Safety car spares Hamilton and Alonso’s blushes (Chinese Grand Prix analysis)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

The second safety car period gave Hamilton the opportunity to attack Kubica
The second safety car period gave Hamilton the opportunity to attack Kubica

Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso owed their large points hauls in Shanghai at least partly thanks to the second appearance of the safety car.

The erased the huge amount of time they had lost with extra pit stops at the start of the race and, in Alonso’s case, a penalty for jumping the start.

But Robert Kubica was left to rue the second safety car period which ultimately cost him a podium finish.

The start

Chinese Grand Prix - lap 1 position change
Chinese Grand Prix - lap 1 position change (click to enlarge)

As mentioned in the pre-race analysis, the Shanghai layout tends to keep the cars in grid order at the start. Sure enough, the major changes on the first lap came because of Fernando Alonso’s jumped start and the crash which eliminated Vitantonio Liuzzi, Sebastien Buemi and Kamui Kobayashi.

However Mark Webber did manage to get his revenge on team mate Sebastian Vettel by passing him at the start, as Vettel did to him at Sepang two weeks ago.

Top three drivers’ lap times

Chinese Grand Prix- top three drivers' lap times
Chinese Grand Prix- top three drivers' lap times (click to enlarge)

Hamilton’s off-the-chart spike on laps six and seven show where he lost a huge amount of time to leaders Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button because of his early switch to intermediate tyres.

Once back on slicks he was able to lap much quicker than them whenever he found clear air. He set the fastest lap of the race very early, on lap 13, when the track was at its driest.

Lap 19 was Rosberg’s undoing as he ran off the track and was subsequently passed by Button. The five seconds he lost on that lap are obscured on the chart because of the pit stop he made immediately afterwards.

The McLaren drivers made their final pit stops on laps 37 (Hamilton) and 38 (Button). From that point on it was a straight race to the flag between them. Button pulled away initially, pulling a ten second lead over his team mate.

But he went off the track on lap 51 at the hairpin and from that point on Hamilton was quicker. It’s likely he spent the first part of this stint preserving his tyres knowing how long they’d have to last – look at the wear Webber suffered having made his final stop for intermediates two laps before Hamilton.

On the final lap Hamilton took a second out of his team mate’s lead to finish within 1.5 seconds of Button. What we don’t know is whether the team were telling them to cool it while Hamilton pressed on, hoping his team mate would slip up again.

Pit stops

2010 Chinese Grand Prix pit stops
2010 Chinese Grand Prix pit stops (click to enlarge)

The unpredictable weather made a mockery of several teams’ strategists, particularly those who made early stops for intermediate tyres and then returned to the pits only a couple of laps later to go back to slicks.

By the end of the race Jaime Alguersuari and Nico H???lkenberg took the record with six visits to the pits each. Alonso finished fourth despite pitting three times in the first six laps.

As the chart above shows Renault were the only team to get the call right for both their cars. Button, Rosberg, Pedro de la Rosa and Heikki Kovalainen also stayed out – the Lotus driver was rewarded with a short-lived elevation to the dizzy heights of sixth place on lap eight.

Lap chart

Chinese Grand Prix lap chart
Chinese Grand Prix lap chart (click to enlarge)

The different fortunes of the two Ferrari drivers is striking. Their strategies were similar but despite the added advantage of a drive-through penalty Alonso battled through the field much more effectively than his team mate.

Felipe Massa ended the race with the Red Bulls and Renaults separating him from his team mate.

After reaching sixth Kovalainen’s tumble back down the running order was inevitable. But the much-delayed H???lkenberg never caught the Lotus driver, ending the race nine seconds behind the Finn.

Interactive race chart

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The interactive race chart makes it easy to see the state of play before that crucial second safety car period. Hover over lap 21 to see just how far ahead Button and Rosberg were before the safety car was summoned so the marshals could recover debris from Jaime Alguersuari’s car.

At this point Hamilton, seventh, was 54 seconds behind and Alonso, tenth, was 76 seconds adrift. Without the safety car, Rosberg and Kubica would have remained out of Hamilton’s reach and Alonso might not even have got past Vitaly Petrov.

It takes nothing away from the quality of their drives which were distinguished by few mistakes and some excellent passes. But you can see why Renault are regretting Kubica’s lost podium.

2010 Chinese Grand Prix

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94 comments on “Safety car spares Hamilton and Alonso’s blushes (Chinese Grand Prix analysis)”

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  1. I meant barcelona

  2. a bit off topic….but did any one watch the race via SPEED? i felt their coverage is way below par compared to BBC. when the second safety car was out i had no idea why, because they had gone to a commercial break….although i assumed it was because of buemi eventually. also the fact that they seem to go to commercials every 5mins missing key position changes etc makes the race more confusing. and while i have them under a microscope, the commentators have to correct themselves continuously during a race with the wrong facts which becomes really annoying!!

    1. Ah, I see this is your first experience watching SPEED…

      Its been this way for years, wait until FOX broadcasts the British GP 5hrs after it happens cutting the interviews to show NASCAR practice.

  3. “but did any one watch the race via SPEED? i felt their coverage is way below par compared to BBC.”

    SpeedTV is absolutely horrible compared to other coverage.

    I saw one writer here mention that the coverage he watched was dominated by talk of the Alonso drive-thru. Not so with Speed. The barely mentioned it when it happened. They ignored it the rest of the race. They played only one camera angle which showed no jumping then didn’t wuestion the stewards’ decision when it happened only a few laps later.

    I hate Steve Matchett and wish he would at least talk less if not die (okay maybe that’s too harsh … no, he really needs to go).

    Bob Varsha is okay, he’s more the all-around Speed anchor and is always deferential and humble. He knows what he doesn’t know and that he lacks any particular expertise.

    I like the new pit-guy and the the British guy that filled in for Varsha last week, I think it is “Leigh Diffey”?

    But the pit-guy isn’t a choice of SpeedTV. He got the job when that complete sap, Peter Windsor left to try to start F1USA. Oh! Thank The Lord in Heaven for that.

    And David Hobbs. David Hobbs is good and funny and has a wealth of experience as a driver and commentator, but I fear last year was the end of the line. He increasingly shows signs of early-onset Alzheimer’s.

    He can’t tell the difference between Alonso and Massa when the numbers and readouts on on the screen in front of him and the two are 7 places apart. He has this problem with all the drivers and teams. This is bizarre to me because this is HIS job. Not mine. I’m the spectator.

    I mean Jesus. Massa and Hamilton wear yellow helmets. Schu wears a red one. This isn’t that hard. Yesterday he couldn’t tell the difference between Aglasueri (spelling) and Buemi. Okay, maybe I’m making too big a deal of it. But it is annoying.

    SpeedTV sucks, but I have no other choice, unless I actually wanted to fly to Shanghai and sit in the rain.

    1. Lol. I’m not that bothered by it, but I know exactly what you mean about David Hobbs, I’m constantly pointing out to my girlfriend during races that he’s in fact talking about the opposite team member in most cases when he refers to a driver. It’s gotten to the point where I just find it funny, and am genuinely surprised if he gets a driver right. Once in a while he even notices his mistake and corrects himself, or Matchett will correct him.

    2. However, Steve Matchett’s books about his own F1 experiences as a mechanic are very entertaining.

      Maybe you would consider subscribing for a UK proxy address so you can watch the F1 races on your laptop? The beauty of it is that it is location-independent and you get all the BBC pre-race, race and post-race from their website. Worth it at £5 per month. (There may be cheaper ones, or free ones, I don’t know.)

  4. K. Chandra Shekhar
    19th April 2010, 4:27

    Just before the last lap Lewis was told on the radio that heavy rain was expected and to drive carefully. Is this a coded one NOT to race Button?

    1. I have my suspicions…

    2. Gwion Daniel
      19th April 2010, 14:17

      I was wondering that, but since Hamilton was still setting quick laps I thought nothing more of it.

  5. So looks like there’s no need to ammend the rules for 2010. Fantastic China GP race.
    There are more than enough comments from this race. All I want to say is, I vote Alonso as driver of the China GP, a repeat from Malaysia. I shan’t say the IFFY things.

  6. Prisoner Monkeys
    19th April 2010, 8:27

    Who’d have thought that Shanghai could hae given us one of the best races of the modern era?

    We’ve been a bit spoiled of late: three Grands Prix, two great – and one good – races.

    1. Thanks the rain gods. I suspect come Catalunya they won’t be smiling on us…

      1. Furthermore, the circuit is boring…(I think last year, Mark Webber said the circuit is boring if I remember correctly)

  7. No mention of Schumacher in the analysis – that speaks volumes.

    The guy is too old to drive without TC. It’s even clearer in the wet.

  8. Massa was the poor one again. as fernando caught him before the SC despite his penalty

    yet again fernando has had troubles(this time his own fault) but still fernando has been able to catch massa very quickly. in oz alonso was last and yet 20 laps later he was massa tail. not good performances from massa so far

  9. I suspect Ferrari is going to replace Massa with either Kubica, Vettel, or Ferrari’s academic drivers (Mirko Bortolotti or Jules Bianchi.)

  10. rashid hasan
    19th April 2010, 15:55

    go hamilton go. there is no such thing as hamilton disease. it’s hamilton phenomenon. tifosi tifosa? who cares who they are…only themselves

    1. See, comments like these targeted at other F1 fans like that are why everyone else likes to call it “hamilton disease”.

  11. Very nice site, informative w/the chart/analysis. Good race, yet the weather played a big part. Great drive from Alonso although he messed up his own race at the start..on some of the comments, on Rosberg, he really hasnt raced anyone yet, by good calls from the pit and staying out of trouble, he managed 2 podiums…on Button, where did he finish the last “dry” race? On LH, sure he does some great passes, kills his tires being “spectacular” and has nothing left for the end..Kubiza is very good..Massa needs to up his game..on Shue, he’ll get used to the new F1..I have to watch on Speed, I like the guys, way too many commercials, especially with 2 laps to go..think they use the feed. If Alonso didnt jump the start, Im afraid he may have won this hands down.

  12. I was interested in the speed trap data from Live Timing:

    HAM 318
    BAR 313
    VET 310
    MAS 310
    ALG 308
    ALO 307

    Button is not on the list. Did he have a higher downforce setting than Hamilton, anticipating wetter conditions?

    1. i thought that Hamilton was having a wet set up on Saturday?

  13. Suggestions:

    Put the Pit Stops chart in finishing order so we can see at a glance if some strategies were better than others.

    Note the lap no’s the SC was deployed. On the interactive lap chart it’s not always clear whether a blip is due to the SC or the leader pitting. In fact, if SC periods could be greyed on the chart, that would be great.

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