After yesterday's qualifying giving us a mixed-up grid, we all knew we'd be in for a treat for China's 2012 grand prix. For the first time since 1955, it was Mercedes locking out the front row of the grid, while the bigger teams were somewhat further down the field. In the mix we had Saubers and Lotus-Renaults, so the prospects for the race were promising.
After the lights went out, Vettel had an absolutely terrible start and slipped from 11th to 15th - a disappointment for the Red Bull fans. However, if you're a fan of German drivers you'll be pleased to know that Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher maintained their place at the front of the field during the first stint. The McLarens also had a pretty good start, and Button and Hamilton made their way towards the front alongside Mark Webber's Red Bull. With all these top drivers at the front, there was a hell of a lot of close racing - it was a miracle that we only had one retirement during the race; Schumacher's spell of bad luck continued with a mistake in the pitstop and ultimately a loose wheel.
If you've not watched the race, you should just to see the epic battle towards the end of the race involving both Lotuses, both Red Bulls and both McLarens. Seeing three F1 cars heading into a corner at the same time is quite a sight to see, especially when getting off-line leads the car into the marbles!
China is a race when it's notoriously difficult to find a good strategy. A two-stop strategy was feasible, however the driver's tyre management would have to be sublime for it to be pulled off. Because of the tyre wear, the majority of the top teams elected for a three-stop - even though they'd lose the time of an extra stop compared to those on the alternative strategy. So, who did what? Well Nico Rosberg ended up on a two-stop strategy, and eventually went on to win the race by quite a comfortable margin. It could be argued that we were deprived of a battle between Rosberg and Button, as Button's third stop was less than perfect, however nobody can deny that Rosberg deserved that first win - especially considering that so many of us doubted the Mercedes' ability to maintain their pace in the race. Third and fourth place men Hamilton and Webber also elected for three-stop strategies, which allowed them to pass the fifth place man on a two-stop strategy, Sebastian Vettel. Yep, the guy who can't race managed to recover to fifth. Make of that what you will, but I'm pretty pleased...
Once again we had an absolutely thrilling race, with closer battles than anything I've seen for a while. It doesn't seem that any one team has a straight advantage, although for the time being both McLarens are leading the championship. As for who is the favourite for the title this year, I think it's way too soon to tell. In races like today's, anything can change in an instant - again it was a massive surprise that only Schumacher retired. As I said in a previous post, although we've had to wait so long over the winter for the season to begin, it was definitely worth it.
Next weekend is the race in Bahrain - something which has been subject to a lot of speculation given the situation there. The FIA confirmed yesterday that the race would definitely be going ahead, something which I'm in two minds about. I know there was a lot of talk about whether F1 should be going to Bahrain or not based on ethical concerns, however personally I'm not sure this has a lot to do with F1. My personal misgivings about the race taking place aren't based on the ethical dilemmas in the country (although obviously this situation isn't acceptable), but are more linked to the safety aspects. Mark Webber commented on this beautifully in an BBC article earlier this week, arguing that safety isn't so much an issue for teams and drivers, but the other people heading to and from the track every day. Overall, it's the FIA's decision whether to race or not, and obviously they wouldn't have chosen to attend if the situation was unsafe. With any luck, the race next weekend will be memorable for its racing, rather than the political situation surrounding it. Either way, 2012 is shaping up to be an interesting season.