Looking at the formbook, the China GP should have been easy to predict. Red Bull had again dominated qualifying with a 1-2 for Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, while challengers McLaren were tucked away on row three of the grid.
However, once again the weather played its hand, creating a tyre choice lottery that the frontrunners lost. Jenson Button and his crew got the calls right every time.
Lewis Hamilton once again drove his heart out, but his performance was patchy. Lewis’s race up the order, passing among others, Rubens Barrichello, Adrian Sutil, Michael Schumacher, Webber, Vettel, Robert Kubica and finally after a spirited battle, Nico Rosberg, was spectacular.
However, banging wheels in the pitlane with rival Vettel showed a distinct lack of common sense. Both drivers were later reprimanded by the stewards. Vettel for squeezing Hamilton as he came out of his pit box and Hamilton for not backing off and carrying on wheel-to-wheel at 100kph as mechanics stepped back into their pit garages to take cover.
Hamilton wasn’t the only driver to be hobbled by poor tyre timing. Neither Red Bull driver recovered from their premature change to intermediate wet-weather tyres, a subsequent pit stop to revert to dry tyres, then fast wearing intermediates.
One of Fernando Alonso’s five recorded visits to the pitlane was to serve a drive through penalty, for ‘anticipating’ the race start a little prematurely.
When the safety car was deployed for the second time, the two Ferraris were in convoy, but Alonso muscled his way past, forcing Felipe Massa onto the grass as the two cars headed into the pitlane. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. It gave Alonso a track position that allowed him to continue his fight up the order to an eventual fourth place.
Meanwhile Rosberg had, like Button, elected to stay on slick tyres when the first of the rain showers precipitated the initial round of pit stops. It was a strategy that saw Rosberg take the car into the race lead and he held on for his second successive third place.
Also benefiting from the strategy, Kubica, who finished fifth and the Russian rookie Vitaly Petrov again punched above the Renaults’ metaphorical weight. For me, Petrov, who ran in fourth before a late race spin dropped him to seventh, delivered one of the drives of the day.
However, the biggest disappointment may have been Force India, who failed to score championship points for the first time this season. For Adrian Sutil, it was close. Eleventh place was just one away from a point, but Vitantonio Liuzzi had a weekend for forget, with locked brakes precipitating a three-car accident on the opening lap.