Grand Prix of China. Lewis Hamilton Prevails.

Formula One - A View From the Paddock

April 17, 2011, 5:10 am— Updated: 12:08 am –>

Lewis Hamilton Breaks Vettel’s Domination, Winning Chinese Grand Prix

5:32 a.m. | Updated
SHANGHAI – This time it was confirmed: The new rules have turned Formula One racing into a festival of incessant passing, exchanges of position, pit stops and power bursts.
From the first lap to the last, the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday saw the drivers, both rivals and teammates, continually exchange positions, whether it was on the track or in the pits. And for the first time this season, it ended with the man who started third on the grid — not on pole — winning the race, as Lewis Hamilton broke Sebastian Vettel’s winning streak.
‘‘You can never ever imagine a race like today and what happened throughout the race,’’ Hamilton said. ‘‘I am very, very happy to be sitting here.’’
It was Hamilton’s 15th career victory and his first since the Belgian Grand Prix last year. He became the first driver to win the Chinese Grand Prix twice since its inception in 2004, after also claiming victory in 2008.
After Vettel, the winner of the first two races of the season, again dominated the qualifying session Saturday to start on the pole, the German driver finally ran into trouble when his Red Bull car minutely hesitated at the start of the race. That was all it took to allow both McLaren drivers, Jenson Button and Hamilton, to pass Vettel by the first corner, with Button taking the lead.
‘‘My initial launch was not 100 percent,’’ Vettel said. ‘‘I had problems to really start going. So I immediately lost position to Jenson. And then Lewis, behind, I tried to defend but at some point you have to give up. It was quite entertaining.’’
In the old Formula One — where it was next to impossible for drivers to pass each other even if they had a faster car — that would have been the end of the story. But just as it looked as if the McLaren drivers had finally dethroned Vettel, the German threw in a few moments of spectacular driving, as he first passed Hamilton on the track and then passed Button in the pit lane.
Button and Vettel entered the pits to change tires at the same moment. Button, however, made a mistake, and drove into Vettel’s pit box area, before moving on to his own.
‘‘I said, ‘What is going on?’’’ Vettel said. ‘‘Because I looked at my box and he pulled over into my slot and I was just hoping for the front jack man to indicate to him, ‘Keep going, you’re wrong!’ I lost a little bit of time, but fortunately Jenson realized and I could do my pit stop.’’
Vettel got away just ahead of Button to return to the track in the virtual lead, as he waited for other drivers ahead of him to make their pit stops of the race. But his team, in a desperate effort to outfox the competition, had chosen a different strategy after he ended up behind the McLarens earlier. Vettel made only two pit stops compared with three for Button and Hamilton, and as a result, by the end of the 56-lap race his tires were worn out and he lost speed.
In the last 15 laps, Hamilton took advantage of fresh tires to race past Felipe Massa in a Ferrari and then Nico Rosberg in a Mercedes, before he began his charge after Vettel, who was nearly five seconds ahead of him.
After Lap 48, Hamilton was only 1.6 seconds behind Vettel and driving more than a second faster per lap.
‘‘I had a lot of key moments throughout the stints that I had to maximize,’’ Hamilton said.
At the end of Lap 50, Hamilton made his first effort to pass and nearly got by. But Vettel protected his position. He tried again at the end of Lap 51 but again failed. Finally, on Lap 52 he passed him easily to take a lead he would not relinquish.
‘‘It was quite a nice fight with Lewis twice, down the long straight I was able to just stay ahead,’’ Vettel said. ‘‘But I saw there were seven laps to go and not much I could do.’’
So the race ended in a manner similar to its start, with Vettel losing his lead to a McLaren.
But with constant overtaking up and down the pack, it was a kind of race not seen in Formula One for decades. This was the result of a change in the technical rules this season with the addition of a movable rear wing to allow for a power boost down the straight, and for another power-boost device that reuses kinetic energy stored during braking.
Newly designed tires that wear out more quickly are another factor that have helped change things, as the cars must make more pit stops to change tires. The tire wear also causes drivers to lose speed, so they become vulnerable to being passed.
Another driver who apparently mastered the new formula was the oldest of them all. Michael Schumacher, who qualified his Mercedes in a poor 14th position and nevertheless drove a fantastic race, passing one car after another throughout — including five cars at the start — to finish the race in eighth position. ‘‘That was a lot of racing in one Grand Prix this afternoon and very exciting,’’ Schumacher said. ‘‘I had a lot of fun this afternoon.’’
Mark Webber, in the other Red Bull, also drove brilliantly. The Australian qualified 18th, but finished the race in third after he passed Button in the final lap.
‘‘It’s a different type of racing we have now, but today worked out for me,’’ Webber said. ‘‘It’s easy to say it is a phenomenal top-three drive. But in the end, that’s my job.’’
——–
SHANGHAI – In a stampede of a race with multiple changes of lead and overtaking on track, in the pit and throughout the race, Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes drove to victory in the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday.
After three pole positions and victories at the first two races by Sebastian Vettel, Hamilton final broke the hold of the Red Bull driver to take victory in a race that was unpredictable from beginning to end. Vettel finished a close second, ceding position in the final laps of the race, while Vettel’s teammate, Mark Webber, finished third after starting 18th and passing Jenson Button in the other McLaren Mercedes in the final lap.
It was a wild race from beginning to end as Vettel immediately lost position to Button and Hamilton at the start of the race, only to regain it later, and lose it at the end.
Vettel was on a two-pit stop strategy, while Hamilton made three pit stops. Unfortunately, the strategy cost Vettel the victory as his tires wore out toward the end of the race and he could not compete with the faster McLaren on fresher tires.

   

  Copyright. 2011. The New York Times Company.  All Rights Reserved

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