Grid of surprises promises another China thriller

2012 Chinese Grand Prix pre-race analysis

Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber, Shanghai, 2012It’s not often that a dry qualifying session produces a grid quite as surprising as this one.

We have a pair of Mercedes on the front row – though recent form suggests they may struggle to sustain their advantage in the race.

That could open the way for row two starters Kamui Kobayashi and Kimi Raikkonen to seize the intiative.

Lined up behind them are a host of quick drivers looking to break through and score a win, including Jenson Button, Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton.

Last year’s Chinese Grand Prix was rated the most exciting of the year, and this grid promises another gripping Grand Prix in Shanghai.

The start

Nico Rosberg will no doubt be very pleased with his maiden pole position but he should beware – the pole sitter at this race has been third at the end of lap one in the last two years.

Granted, on one occasion that was because Fernando Alonso had jumped the start.

But even so Rosberg should be prepared to fend off Michael Schumacher and Kamui Kobayashi, who tend to make good starts.

As the racing line crosses the start/finish area, neither side has a particularly strong advantage over the other. The expected overnight rain will also have washed away the surface deposits of rubber and evened out the differences between the two.


Tomorrow’s race is set to be dry and all nine of the drivers who set times in Q3 will start on the soft tyres.

Pole sitter Rosberg saved a set of new soft tyres by only doing a single lap in Q3. This should help him in the race, but even so Mercedes are concerned over their car’s performance over a race distance.

They had excess tyre degradation in Australia, and exhibited signs of the same in practice yesterday. However in Malaysia they had the opposite problem – failing to heat the tyres sufficiently, which meant they couldn’t get them into the operating window.

If Mercedes have cracked that problem – and it’s a big ‘if’ – they’re in a good position for the race.

Sauber have one of the kindest cars to its tyres, which should play into Kobayashi’s hands – especially if he can get away with making one fewer pit stop than his rivals.

Lotus’s form this weekend has been much harder to read. They binned several of their planned upgrades and their performance has varied as the temperature has risen and fallen. But the team came into this weekend hoping for a “normal” race in which they could show off their potential and so far they look likely to get it.

Lewis Hamilton was quick throughout practice and is optimistic about his chances despite being relegated to seventh on the grid: “I?ve set my car up to be at its strongest in the race.

“So, although Jenson and I are a little bit further back than we?d like, and we?ve got a bit of work to do, we can still make it. There?s a good group of drivers ahead of us on the grid, but we?re right with them in terms of race pace.

“This is a track where you can overtake, and we?ve got DRS too ?ǣ so I?m massively excited about tomorrow.”

He’s not the only one. This has the makings of a humdinger of a race.

Qualifying times in full

Driver Car Q1 Q2 (vs Q1) Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’36.875 1’35.725 (-1.150) 1’35.121 (-0.604)
2 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1’36.763 1’35.902 (-0.861) 1’35.626 (-0.276)
3 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1’36.797 1’35.794 (-1.003) 1’35.691 (-0.103)
4 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1’36.863 1’35.853 (-1.010) 1’35.784 (-0.069)
5 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1’36.850 1’35.921 (-0.929) 1’35.898 (-0.023)
6 Jenson Button McLaren 1’36.746 1’35.942 (-0.804) 1’36.191 (+0.249)
7 Mark Webber Red Bull 1’36.682 1’35.700 (-0.982) 1’36.290 (+0.590)
8 Sergio Perez Sauber 1’36.198 1’35.831 (-0.367) 1’36.524 (+0.693)
9 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’36.292 1’35.982 (-0.310) 1’36.622 (+0.640)
10 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1’36.343 1’35.903 (-0.440)
11 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1’36.911 1’36.031 (-0.880)
12 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1’36.556 1’36.255 (-0.301)
13 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1’36.528 1’36.283 (-0.245)
14 Bruno Senna Williams 1’36.674 1’36.289 (-0.385)
15 Paul di Resta Force India 1’36.639 1’36.317 (-0.322)
16 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1’36.921 1’36.745 (-0.176)
17 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1’36.933 1’36.956 (+0.023)
18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1’37.714
19 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1’38.463
20 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1’38.677
21 Timo Glock Marussia 1’39.282
22 Charles Pic Marussia 1’39.717
23 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1’40.411
24 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1’41.000

A change in track temperature in Q3 caught several drivers out. The temperature fell during the session which meant that those who set a lap early on enjoyed the best conditions.

Those who waited until later in the session generally improved very little on their Q2 times, or were slower. Sergio Perez was once such case: “After the previous runs had been very promising, on the final lap in Q3, when I was on a fresh set of soft tyres, I suddenly had understeer. I don?t know where this came from.”

The wind also changed direction between the two sessions, which goes some way towards explaining how we went from having the top 11 cars covered by three-tenths of a second in Q2, to the first two separated by twice as much in Q3.

Romain Grosjean did not set a time in Q3 as his mistake in Q2 meant he has already used all his fresh sets of soft tyres.

Having been 18th in final practice, Felipe Massa was relieved to qualify 12th, even if he didn’t understand why: “In the afternoon, the situation improved, the car had much more grip and I managed to be more competitive, but I couldn?t say exactly why. Probably the track conditions changed in a way that suited us.”

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Nico Rosberg 25.087 (2) 28.397 (1) 41.637 (1)
Lewis Hamilton 25.187 (8) 28.542 (4) 41.845 (2)
Michael Schumacher 25.148 (4) 28.474 (2) 41.959 (4)
Kamui Kobayashi 25.287 (11) 28.565 (5) 41.904 (3)
Kimi Raikkonen 25.029 (1) 28.613 (11) 42.192 (13)
Jenson Button 25.164 (5) 28.680 (13) 42.018 (6)
Mark Webber 25.125 (3) 28.539 (3) 42.036 (7)
Sergio Perez 25.194 (9) 28.605 (10) 41.987 (5)
Fernando Alonso 25.256 (10) 28.590 (7) 42.136 (10)
Romain Grosjean 25.183 (6) 28.595 (8) 42.125 (9)
Sebastian Vettel 25.184 (7) 28.572 (6) 42.136 (10)
Felipe Massa 25.400 (16) 28.614 (12) 42.228 (14)
Pastor Maldonado 25.346 (13) 28.690 (14) 42.162 (12)
Bruno Senna 25.363 (15) 28.603 (9) 42.248 (15)
Paul di Resta 25.347 (14) 28.927 (15) 42.043 (8)
Nico Hulkenberg 25.327 (12) 28.955 (17) 42.316 (16)
Daniel Ricciardo 25.527 (17) 28.929 (16) 42.406 (17)
Jean-Eric Vergne 25.608 (18) 29.294 (18) 42.812 (18)
Heikki Kovalainen 25.911 (19) 29.614 (19) 42.938 (19)
Vitaly Petrov 25.991 (20) 29.681 (21) 43.005 (20)
Timo Glock 26.190 (22) 29.670 (20) 43.351 (21)
Charles Pic 26.168 (21) 29.852 (22) 43.628 (22)
Pedro de la Rosa 26.231 (23) 30.176 (23) 43.821 (23)
Narain Karthikeyan 26.619 (24) 30.339 (24) 43.985 (24)

Sebastian Vettel had the pace to reach Q3: had he set his three fastest sector times on the same lap in Q2 he would have made it into the final ten by nine-hundredths of a second.

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Sergio Perez Sauber 322.4 (200.3)
2 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 319.6 (198.6) -2.8
3 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 319.4 (198.5) -3.0
4 Romain Grosjean Lotus 318.4 (197.8) -4.0
5 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 316.8 (196.9) -5.6
6 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 315.9 (196.3) -6.5
7 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 315.8 (196.2) -6.6
8 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 314.9 (195.7) -7.5
9 Bruno Senna Williams 314.5 (195.4) -7.9
10 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 314.1 (195.2) -8.3
11 Pastor Maldonado Williams 313.9 (195.0) -8.5
12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 313.8 (195.0) -8.6
13 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 313.8 (195.0) -8.6
14 Paul di Resta Force India 313.5 (194.8) -8.9
15 Jenson Button McLaren 313.4 (194.7) -9.0
16 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 313.2 (194.6) -9.2
17 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 312.7 (194.3) -9.7
18 Felipe Massa Ferrari 312.6 (194.2) -9.8
19 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 311.5 (193.6) -10.9
20 Mark Webber Red Bull 311.3 (193.4) -11.1
21 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 311.0 (193.2) -11.4
22 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 310.3 (192.8) -12.1
23 Timo Glock Marussia 307.8 (191.3) -14.6
24 Charles Pic Marussia 307.7 (191.2) -14.7

Mercedes were the fastest cars through the speed trap on Friday, but now appear in the middle of the list. Most likely they have added downforce which may ease their tyre degradation problems.

Significantly, when Hamilton asked during Q3 where he needed to find time to Rosberg, he was told the Mercedes was around 0.15s quicker in all three sectors, whereas before its advantage had been concentrated in sector three with its long straight.

Sauber appear to have gone in the opposite direction to Mercedes. Before the weekend began Perez voiced concers about the car’s straight-line speed.

2012 Chinese Grand Prix – Your view

Who do you think will win the Chinese Grand Prix?

Can the Mercedes drivers look after their tyres and finish on the podium – or even win?

Have your say in the comments.

2012 Chinese Grand Prix

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50 comments on Grid of surprises promises another China thriller

  1. Lars (@neslepax) said on 14th April 2012, 21:07

    Very exciting quali session, especially Q2. I have a new prediction for tomorrow. Grosjean will either ruin Alonso or Vettels race in turn 1 tomorrow, depending on if he gets off the line slowly or not. A bit harsh maybe, but it seemed to me he had many moments when he misjudges the breaking points so far this weekend. Or am I just judgemental and overly critical basing it on previous weekends?

    Anyway, I have really high hopes for the race! :)

  2. Lothario said on 14th April 2012, 21:25

    I cannot wait for Canada!

  3. Yoshisune (@yobo01) said on 14th April 2012, 22:37

    I think that Hamilton or Button will win, Mclaren seems so strong in race pace. And it is a shame, because I would love to see anyone in the first two rows winning.

  4. ducatiusa (@ducatiusa) said on 14th April 2012, 22:48

    1 Button
    2 Kobayashi
    3 Alonso.
    I’M I Crazy??? Just Maybe…but that would a be a Great Race.
    I can’t wait to:
    1) Get up around 4 am (i”M in Florida)
    2) Watch the race and scream waking up kids and wife
    3) Go back to bed when is getting daylight out side and wife is already bitching at me.
    4) have kids waking me up just after 2 hrs of sleep and STILL have the wife bitching because by now I”M CRANKY because “you didn’t get to sleep because of the stupid F1″
    5) going thru the day waiting to see the highlight of the race in the evening.

  5. Häkä said on 15th April 2012, 1:16

    Weird that Mercedes is so slow on straight with their drs-duct and all but still can take the pole with such a cap. I really dont get it. Do they have a such a massive amount of downforce that even with the drs-duct they dont have best top speeds?.

    • Mike (@mike) said on 15th April 2012, 5:09

      Well, the DRS trick allows then to go faster down the straights. However they have decided to pile on the down force to make them more competitive during the first two sectors. Which slows them down through the speed trap.

      The DRS-duct still is helping their top speed, it’s just they have put so much down force on the car that it cancels it out.

  6. Ben (@dirtyscarab) said on 15th April 2012, 1:30


    F1 has been literally turned on it’s head and it’s brilliant! Red Bulls, a McLaren and both Ferrari’s outqualified by Mercs, Saubers and a Lotus. And this in DRY conditions.

    I watched quali today honestly thinking I was hallucinating. I’m a McLaren fan above all but it’s wonderful to see such tight times at the front, and equally wonderful to see Ross Brawn with a smile on his face again.

    We’re in for an epic race and season guys.

  7. Young One said on 15th April 2012, 2:48

    They are starting the race too late and I think rain will def threaten if not even washing them out.

  8. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 15th April 2012, 7:31

    Well put regarding the high speed of Sauber and low speed of Mercedes @keithcollantine It’s such polarising facts that will make for a great racer.

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