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Red alert, no Red Bull but the Toro Rosso roars

ROUND 3 – China, 14 April 2013, Shanghai

1st: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), 1hr 36m 26.945s (av. race speed 189.778 km/h)
2nd: Kimi Raïkkönen (Lotus Renault), gap: 10.168s
3rd: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), gap: 12.322s

Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault), 1:36.808 = 202.706 km/h on lap 53
Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), 1:34.484 = 207.692 km/h


Red alert, no Red Bull but the Toro Rosso roars

Fernando Alonso and Ferrari bounced back from their second-lap retirement in Malaysia to win the 10th Chinese Grand Prix by a comfortable margin. It was the 31-year-old Spaniard’s 31st Grand Prix victory, putting him level with Britain’s Nigel Mansell in fourth place on the all-time winners’ list. Only Ayrton Senna (41), Alain Prost (51) and Michael Schumacher (91) have more wins in F1 history.

“It was a fantastic race for us from the start to the end,” beamed Alonso, whose last visit to the top step of the podium was in Germany last year. “It feels great: after retiring in Malaysia there was some pressure to win. The start of the 2013 season is looking good: in the two races we finished we were second and first.” Normal Ferrari service was also resumed with Alonso out-qualifying teammate Felipe Massa, who also faded to sixth in the race.

Second was Kimi Raïkkönen for Lotus Renault, shrugging off a mid-race coming-together with Sergio Pérez’s McLaren Mercedes that left him with a damaged nose-cone and a loss of front-wing downforce. “In the end I think it was a pretty OK result,” said the understated Finn after his 20th consecutive points-scoring finish. “The accident with Pérez didn’t help: after that we had a bit too much understeer but we could still fight for second place.” Raïkkönen’s sense of humour showed through again when he added: “Obviously the car is not designed like that otherwise we would use it all the time, but I was surprised how good it was still.”

Lewis Hamilton started from pole, the 27th of his career and his first for Mercedes, but could not quite match the Ferrari or Lotus over a race distance. “Unfortunately we didn’t have quite the pace of these guys,” said the two-time Shanghai winner, whose teammate Nico Rosberg had to retire before half-distance with a broken rear anti-roll bar. “We’re not quite there yet but we’re not far away,” team principal Ross Brawn told Hamilton on the slow-down lap after the Briton’s second podium in only his third race in a Silver Arrow.

And so to the two Austraians… For Mark Webber it was a weekend of Chinese torture: out in Q2 when his car ran out of fuel, forcing him to start from the back of the grid; back in the hunt until a collision at quarter-distance with Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso; and eliminated when his right rear wheel came adrift on his out lap after a pit stop. To add insult to injury, Webber was held responsible for the accident and will take a three-place grid penalty in Bahrain next weekend.

Naturally the two drivers took slightly different views. “I came from a reasonable distance back, but he was really wide and it looked like he was giving me the corner,” said Webber. “When we got to the apex he decided he wanted to place his car there as well and there wasn’t much I could do about it at that point because I was already committed.” Vergne was equally matter-of-fact: “I think Mark could not have got through from where he tried and I’m not even sure if he was trying to pass me,” the Frenchman said. “Certainly I didn’t even know he was there.”

Better news for fans Down Under was a best-ever result for Dan Ricciardo, who qualified in a fine seventh grid spot and brought his Toro Rosso Ferrari home in the same position for his best result in his 34th F1 start. “I am really pleased to score my first points of the season and to confirm the qualifying performance,” said the 23-year-old West Australian. “After yesterday afternoon I kept calm, knowing the real work would begin today. The last time I qualified this well was sixth in Bahrain last year and then I failed to score, so today, I really wanted to show people what I could do, so it’s great for me to have had a great race but it’s especially good for the team, who have worked so hard for this.”

With Jenson Button’s McLaren Mercedes in fifth place, the result saw the five World Champions in the field fill the top five positions – but we had our third different winner in as many races as tyre strategies again took centre stage. Button highlighted that fact when he said: “I had to cruise when I’d normally fight the others. It’s not the most exciting way to go racing, but we got 10 points today because we did it.” His teammate Sergio Pérez had another difficult weekend, posting his second 11th place of the season and admitting his lack of pace.

The final laps produced a hold-your-breath moment as Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, running his final stint on Pirelli’s soft compound tyres, chased down Hamilton for the final podium position and missed out by just two-tenths of a second. Vettel had the small satisfaction of claiming his 16th fastest lap four laps from the finish.


A brief look at the rest of the field:

Force India also enjoyed varied fortunes: Paul di Resta claimed four points in eighth place, the Scot’s second finish in that position this year, while Adrian Sutil was sidelined after a high-speed attack from the Sauber of Esteban Gutiérrez after just five laps for which the Mexican rookie took full responsibility.

Sauber’s other driver again showed up well: 25-year-old Nico Hülkenberg actually led the race as the pit stops played out but finished 10th after a low-key final stint. “Once you are in the lead or second you understandably hope for more,” said the German. “Nevertheless, it might not have been the true picture, as we were racing out of sequence with other people who were starting on soft tyres. But anyway, it was quite a good race.”

Williams again were almost invisible, with Valtteri Bottas in 13th place, one ahead of Pastor Maldonado, but newcomer Jules Bianchi again caught the eye, getting his Marussia home in 15th spot head of both Caterhams and teammate Max Chilton. “Those final laps seemed to last for an eternity but we got the right result in the end,” said the 23-year-old from Nice.


Next race: round 4, Bahrain, April 21

Just one week between Grands Prix: watch for a full Sakhir preview right here…

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