Jenson Button and Brawn may have been the stars of the first two races, but now there’s a new kid on the block. As rivals slipped and slid on the rain-soaked Shanghai International Circuit, Sebastian Vettel dominated the China Grand Prix in what was quite simply, a perfect performance.
It was a masterful drive that has raised comments that Vettel might be a successor to Michael Schumacher as the next German world champion. I can think of no reason to doubt the logic.
As at Monza last season, Vettel showed a pace in the atrocious conditions which was simply spellbinding. He seemed to be able to stretch his advantage at will. Just before half distance, a slip-up dropped his team-mate Mark Webber to third place behind Button.
Vettel immediately sensed that he could extend his advantage as Webber battled to re-pass the Brawn car. Sebastian immediately raised his pace to a full seven seconds a lap faster than any other car in the field. It ensured he had a 13-second cushion over his hard-charging team-mate the rest of the way to the chequered flag.
While a wet race can sometimes disguise a second-rate car, the Red Bull team has created a car that is equally impressive on a dry track. Despite suffering drive shaft problems that restricted him to just 10 laps in the whole of the qualifying, Vettel still nailed pole position.
The pace of the Red Bull cars in Q2, the second leg of qualifying when all the cars carry a minimum fuel load, was even more impressive. Vettel and Webber were 1-2, ahead of Rubens Barrichello. He led a pursuing pack, which was covered by just half a second.
Vettel also had lady luck riding with him. When the safety car intervened on lap 19 after Robert Kubica had hit the back of Jarno Trulli’s Toyota, the field was running in a convoy when Toro Rosso rookie Sebastien Buemi, drove into the back of Vettel’s car.
For a moment, it was like a repeat of Japan 2007, when Vettel clashed with Mark Webber behind the safety car, robbing them both of likely podium finishes. This time though, both the Red Bull and the Toro Rosso survived. It was the only serious threat to Vettel’s success all weekend.
If Vettel was lucky, there were plenty who could count themselves unlucky too. Frankly, for anyone with a connection to Ferrari, Shanghai will be a weekend to forget. Felipe Massa fought his way up the order after starting a lowly 13th, only for his engine to die while following the safety car. Kimi Raikkonen struggled home in 10th, with a misfiring engine and excessive tyre wear adding to his woes.
Behind the Red Bulls and Brawns, fifth and sixth places may mark the start of a renaissance for McLaren. Meanwhile Renault, Williams and Toyota sank without trace in the Shanghai puddles, Timo Glock was the only points’ scorer from the three teams, taking seventh after starting from the pitlane.
Adrian Sutil looked all set to score Force India’s first world championship points, running in a strong sixth place with just a handful of laps to go. Instead there was anguish in the team garage when the car caught just one pool of water too many and aquaplaned into the tyre wall.
Steve Slater is a STAR Sports F1 race commentator.