Mercedes GP bagged their first Grand Prix victory in 57 years this afternoon with a stunning performance courtesy of young German, Nico Rosberg.
The 26-year old overcame opposition from no less than five current and former World Champions to take his maiden Formula One success only a day after claiming his first Pole position in the sport.
Making a clean break from the front row of the grid laid the foundations for his triumph as Rosberg sprinted clear in the opening laps of team-mate Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button, who vaulted from 5th on the grid to 3rd by the first corner. Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton overwhelmed a sluggish Kamui Kobayashi off the line, challenged closely by Mark Webber. In his opening stint Rosberg opened up an impressive lead and left Schumacher trailing him by eight seconds at the time of the first round of pit-stops.
7-time World Champion Schumacher ran out of luck, however, when a faulty wheel-gun left him minus his right-front wheel after his first pit-stop, making him the only retirement of an increasingly captivating Grand Prix. Mark Webber nearly repeated his flying antics of Valencia 2010 when he ran over a kerb rather too harshly and lifted the nose of his Red Bull into the air, but escaped without incident to set up a thrilling multi-car fight for 2nd behind the rampaging Rosberg in the dying minutes of the race. At half distance it seemed Britain’s Jenson Button was all set for a surprise victory after switching to the harder tyre compound and closing to within ten seconds of Rosberg and his Mercedes, and sure enough the 2009 World Champion exited the pits ahead of the German and his own team-mate Lewis Hamilton who had struggled to make progress through backmarkers and traffic fighting for position. However, all was not as it seemed, and when Button made his third and final stop another pitlane error involving a non-functional wheel–gun delayed him in his pit box and cost him valuable time. Exiting the pits Button was involved in a tussle for position in the wake of Rosberg (who, it turned out, was not stopping again) with both the Red Bull cars of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton and the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen. Raikkonen and Vettel were attempting to copy the flying Rosberg by making only two pit-stops, but they came unstuck with less than five laps left to run when their Pirelli tyres became too worn out to continue.
Raikkonen suffered an embarrassing slide from 2nd to 14th in just three laps as he struggled round the circuit over three seconds off the usual pace, with Vettel faring little better as first Button, then Hamilton and eventually Australian Webber all found a way past him, dropping the 2011 title holder to 5th by the chequered flag.
‘This is what F1 is all about.’ said Button after the race. ‘Amazing overtakes. You’ve got four World Champions trying to overtake each other. F1 is in such great shape right now’ he mentioned of the thrilling final laps of the Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton, who won the Chinese Grand Prix in both 2008 and 2011, echoed the positive note of his older team-mate. ‘It’s a positive to have the consistency and if I can keep working as hard as I am then I am sure the wins will come.’ Hamilton claimed 3rd place on the podium behind Button, which continues his commendable approach to Grand Prix racing this year. The 2008 Champion seems to have firmly overcome his difficulties of the past year and now lies at the head of the Championship table, albeit only two points clear of Button.
Ferrari experienced a slump from their Malaysian success as Fernando Alonso, widely acknowledged as arguably the best driver in the sport, struggled his way to a 9th place finish and Brazilian team-mate Felipe Massa endured yet another weekend without reward as he toiled to 13th. The 2008 runner-up has yet to score points this season and surely only has a matter of months left at Ferrari before his time is up. In contrast, Williams commenced premature celebrations for team Patriarch Frank Williams, who is 70 on Monday, by scoring 10 points with a double top ten finish line astern in 7th and 8th behind the impressive Romain Grosjean, who, like Maldonado, came agonisingly close to decent results in both Australia and Malaysia before finally opening his 2012 account in China.
However, there is no doubt that the real plaudits of the day should go to Nico Rosberg and Mercedes, who appear to have conquered the tyre-wear issues experienced so often by the team previously. ‘It’s amazing and very special’ beamed the son of 1982 World Champion Keke Rosberg. ‘The whole weekend has gone fantastically. I was making sure I carried home the race win, there was no point in pushing it when I was so far ahead. The team should get used to it [celebrating] now because there will be more to come!’ Who would bet against him with that optimism? Despite triumphing in China, Mercedes are under no illusions that they are in for a tough fight for the remainder of the 2012 season. ‘It was stunning’ said team boss Ross Brawn immediately after the flag had fallen. ‘We still had the fear with the tyres but he used them perfectly. It was a tragedy with Michael [Schumacher] because he would have been in great shape too.’
Conditions in Shanghai transpired to suit the sleek Silver Arrow this weekend and that may have been fortuitous for Rosberg and his team, but in the high-octane world that is Formula One, opportunities are often sparse and must be grabbed when they happen. There is no doubt that Mercedes achieved just that.
Whatever the future holds for them, the Formula One paddock now heads to Bahrain with another face added to the illustrious hall of fame.
Result (Top 10) – 2012 UBS Chinese Grand Prix
- Nico Rosberg ……….(DEU)…Mercedes AMG Petronas GP
- Jenson Button ………(GBR)…Vodafone Mclaren Mercedes
- Lewis Hamilton …….(GBR)…Vodafone Mclaren Mercedes
- Mark Webber ……….(AUS)…Red Bull Racing Renault
- Sebastian Vettel ……(DEU)…Red Bull Racing Renault
- Romain Grosjean ….(FRA)….Lotus Renault
- Bruno Senna ………..(BRA)….Williams Renault
- Pastor Maldonado.. (VEN)….Williams Renault
- Fernando Alonso…..(ESP)…..Ferrari
- Kamui Kobayashi ….(JAP)….Sauber Ferrari