First front row start since his comeback makes Raikkonen a strong contender for victory

2013 Chinese Grand Prix pre-race analysis

Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus, Shanghai, 2013Although not the most thrilling session ever witnessed, qualifying laid the groundwork for what should be an exciting race.

Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso are poised to do battle from the front three positions.

Further back Sebastian Vettel believes starting on medium compound tyres will give him a strategic advantage – but he starts from the fifth row. And Mark Webber will have to repeat his climb through the field of 2011 after being relegated to the back of the pack.

The start

Hamilton starts from pole position at Shanghai for the third time in his career. Providing he gets off the line well he should be able to hold the lead at least as far as turn one, as it’s a short run to the first corner and not a bend which invites overtaking moves.

Raikkonen will be alert to the threat from Alonso behind him. The Ferrari driver usually gets off the line well and is perfectly set up for one of his typical moves around the outside at the start.

Those three will all start on the soft tyres they qualified on, as well as Nico Rosberg, Felipe Massa, Romain Grosjean and Daniel Ricciardo. Jenson Button will be on the medium compound tyres.

Vettel and Nico Hulkenberg have free choice of tyres having not set times in Q3, as do the rest of the drivers. Vettel has already indicated he will start on mediums.

Strategy

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Shanghai, 2013Hamilton expects he will be vulnerable to Raikkonen and Alonso in the opening phase of the race – particularly the Lotus, which has been able to run the soft tyres for longer than its rivals.

If he can soak up the pressure from them for what is likely to be a brief opening stint on soft tyres he should be in better shape on the medium tyres.

But the near-1.4km acceleration zone leading to the turn 14 hairpin would be difficult enough to defend on even without a DRS zone halfway along it and another one on the pit straight. An early safety car period would be a welcome sight for the Mercedes driver in this scenario.

Raikkonen used the Lotus’s race pace to excellent effect in Australia, winning from seventh on the grid. Romain Grosjean showed its potential in Malaysia, running a comparable pace to the leaders despite being delayed early on. Starting from the front row for the first time since his comeback, Raikkonen is in a strong position to win.

Vettel’s progress from ninth on the grid will be especially interesting. His first priority will be to clear Button’s McLaren – DRS should allow him to overcome the Red Bull’s usual straight line speed deficit (see table below).

After that running ‘off-strategy’ should give him greater opportunity to run in clear air and make up time. But, as we saw with Adrian Sutil in Australia, the cost of postponing the inevitable stint on the softer tyres can be high.

Two years ago Webber climbed from 18th on the grid to finish on the podium at Shanghai. But he was pessimistic about his prospects for a repeat even before he lost another eight places:

“I think in 2011 I was probably in a unique position where I had probably more tyres than other people,” he said.

His rivals have also approached qualifying from the point of view of trying to save as many tyres as possible: “I’m up against that type of strategy as well in terms of my position. Might make it a little more difficult but I”m looking forward to the challenge. A lot of gearbox to look at tomorrow and try to make my way forward.”

Qualifying times in full

Ricciardo was pleased to get Toro Rosso back in the top ten for the first time in almost a year. But his previous best qualifying performance – sixth in Bahrain last year – was a precursor to a disastrous first lap in which he lost ten places. “I’ll give it all I’ve got to make the most of this seventh place on the grid,” he said.

Driver Car Q1 Q2 (vs Q1) Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’35.793 1’35.078 (-0.715) 1’34.484 (-0.594)
2 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1’37.046 1’35.659 (-1.387) 1’34.761 (-0.898)
3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’36.253 1’35.148 (-1.105) 1’34.788 (-0.360)
4 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’35.959 1’35.537 (-0.422) 1’34.861 (-0.676)
5 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1’35.972 1’35.403 (-0.569) 1’34.933 (-0.470)
6 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1’36.929 1’36.065 (-0.864) 1’35.364 (-0.701)
7 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1’36.993 1’36.258 (-0.735) 1’35.998 (-0.260)
8 Jenson Button McLaren 1’36.667 1’35.784 (-0.883) 2’05.673 (+29.889)
9 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1’36.537 1’35.343 (-1.194)
10 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1’36.985 1’36.261 (-0.724)
11 Paul di Resta Force India 1’37.478 1’36.287 (-1.191)
12 Sergio Perez McLaren 1’36.952 1’36.314 (-0.638)
13 Adrian Sutil Force India 1’37.349 1’36.405 (-0.944)
14 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1’37.281 1’37.139 (-0.142)
15 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1’37.508 1’37.199 (-0.309)
16 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1’37.769
17 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1’37.990
18 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1’38.780
19 Max Chilton Marussia 1’39.537
20 Charles Pic Caterham 1’39.614
21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1’39.660
22 Mark Webber Red Bull 1’36.148 1’36.679 (+0.531)

Sector times

Unusually, despite taking pole position by almost three tenths of a second, Hamilton was not fastest of all in any of the three sectors. But he did produce his three quickest times on his pole position lap.

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton 24.796 (2) 28.293 (2) 41.395 (2)
Kimi Raikkonen 24.604 (1) 28.610 (6) 41.547 (3)
Fernando Alonso 25.019 (5) 28.384 (4) 41.362 (1)
Nico Rosberg 24.875 (3) 28.305 (3) 41.624 (4)
Felipe Massa 25.020 (6) 28.287 (1) 41.626 (5)
Romain Grosjean 24.963 (4) 28.636 (7) 41.765 (8)
Daniel Ricciardo 25.249 (10) 28.818 (8) 41.864 (9)
Jenson Button 25.292 (12) 28.831 (9) 41.661 (6)
Sebastian Vettel 25.053 (7) 28.588 (5) 41.702 (7)
Nico Hulkenberg 25.412 (14) 28.960 (11) 41.889 (11)
Paul di Resta 25.232 (9) 29.158 (16) 41.873 (10)
Sergio Perez 25.336 (13) 29.068 (13) 41.910 (12)
Adrian Sutil 25.253 (11) 29.078 (14) 42.074 (14)
Pastor Maldonado 25.482 (16) 29.061 (12) 42.302 (15)
Jean-Eric Vergne 25.471 (15) 29.124 (15) 42.394 (16)
Valtteri Bottas 25.864 (18) 29.382 (17) 42.523 (18)
Esteban Gutierrez 25.652 (17) 29.670 (18) 42.440 (17)
Jules Bianchi 25.895 (19) 29.848 (19) 42.854 (19)
Max Chilton 26.101 (21) 29.955 (20) 43.481 (22)
Charles Pic 26.160 (22) 30.283 (22) 43.012 (20)
Giedo van der Garde 26.049 (20) 30.181 (21) 43.136 (21)
Mark Webber 25.227 (8) 28.897 (10) 42.024 (13)

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 319.8 (198.7)
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 319.4 (198.5) -0.4
3 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 319.0 (198.2) -0.8
4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 319.0 (198.2) -0.8
5 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 318.7 (198.0) -1.1
6 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 318.4 (197.8) -1.4
7 Paul di Resta Force India 317.6 (197.3) -2.2
8 Adrian Sutil Force India 317.5 (197.3) -2.3
9 Jules Bianchi Marussia 317.2 (197.1) -2.6
10 Romain Grosjean Lotus 317.2 (197.1) -2.6
11 Max Chilton Marussia 317.0 (197.0) -2.8
12 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 317.0 (197.0) -2.8
13 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 316.1 (196.4) -3.7
14 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 316.1 (196.4) -3.7
15 Sergio Perez McLaren 315.5 (196.0) -4.3
16 Charles Pic Caterham 314.6 (195.5) -5.2
17 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 314.1 (195.2) -5.7
18 Jenson Button McLaren 311.5 (193.6) -8.3
19 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 310.2 (192.7) -9.6
20 Mark Webber Red Bull 309.8 (192.5) -10.0
21 Pastor Maldonado Williams 308.8 (191.9) -11.0
22 Valtteri Bottas Williams 308.7 (191.8) -11.1

Over to you

Who do you think will come out on the top in Shanghai? How will the Red Bull drivers fare from their compromised starting positions?

Share your views on the Chinese Grand Prix in the comments.

2013 Chinese Grand Prix

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Images ?é?® Lotus/LAT, Daimler/Hoch Zwei

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67 comments on First front row start since his comeback makes Raikkonen a strong contender for victory

  1. Yappy said on 14th April 2013, 4:19

    Considering Kimi’s race’s last year were compromised by bad qualifying. I suspect he will be the one to watch. Does anyone know of the rumour that Button will be pitting at Merc since they offer better service. It is working for Lewis at the moment.

  2. wsrgo (@wsrgo) said on 14th April 2013, 5:49

    Not sure of Vettel’s strategy. He will be running softs at the end, a time when there’ll be a lot of marbles off-track…

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