his team mate in fourth.
Alonso spent many laps stuck behind Buemi but finally found a way through and ascended to fifth before his pit stop. Buemi now took up fifth, ahead of Hamilton, Sutil and Kovalainen.
Vettel made his final stop on lap 37, falling behind Button, but easily able to re-pass the Brawn on lap 40 for the lead. Button’s stop two laps later allowed Webber back into second.
Shortly before this Nico Rosberg gambled on a switch to intermediate tyres. He was able to get within a second of the pace of those on full wet tyres, but the rain returned and the gamble backfired.
Hamilton’ single pit stop on lap 33 left him fifth but he was struggling with tyre wear. One mistake on lap 47 allowed team mate Kovalainen past, and another error two laps later – his fourth of the race – let Sutil by into sixth. Force India’s joy was short-lived however, as Sutil crashed out at turn five on lap 50.
The wreckage was covered under double waved yellow flags, meaning for the first time this year a race ended at racing pace.
Vettel’s second win
Vettel and Webber were able to manage their cars to the flag while Button, struggling with low tyre temperatures, was third.
Fourth for Barrichello keeps him second in the championship. A chaotic race had a surprisingly uniform conclusion – two Red Bulls, two Brawns and then two McLarens, Kovalainen beating Hamilton after finally getting further than lap one for the first time this year.
Glock recovered to take seventh ahead of Buemi who, aside from nearly swiping his victorious half-team mate out of the race, had a strong race in the kind of conditions where he made a name for himself in GP2 last year.
Alonso’s strategy gamble failed, leaving him ninth, ahead of Raikkonen. It was another miserable weekend for Ferrari as Massa retired on lap 23 having climbed from 13th to third.
Bourdais was once again out-shone by his rookie team mate and finished 11th. Heidfeld clocked up yet another finish but there was little else to smile about at BMW with Kubica behind in 13th.
Giancarlo Fisichella was 14th, failing to emulate his younger team mate’s speed in the wet but at least bringing the car home. Rosberg and Piquet were the last of the runners ahead of Sutil.
Button retains his lead in the championship but will Red Bull be able to repeat their wet weather performance in the Bahraini desert? We’ll find out in just seven days’ time.
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