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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