Chinese GP Analysis: McLaren Noon

Lewis Hamilton has had some stunning victories in his career; the Chinese Grand Prix over the weekend was certainly one he and the world won’t forget in a hurry. It’s hard to believe that at the age of 26, Hamilton far becoming a veteran driver. Having won a championship and spending the better part of two years desperately trying to replicate his 2008 performance, luck has not always been on the Hamilton side of the garage.
The arrival of Jenson Button has certainly kept Hamilton honest. Two world champions within a powerhouse team such as McLaren should have spelt disaster as soon as the ink dried on Button’s contract at the start of 2010. McLaren management would be fortunate for Button and Hamilton’s similar calm demeanour. The world eagerly waits for that inevitable inter-team tangle on the track. Thankfully the two are professional enough to know how to race each other without sending their fellow teammate into an aeroplane accident.
It was good for Formula One to see Hamilton pass Vettel for the lead mid-race on the track, and not in the pit lane. The previous two races in Australia and Malaysia have been unusually dominant, however it is easy to foresee a Schumacher-2004-esque given Vettel’s pace towards the back half of 2010. The race in China may have been an unusual race, but any warm-blooded racing fanatic would dearly love to see the rest of the season unfold like it did in Shanghai.
The Pirelli tyres appeared far more stable than at any point we have seen so far this season. It is perhaps more to do with the teams having a deeper understanding of the unusual characteristics of the tyre whilst still learning the best race strategy to maximise the efficiency of the tyres. Just as the first two races cannot be seen as a foregone conclusion of the state of play in the championship, the Chinese Grand Prix cannot be the sole litmus test for the current formula of racing. It certainly didn’t do the sport any harm, and it was certainly a breakthrough race for many teams and drivers.
Mark Webber’s performance in China was sensational. This has been well publicised and there’s no point further spouting rhetoric of how Webber can still harass Vettel for a shot at the world championship. Webber would probably consider his race in China as the first proper round of the season.
Qualifying amongst the Lotus, Virgin and HRT cars would have shattered Webber’s world. Already on the back foot in the championship hunt and various unflattering comments in the media, his stocks were very low after qualifying. His race performance was the kick-start to a proper championship campaign, and potentially saved his career. Rarely has a driver gone from zero-to-hero within the space of 24 hours. Starting from 18th position, and almost one minute behind the leaders after his first pit stop, few drivers have driven so hard for 3rd place. Webber will be looking to repeating such high performance in Turkey, and an even higher performance when the teams return to Europe.
Perhaps overshadowed by the thrilling climax to the race up the front, the now not-so-new teams barely registered a blip in the race. They could barely generate any bad news, let alone good news. Lotus would have been encouraged by their pace, Mike Gascoyne was certainly proud to voice his pride on Twitter as the rest of the world saw the top five cars fighting for position.
The Virgins were neither remarkable nor unremarkable – they were just there. It is fast becoming apparent that their ambitions CFD only methodology is not paying dividends as quickly as they would like. The car is not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, it is cursed with a lack of downforce. It seems like a simple wrong that could be righted, but every day is a pioneering mission to make their car go faster. HRT finished with both cars, and only two laps behind the leaders. It probably helped that the leaders hardly drove away from the rest of the field either.
The back-to-back Grand Prix was certainly entertaining and the teams will take a well-deserved break before the Turkish Grand Prix. Hopefully within that time, Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel won’t catch the other teams napping. If China managed to defy expectations, than the equally as maligned Turkish Grand Prix is set to take shape as a stunning race to look forward to. 

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