Driver Ratings: Russian Grand Prix!/image/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_630/image.jpg

Credit: Mercedes-Benz

Nico Rosberg extended his lead at the top of the drivers’ standings to 43 points after a seventh straight win at Russia, but whose driving most stood out in Sochi?

44) Lewis Hamilton (8/10)*** – Relegated to tenth after power unit gremlins in qualifying, Hamilton took advantage of the first lap chaos to climb to fifth before passing Massa, Raikkonen and Bottas on track. Water pressure problems denied him a shot at the win.

6) Nico Rosberg (8/10) – Yet again left with all of the cards in his favour as his rivals fell by the wayside, Rosberg took full advantage to record a fully deserved seventh win of the season and further extend his lead at the top of the standings.

5) Sebastian Vettel (N/A) – He may have been criticised for lampooning Daniil Kvyat following the Chinese Grand Prix, but Vettel would have had every right for deploying a similar tactic against the Red Bull driver in Sochi after the Ferrari was an innocent victim of the Russian’s first lap shenanigans.

7) Kimi Raikkonen (7/10) – Raikkonen is looking like a much improved driver compared to the last two years and the Finn delivered another impressive drive in Russia to comfortably beat countryman Bottas into the final podium place.

77) Valtteri Bottas (7/10) – After three ordinary races, Bottas finally showed what he was capable of in Sochi. Drove well to keep Hamilton at bay throughout the opening stint but ultimately his Williams just lacked the speed to clinch a podium spot.

19) Felipe Massa (6/10) – A solid if unspectacular drive from the Brazilian, who lacked a couple of tenths compared to his teammate throughout the weekend en route to fifth place.

3) Daniel Ricciardo (7/10) – Innocently knocked out of contention on lap one following his teammate’s collision with Vettel, Ricciardo fought back well with a damaged car and only missed out on a point as a result of a poor call by Red Bull to fit his car with medium tyres.

26) Daniil Kvyat (3/10) – A home Grand Prix to forget for Kvyat, who clumsily hit Vettel not once, but twice, in a dreadful first lap showing. The Russian limped home in a sorry 15th place after a day that will do little to convince Red Bull bosses that he is worth keeping ahead of Max Verstappen in 2017.

11) Sergio Perez (8/10) – After suffering a first lap puncture, Perez drove two extremely strong stints on soft tyres to claw his way back into contention and take his first points of the season. Only an equally impressive drive from Grosjean in the Haas stopped him finishing higher up.

27) Nico Hulkenberg (N/A) – Hulkenberg is yet to fully get going this season, a pattern that continued after he was an innocent victim of the first lap crash caused by Gutierrez.

20) Kevin Magnussen (9/10)* – An assured and consistent drive by Magnussen to take seventh place in a Renault lacking the grip or horsepower of many of this rivals. Undoubtedly the Dane’s best performance since his debut podium in Australia in 2014. Driver of the Day.

30) Jolyon Palmer (6/10) – After running in the points early on, Palmer slipped back as he struggled to match the speed of his rivals in superior machinery. A solid enough drive, but will have to up his game if he is to remain in Renault’s thinking beyond 2016.

33) Max Verstappen (8/10) – A strong start catapulted the Toro Rosso into a sixth place position that he would undoubtedly have held had his car not given up the ghost. A mature display that will only strengthen his case to be promoted to the Red Bull team next year.

55) Carlos Sainz Jr (5/10) – A disappointing drive for the Spaniard as he struggled to match Verstappen’s speed throughout. Lost any chance of a points finish when he earned a time penalty for a clumsy chop on Palmer.

12) Felipe Nasr (5/10) – Nasr looks a shadow of the driver that impressed in his rookie season, and after finally getting the upper hand on Ericsson in qualifying after reporting feeling happier with a new chassis, he flattered to deceive once more on Sunday.

9) Marcus Ericsson (6/10) – Sauber has been reduced to fighting with the Manors as a result of the team’s struggles so far this season, but Ericsson is doing all he can on the track, and once again beat Nasr in Russia despite having to make a first lap pit stop.

14) Fernando Alonso (9/10)** – Alonso showed that he is still up there with the very best after a storming drive to sixth place. Never looked like being threatened after he benefitted from the first lap chaos and set the fifth fastest lap after deciding to “have some fun” late on. McLaren’s best race since its reunion with Honda.

22) Jenson Button (6/10) – Sochi will be a case of what might have been for Button, who could finish no higher than tenth after spending much of the race stuck behind Sainz’s Toro Rosso.

94) Pascal Wehrlein (6/10) – Wehrlein enjoyed an eventful first half of the race as he was left slugging it out with the Saubers, before a problem in the pits that left him stationary for nearly half a minute consigned him to last place.

88) Rio Haryanto (N/A) – Blameless in the first lap collision that also ended Hulkenberg’s race, an early retirement meant we will never know whether the Indonesian could have joined teammate Wehrlein in taking the race to the Sauber drivers.

8) Romain Grosjean (8/10) – After a low key race in China, Grosjean was back on form in Sochi to climb into the points as a result of the opening lap melee and calmly held off Sergio Perez on much fresher tyres in the closing stages of the race to take a deserved eighth place.

21) Esteban Gutierrez (4/10) – The sister Haas endured a wretched afternoon as he caused the collision that ended the races of Hulkenberg and Haryanto, earning him a drive-through penalty that left him unable to recover to higher than 17th place.

These scores will be added up throughout the season and will be used to calculate both mid-season and end of season driver rankings. To take into account individual performances, the driver of the day will receive an additional three points, the second best driver two points and the third best driver one bonus point. These are signifed by the number of asterisks next to their names.

After the Russian Grand Prix, my top five drivers of the season so far are as follows:
=1) Romain Grosjean (Haas-Ferrari) – 36 points
=1) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 36 points
3) Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull-Tag Heuer) – 32 points
4) Kevin Magnussen (Renault) – 30 points
=5) Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) – 22 points
=5) Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 22 points
=5) Pascal Wehrlein (Manor-Mercedes) – 22 points

Driver Ratings: Chinese Grand Prix

Nico Rosberg

Credit: Associated Press

A thrilling Chinese Grand Prix saw several drivers fight back through the field after a number of early setbacks, but up front it was a serene afternoon for Nico Rosberg as he kept out of trouble to take his third straight win in 2016.

But whose performances stood out most in Shanghai?

44) Lewis Hamilton (7/10) – Strong fightback from Hamilton after losing his front wing in the first lap melee. Could have finished higher up with a better strategy call, but the world champion would have taken seventh after turn one.

6) Nico Rosberg (9/10)* – Driver of the Day.A simply dominant race by Rosberg to notch up his sixth win in the row. Never looked back once Ricciardo was out of the way and finished in a different postcode to the rest. At this rate, it’s going to be tough for Hamilton to catch him in the championship race.

5) Sebastian Vettel (7/10) – Not entirely blameless in the first corner crash that left Raikkonen in trouble, but fought back strongly after a front wing change to take a deserved second place finish.

7) Kimi Raikkonen (8/10)*** – An innocent victim at the start, Raikkonen was given a lifeline by the early safety car but worked his way back through the field with a different strategy to the other frontrunners and thoroughly deserved his fifth place.

77) Valtteri Bottas (6/10) – Another low key performance for Bottas, who was outperformed by Williams teammate Massa and faded in the closing stages as the Toro Rossos breezed past him.

19) Felipe Massa (8/10) – Running as high as second at one point in the early race chaos, Massa continued his impressive start to the season with a fine drive to sixth place. Did an exceptional job to fend off Hamilton in the closing stages.

3) Daniel Ricciardo (9/10)** – After taking the lead at the start, Ricciardo was desperately unlucky to suffer a puncture as Rosberg went past him. Showed characteristic determination to fight back to fourth and take more than ten seconds out of teammate Kvyat in the final stint.

26) Daniil Kvyat (7/10) – Unfairly blamed by Vettel for the collision between the Ferraris at the start, Kvyat took advantage of the chaos around him to keep out of trouble and take a deserved second career podium.

11) Sergio Perez (6/10) – A clean race for Perez, but he will be disappointed to leave Shanghai without a point after the Toro Rossos demoted him to 11th in the final stint.

27) Nico Hulkenberg (5/10) – Fastest lap is little consolation for Hulkenberg, whose poorly judged decision to hold up the pack as he pitted under the safety car earned him a penalty and ensured his thoroughly mediocre start to the campaign carries on.

20) Kevin Magnussen (6/10) – After an impressive qualifying which saw him beat teammate Palmer by nearly a second, the Dane was hamstrung by a hugely uncompetitive Renault and finished a lowly 17th.

30) Jolyon Palmer (4/10) – Palmer has struggled to reach the heights of his impressive debut in Melbourne, and suffered the ignominy of finishing the race 22nd and last. Work to do.

33) Max Verstappen (7/10) – Another strong race for the teenage Dutchman, whose eighth place finish was probably the maximum on a day in which bulletproof reliability ensured that no-one could benefit from the misfortune of others.

55) Carlos Sainz Jr (6/10) – After outqualifying Verstappen on Saturday, Sainz failed to match his Toro Rosso teammate in the race but enjoyed a solid afternoon to record his seconds points finish of the season.

12) Felipe Nasr (5/10) – Nasr has reported trouble with his Sauber chassis, and another completely forgettable race to 20th place – well behind teammate Ericsson – will do nothing to kickstart his campaign.

9) Marcus Ericsson (6/10) – In an uncompetitive car, Ericsson is quickly working his way into the team leader role at Sauber and another consistent drive will do him no harm.

47) Fernando Alonso (6/10) – Still work for McLaren to do to challenge the leading teams on the evidence of his race. Alonso ran as high as fourth after the safety car but spent the rest of the race looking in his mirrors as he slipped back to 12th.

22) Jenson Button (6/10) – Also hampered by a lack of pace that saw him fending off the challenges of others for most of the afternoon. McLaren have made a clear step forward from last year, but another big step is needed for the Woking squad to challenge.

93) Pascal Wehrlein (6/10) – Held his own in the top ten for several laps after not pitting during the safety car, and Wehrlein rebounded well from his qualifying crash to enjoy a trouble-free race.

88) Rio Haryanto (6/10) – Lacks the outright speed of Wehrlein, but the other Manor driver enjoyed a solid afternoon and beat the faster Renault of Palmer on merit.

8) Romain Grosjean (5/10) – After the fairytale of the opening two rounds, it was back to reality for Grosjean and Haas. The Frenchman suffered damage on the first lap and was overshadowed by teammate Gutierrez for the remainder of the afternoon.

21) Esteban Gutierrez (6/10) – The Mexican will be relieved to see the chequered flag for the first time this season, and with nobody else falling by the wayside, his 14th place finish was probably the best Haas could have hoped for during a weekend in which they struggled for speed.

Credit: Associated Press

These scores will be added up throughout the season and will be used to calculate both mid-season and end of season driver rankings. To take into account individual performances, the driver of the day will receive an additional three points, the second best driver two points and the third best driver one bonus point. These are signifed by the number of asterisks next to their names.

After the Bahrain Grand Prix, my top five drivers of the season so far are as follows:
=1) Romain Grosjean (Haas-Ferrari) – 28 points
=2) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 28 points
3) Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull-Tag Heuer) – 25 points
4) Pascal Wehrlein (Manor-Mercedes) – 23 points
5) Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) – 22 points

Stephen D’Albiac

Driver Ratings: Bahrain Grand Prix


Under the lights of Bahrain, we were treated to a fine spectacle as plenty of dicing in the midfield more than compensated for a rather sedate affair up front. But how did the drivers fare in the third night race at Sakhir?

44) Lewis Hamilton (6/10) – Lost the initiative to teammate Rosberg at the start. Was not at fault for the first lap collision with Bottas but would have been out of harms way with a quicker getaway. Decent recovery to third.

6) Nico Rosberg (8/10) – Flawless drive to a fifth straight win. Beat Hamilton off the line and never looked back as his rivals hit trouble to record a convincing win.

5) Sebastian Vettel (6/10) – A day of wretched misfortune for Vettel, who didn’t even make it to the start after the German’s engine blew on the formation lap, robbing him of the chance to challenge for victory.

7) Kimi Raikkonen (7/10) – A strong drive for Raikkonen who bounced back strongly from his non-finish in Australia to record a deserved second place. Consistent speed meant he was never under huge threat from Hamilton.

77) Valtteri Bottas (5/10) – The Finn ruined his race with a lunge at Hamilton that earned him a drive-through penalty. Battled back to ninth place, but could and should have been so much better.

19) Felipe Massa (6/10) – That the other Williams of Massa finished eighth was through little fault of the Brazilian, who was hamstrung by a poor decision from his team to run two stints on the medium tyres.

3) Daniel Ricciardo (7/10) – An entertaining race from the Australian as he found himself involved in good battles throughout the race. The speed of the front three meant fourth was the best he could have hoped for.

26) Daniil Kvyat (7/10) – The Russian recovered well from a dismal qualifying performance to take seventh from Massa on the final lap, with some exciting battles as he recovered through the field. Quickly needs to improve his speed on Saturdays.

11) Sergio Perez (5/10) – A day to forget for Perez, who made contact with Carlos Sainz Jr’s Toro Rosso on lap two and was forced to pit for a new front wing. Wound up a disappointing 16th.

27) Nico Hulkenberg (5/10) – Hulkenberg’s race proved as inauspicious as Perez’s, with the German also forced to change his nose after first lap contact, condemning him to 15th place.

20) Kevin Magnussen (6/10) – A respectable job from the Dane, who finished just one place outside the points after a pit lane start. A good effort in a Renault that was clearly lacking in speed.

30) Jolyon Palmer (5/10) – After an action-packed debut in Melbourne, it was back down to earth with a bump for Palmer, who pulled in and retired from the race at the end of the formation lap with technical troubles.

33) Max Verstappen (7/10) – After flattering to deceive in Australia, Verstappen bounced back in Sakhir with a strong drive to sixth, Toro Rosso’s first ever points finish in Bahrain.

55) Carlos Sainz Jr (5/10) – A thoroughly forgettable time under the lights for the Spanish driver, who suffered a puncture in a collision with Perez early on and endured a botched pit stop before he retired from the race.

12) Felipe Nasr (5/10) – Sauber have clearly dropped back in performance over the winter and it looks like the Brazilian has suffered the same fate. An almost anonymous drive to 14th place.

9) Marcus Ericsson (6/10) – The Swedish driver looks to have gained the upper hand on teammate Nasr, with 12th place the best he could have achieved in what is clearly a dog of a car.

47) Stoffel Vandoorne (8/10)*** – Having only found out he would be making his Grand Prix debut on Thursday, the Belgian hotshot announced himself to Formula One in style with a mightily impressive drive to the final points finish in tenth, having outqualified world champion teammate Button the day before.

22) Jenson Button (5/10) – A weekend to cause nightmares for Button, with his outqualification by Vandoorne and early power unit failure sure to result in questions about his McLaren future beyond the end of this season.

93) Pascal Wehrlein (8/10)** – Another eye-catching performance from the German youngster, who outperformed his Manor all weekend with a fine drive to 13th after a superb qualifying display.

88) Rio Haryanto (6/10) – Although overshadowed by the mercurial Wehrlein, the Indonesian drove a solid, clean race on his way to a first Formula One finish.

8) Romain Grosjean (9/10)* – Driver of the Day. The Frenchman’s move to Haas looks even more inspired now after an astonishing drive which bettered his fairytale sixth place finish in Melbourne.

21) Esteban Gutierrez (6/10) – An encouraging performance by the second Haas driver, who would surely have scored his first points since 2013 had car failure not ended his race after just ten laps.

Credit: Clive Mason/Getty Images

These scores will be added up throughout the season and will be used to calculate both mid-season and end of season driver rankings. To take into account individual performances, the driver of the day will receive an additional three points, the second best driver two points and the third best driver one bonus point. These are signifed by the number of asterisks next to their names.

After the Bahrain Grand Prix, my top five drivers of the season so far are as follows:
1) Romain Grosjean (Haas-Ferrari) – 23 points
2) Pascal Wehrlein (Manor-Mercedes) – 17 points
3) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 16 points
=4) Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull-Tag Heuer) – 14 points
=4) Jolyon Palmer (Renault) – 14 points
=4) Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) – 14 points

Stephen D’Albiac


Six reasons to look forward to F1 2015

With the start of the 2015 Formula One season just ten weeks away, here are just six of the many reasons to get excited ahead of the new campaign.

The revival of the McLaren-Honda partnership
Undoubtedly the most talked about change for 2015 is the return of the legendary McLaren-Honda partnership that was made so famous in the days of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.

An iconic partnership that stirs memories and emotions among motorsport fans across the world, McLaren has returned to the engine supplier that served it so well between 1988 and 1992 as it looks to make its way back to the very pinnacle of the sport after two disappointing and winless years.

While the relationship with Mercedes that spanned two decades brought much success to Woking, the marriage between the two had fizzled out over recent years following the Silver Arrows’ decision to take over its own team, making a change of scenery a wise move for all concerned.

Much has changed since the partnership’s previous incarnation, but with the return of Fernando Alonso from Ferrari to join the vastly experienced Jenson Button, allied with the increased contribution of Peter Prodromou – the aerodynamicist that was so influential in Red Bull’s success – and the marked signs of improvement towards the end of last season, if Honda can produce a turbo unit worthy of its legendary efforts of the past, few would bet against the team challenging at the sharp end.

Hamilton v Rosberg: Part II

Despite Mercedes’ systematic obliteration of the field throughout 2014, sweeping all before them on their way to a record 16 wins, the title race reached a thrilling climax in Abu Dhabi thanks to the titanic duel between eventual champion Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

With a refreshing policy from the pit wall allowing the two to fight it out on track, there was precious little between the pair on race days, leading to thrilling scraps for victory on several occasions, most notably when Hamilton just edged out Rosberg following a mammoth race-long tussle in Bahrain.

While Hamilton emerged ahead more often than not on race day, Rosberg’s superior qualifying pace and consistency ensured he was always a threat to his teammate, and with the experience of having fought for a championship now firmly under his belt, the scene is set for the pair to resume her personal scrap in the new season.

Williams’ renaissance

Without question the feel-good story of 2014, the return to form of the Williams team after several years in the doldrums was much welcomed by all.

Through a combination of a strong driver pairing in Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa, the pure grunt of Mercedes horsepower behind them and a substantial boost in prize money owing to their third place finish in the championship, Williams now has a perfect platform on which to build an even better challenger in 2015, and if the team can continue its steady rise back to the front, they look well placed for a return to the top step of the podium in the near future.

Mexico’s return

One of the highlights of the 2015 calendar is the return of the Mexican Grand Prix at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez after a 23-year absence.

With the success of Sergio Perez having reignited interest in the sport in the country – borne out by the hordes of Mexican fans who make the trip to Austin each year – the race looks set to be a welcome return to a classic venue that looks set to pose a significant challenge to the drivers.

Although the circuit will have undergone a facelift to bring it up to the standards of modern F1 by the time the Grand Prix circus arrives in town – including the unfortunate loss of the legendary Peraltada corner – as the successful return of Austria last year shows, when you take the sport back to areas with vast history and strong support, the rewards are plentiful.

Fresh blood at Ferrari

Embarrassing isn’t a strong enough word to describe Ferrari’s 2014 campaign.

Whichever way you analyse the Prancing Horse’s fortunes of last year, failure lurks around every corner, be it the inability to provide a star-studded line-up of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen with a car worthy of their talents, its pitiful attempt at building a power unit even vaguely competitive in comparison with Mercedes or the constant hiring and firing behind the scenes, it was the Scuderia’s first winless season since 1993 and a blot in the vast history books of the team from Maranello.

Now, with Alonso leaving to be replaced by Sebastian Vettel, the first car overseen by James Allison, who brings with him a great pedigree from his Lotus days and a whole raft of new team personnel, 2015 heralds a new era for Ferrari, and whether a clean slate can spark the return of the sport’s most famous team to the sharp end or see fortunes continue to decline will be one of the big talking points as the year progresses.

And…more great racing

Despite the deafening criticism of the new power units that overshadowed the start of last season, once the initial cries of discontent had settled down, F1 showed that it had lost none of its ability to throw up a feast of on-track action, with Bahrain, Canada and Hungary in particular producing three of the most memorable races of recent times.

With the turbo era now entering its second year, there seems no reason to believe that the on-track product won’t continue to go from strength to strength, and if any of the frontrunners is able to pose a credible threat to the dominance of Mercedes, the wheel-to-wheel action should be as good as ever.

Performance Podium: China

The Chinese Grand Prix proved to be a thrilling battle of strategy. So which three drivers made Torque F1’s Performance Podium this week? It’s time to find out.

1) Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso was at his magnificent best in China. After the disappointment of Sepang three weeks ago it was crucial that the Spaniard had a good race to kick-start his title challenge.

Having passed Kimi Raikkonen for second at the start, Alonso then tracked Lewis Hamilton for the first few laps, before making the best use of the DRS to pass the Mercedes driver at the start of lap five.

From then on Alonso never looked back, and consistently pulled away from the rest of the field. He also managed to cut his way through the traffic after his pit stops better than anyone else, which proved instrumental in gaining extra time over his rivals.

Alonso continued to set the pace even after he was told to stop pushing after his final stop, and romped home for his first win since last year’s German Grand Prix, a result which now leaves him third in the drivers’ standings.

2) Daniel Ricciardo

It may have gone unnoticed with all the action at the front, but Daniel Ricciardo produced a stunning drive in Shanghai to finish a career best seventh.

Having surprised many to make it into Q3 yesterday, Ricciardo refused to be overawed by running at the front and remained in the points for the entire race, finally beating his previous best finish of 9th (something he achieved four times last year) and scoring Toro Rosso’s best result in two years.

With the likely departure of Mark Webber, who looks set to be leaving Formula One at the end of the season to join Porsche’s Le Mans efforts, there is a seat at Red Bull up for grabs in 2014, and if Ricciardo can continue to produce drives of this quality, the chances of earning a promotion next year can only increase.

3) Jenson Button

Jenson Button made the best use of a two-stop strategy to overcome the shortcomings of his McLaren and take a strong fifth place.

Button drove an incredibly strong opening stint, making his tyres last for 21 laps, and he made his first stop at the same time as the rest of the leaders made their second.

The strength of the Englishman’s first stint of the race was such that after he pitted for the first time, he was actually running a net second. And although he didn’t have the pace to keep the trio of Raikkonen, Hamilton and Vettel behind him, an impressive fifth place finish will give both he and his team confidence as they look to fix the issues with the car over the coming races.

2013 Performance Podium Rankings
1) Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) – 12pts
2) Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus-Renault) – 10pts
2) Mark Webber (Red Bull-Renault) – 10pts
4) Adrian Sutil (Force India-Mercedes) – 5pts
4) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 5pts
4) Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso-Ferrari) – 5pts
7) Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes) – 2pts
7) Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 2pts
9) Jules Bianchi (Marussia-Cosworth) – 2pt

The Performance Podium rankings are calculated depending on where each driver places in each race. 1st place receives 10 points, 2nd place = 5pts, 3rd place = 2pts and an Honourable Mention = 1pt

Stephen D’Albiac

Brilliant Alonso storms to Shanghai victory

Fernando Alonso took his first win of the season with a scintillating drive at the Chinese Grand Prix.

Alonso passed poleman Lewis Hamilton for the lead at the start of the fifth lap and never looked back, the only thing troubling him from then on being the negotiation of those on different strategies after his pit stops.

Kimi Raikkonen finished second after getting the jump on Hamilton at the final round of pit stops, with the Lotus driver having an eventful race which included him damaging his front wing when Sergio Perez forced him off the track on lap 16.

Hamilton finished third, although he only just held off a charging Sebastian Vettel on the final lap, with the Red Bull driver’s mistake coming onto the back straight costing him the chance to launch an attack on the Mercedes in the DRS zone.

Jenson Button came home fifth after making a two-stop strategy work better than anyone else, with Felipe Massa following him home sixth.

Daniel Ricciardo produced a very impressive drive on his way to a career-best seventh, with Paul di Resta, Romain Grosjean and Nico Hulkenberg completing the points.

Eight drivers, including both Raikkonen and Vettel, were investigated for illegal use of the DRS under yellow flags after the race, but the stewards took no further action against them, meaning the result of the race stands as completed.

There were a number of other incidents throughout the race, with the most spectacular coming on the sixth lap when Esteban Gutierrez misjudged his braking point on the back straight and slammed into the back of Adrian Sutil, ending both their races. The Mexican’s mistake has earned him a five-place grid penalty for next week’s race in Bahrain.

It was also a race to forget for Webber, who after starting from the pit lane, stopped on the first lap of the race to get rid of the soft tyres, and jumped more than half the grid to move himself solidly into the points.

However, it all unravelled for the Australian when he collided with Jean-Eric Vergne, and then retired after his second pit stop went wrong and his right-rear wheel came loose, eventually parting company with his Red Bull on the exit of turn 14. To compound Webber’s misery, he has been handed a three-place grid penalty for the Bahrain Grand Prix for causing the incident.

Nico Rosberg’s stunning run of form at Shanghai is also at an end after the Mercedes driver retired on the 22nd lap with a mechanical problem.

The result of today’s race means Vettel leaves Shanghai as the championship leader with 52 points, three points ahead of Raikkonen on 49, with Alonso’s win moving him up into the top three with 43 points.

1) Fernando Alonso (Esp) Ferrari – 1h36:26.945
2) Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus-Renault – + 10.100s
3) Lewis  Hamilton (GB) Mercedes – + 12.300s
4) Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault – + 12.500s
5) Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes – + 35.200s
6) Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari – + 40.800s
7) Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – + 42.600s
8) Paul di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes – + 51.000s
9) Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus-Renault – + 53.400s
10) Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari – + 56.500s
11) Sergio Perez (Mex) McLaren-Mercedes – + 1m03.800s
12) Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – + 1m12.600s
13) Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault – + 1m33.800s
14) Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams-Renault – + 1m35.400s
15) Jules Bianchi (Fra) Marussia-Cosworth – + 1 lap
16) Charles Pic (Fra) Caterham-Renault – + 1 lap
17) Max Chilton (GB) Marussia-Cosworth + 1 lap
18) Giedo van der Garde (Ned) Caterham-Renault – + 1 lap

Not Classified
19) Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes
20) Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault21) Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes
22) Esteban Gutierrez (Mex) – Sauber-Ferrari

Stephen D’Albiac

Classic Chinese Grand Prix: 2011

Formula One returns to action this weekend after a three-week break as China plays host to the third race of an already enthralling season.

The Shanghai circuit has thrown up many an entertaining race since it made its debut on the F1 calendar back in 2004, and for the latest installment of Torque F1’s ‘Classic Grand Prix’ feature, here is a look back at the 2011 Chinese Grand Prix.

The McLarens of Button and Hamilton get the jump on Vettel at the start of the race

Sebastian Vettel arrived in China for this race in fine spirits. The German had dominated the first two rounds of the season in Australia and Malaysia, and looked finely poised to start off the year with a hat-trick of wins.

And the world champion’s confidence could only have grown after qualifying, after he obliterated the field to secure his third pole position on the bounce by almost three quarters of a second. The McLaren pairing of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton completed the top three, while an impressive lap by Nico Rosberg saw the Mercedes driver qualify fourth.

The surprise packages of qualifying were the Toro Rosso drivers, with Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi both producing stunning laps to get themselves into Q3. They started seventh and ninth respectively.

If three of the four Red Bull-backed drivers enjoyed fine Saturdays, the session could not have been more different for Mark Webber. The Australian suffered a disastrous Q1 and became the shock elimination at the first hurdle, leaving him down in 18th on the grid.

Race day dawned in Shanghai, and all expectations were again on Vettel running and hiding at the front.

But as the five lights went out the Red Bull did not get away at all well, and the McLarens did not need a second invitation to snatch the lead away from him. As the field entered the first corner, Button led from Hamilton, with Vettel down in third.

Jenson Button leaves the right pit box in Shanghai

It was a relatively quiet first stint of the race, with the most exciting action occurring on lap 10 when Alguersuari’s wheel came off following a botched pit stop from his team. The incident forced the Spaniard into retirement, a disappointing result after such a good qualifying session.

Button continued to lead, but Hamilton and Vettel were keeping him honest out front. As the top three entered lap 14, the gap between the three of them was no more than a second.

With pit stops imminent the McLarens’ tyres were beginning to go off, and Hamilton paid the price for it, as he dropped out of the DRS activation zone and Vettel completed an easy pass on the back straight to move up to second, before both he and Button peeled off into the pits at the end of the lap.

With the RB7 looking the dominant car in the field in 2011, it is perhaps a given that 22 of the 24 drivers wished they were driving it. But none of them made their desire to drive for the world champions quite as public as Button, who clearly felt he belonged at Red Bull and decided to have them service his car. The amount of time it took him to remember that it was McLaren who had a new set of tyres ready for him cost him the position to Vettel.

The McLarens fought out a thrilling duel during the race, with Hamilton eventually coming out on top

One man who everyone had forgotten about was Rosberg. The Mercedes driver had gambled on making his first stop earlier than everyone else and it paid dividends in fine style, as he got the undercut on the top three and moved himself into the lead of the race. Button and Vettel followed behind, while Hamilton had lost out as a result of the pit stops, and he ended up down in fourth.

The downside to Rosberg’s gamble was that he was now on worn rubber, and although he went on to lead the second and third stints of the race, his chances of winning the race would be minimal as he would have to complete longer runs than his rivals.

It left Vettel in the net lead ahead of Button and Hamilton, and it was Lewis who was the quicker of the two McLarens. After reeling in his teammate, he pulled off a characteristically ballsy move on lap 36 when he pounced up the inside of Jenson into the first corner and took second place, behind the still leading Rosberg.

The race had been good up to that point. Not a classic by any means, but a perfectly enjoyable way to spend a Sunday morning (BST). Now was when it began to get interesting, as it became clear that Vettel was going to try and complete the race by making only two stops, while the McLarens behind him were to visit the pits on three occasions.

It meant Vettel had made his second and final stop on lap 32, and enjoyed several tours of the Shanghai circuit with much more grip than the Englishman.

But when Hamilton made his third stop the fight for the win really began. He exited the pits fourth, behind Rosberg, Vettel and Felipe Massa.

Rosberg exited the pits for the final time ahead of Hamilton, but the McLaren driver quickly dispatched his future teammate and set about passing Massa’s Ferrari, which he duly did at the start of lap 45.

Twelve laps remained. Hamilton had six seconds to make up on Vettel, and he was on tyres that were able to last much longer than the Red Bull.

Vettel and Hamilton fight it out for the win in the closing stages

He began to quickly and consistently reel in Vettel, gaining on him at more than a second a lap, and by the end of lap 50 he was right on the leader’s gearbox.

With the benefit of DRS he tried a pass on the back straight, but Vettel was wise to his advances and held him off for another lap. Whilst Hamilton had the time and the pace to pull off an easy move to take the lead, that would have been boring. The Englishman has style in abundance, and he wanted to find a more adventurous way to take first place and all but secure his second win in China.

And he did so on perhaps the most unlikely part of the track. Hamilton was saving KERS over the first part of the 52nd lap, and as the leading pair exited the hairpin at turn six it looked like Vettel was safe in first place for the next few corners.

He wasn’t. Hamilton deployed his KERS and the effect it had on his McLaren was similar to that of a rocket-booster. He shot alongside the Red Bull and flew up the inside at turn seven. Hamilton had pulled it off, he had the lead and he was on his way to taking the chequered flag for the first time in 2011.

Now, whilst being fashionably late is a rite of passage reserved for almost all partygoers around the world, it isn’t something you’d associate with a racing driver while he is competing.

Clearly, no-one had told Mark Webber about that. The second of the Red Bulls had run a virtually anonymous race from his disappointing grid slot. He’d clawed himself up into the points, but he’d done nothing to make his presence known in the race.

Mark Webber drove a storming race from 18th to finish on the podium

One advantage, however, of being knocked out in Q1 is that you are able to save more sets of the faster soft tyre, for the race, and it was a weapon that Webber waited until the last possible moment to utilise. Schumacher and Alonso were swept aside, quickly followed by Massa and Rosberg, which left the Aussie four laps to close in on Button and incredibly, claim the final podium position.

He did so on the penultimate lap of the race, making full use of the DRS zone to drive clean past the McLaren driver. From 18th of the grid, Webber was going to finish on the podium.

It was a late charge that was equally as impressive as Hamilton’s, but it took nothing away from the quality of the McLaren driver’s performance. After nearly failing to make the start after his car suffered a fuel problem just before the race, the Englishman stretched his advantage over Vettel in the last few laps and secured his first win of the season.

Vettel followed him home, ahead of Webber, Button and Rosberg. Massa finished sixth, ahead of an unusually quiet Alonso, while Schumacher, Vitaly Petrov and Kamui Kobayashi completed the points.

Victory for Hamilton in China

Classification (after 56 laps)
1) Lewis Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes
2) Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault
3) Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault
4) Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes
5) Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes
6) Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari
7) Fernando Alonso (Esp) Ferrari
8) Michael Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes
9) Vitaly Petrov (Rus) Renault
10) Kamui Kobayashi (Jpn) Sauber-Ferrari
11) Paul di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes
12) Nick Heidfeld (Ger) Renault
13) Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Williams-Cosworth
14) Sebastien Buemi (Sui) Toro Rosso-Ferrari
15) Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes
16) Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) Team Lotus-Renault
17) Sergio Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari
18) Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Cosworth
19) Jarno Trulli (Ita) Team Lotus-Renault
20) Jerome D’Ambrosio (Bel) Virgin-Cosworth
21) Timo Glock (Ger) Virgin-Cosworth
22) Vitantonio Liuzzi (Ita) HRT-Cosworth
23) Narain Karthikeyan (Ind) HRT-Cosworth

Not Classified
Jaime Alguersuari (Esp) Toro Rosso-Ferrari

Stephen D’Albiac

P.S. I’d like to say a big thank you to Sarah, who runs the @F1_Fans_Updates account on Twitter, for allowing me to use her poll to decide the ‘Classic Grand Prix’ for this weekend. Much appreciated.

Barcelona testing – Day six analysis

Romain Grosjean became the first man to top two sessions in pre-season testing by clocking the fastest time around the Circuit de Catalunya on Friday.

The Frenchman’s time of 1:22.716 was half a second quicker than Jenson Button, with Pastor Maldonado, Sebastian Vettel and Nico Hulkenberg rounding out the top five.

Track conditions were once again far from ideal in the morning session as overnight rain made the circuit wet. As a result, the best times were not seen until the track dried in the afternoon, although running was once again compromised in the latter stages of the day as showers hit the circuit.

Lotus will be happy with their day’s work. Having regularly troubled the top of the timesheets during testing, they have clearly made a step forward from 2012 and look in much better shape. Grosjean’s times in the afternoon were consistent and as one of the better teams in terms of managing tyre degradation last year, they will be confident as the first race approaches.

Button also had a strong day in the McLaren, but despite looking one of the strongest teams throughout testing, the car appears to be lacking speed on long runs compared to that of the Red Bull and Ferrari.

Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso propped up the rear, although that will not be a concern to either them or their teams as they were concentrating on long runs when the track conditions were at their peak.

One team that will be having strong concerns is Caterham. The car appears to have gone backwards from last year and they are struggling with reliability issues, a fact further reinforced when Giedo van der Garde’s car ground to a halt in the final hour of running. With the battle for tenth place in the constructors’ championship with Marussia expected to rumble through the season, it is not the start to the new season they would have wished for.

The weather forecast looks much better for the weekend than it has been for the first two days, so with just Saturday and Sunday left to test their cars, we should expect a frantic weekend as the teams look to extract every last bit of performance from their 2013 packages as the first race approaches.

1) Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus-Renault – 1:22.716 (88 laps)
2) Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes – 1:23.181 (72 laps)
3) Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault – 1:23.628 (75 laps)
4) Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault – 1:23.743 (65 laps)
5) Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari – 1:23.744 (79 laps)
6) Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes – 1:24.215 (62 laps)
7) Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1:25.483 (61 laps)
8) Max Chilton (GB) Marussia-Cosworth – 1:25.598 (75 laps)
9) Giedo van der Garde (Ned) Caterham-Renault – 1:26.316 (48 laps)
10) Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes – 1:26.655 (120 laps)
11) Fernando Alonso (Esp) Ferrari – 1:27.878 (102 laps)

Stephen D’Albiac

Barcelona testing – Day four analysis

With rain hitting the Circuit de Catalunya on Friday, any laptimes recorded by any of the teams were rendered utterly meaningless as the track conditions never got to a level where a proper dry time could be recorded.

In the small window during the morning where the cars were able to run on dry tyres, Lewis Hamilton was quickest, followed by Jenson Button, Jean-Eric Vergne and Jules Bianchi.

However, the day wasn’t a complete write-off as it gave teams the chance to try out Pirelli’s new wet-weather tyres for the first time and gain a good amount of running on both the full wet and the intermediate rubber. With only four more days of testing remaining before the first race, there was a real danger that the season could start without any wet-weather track time and the teams could well have had to learn the tyres on the job during a race.

This is especially important when you consider that two of the first three races of the season (Malaysia and China) have a significant history when it comes to wet races and therefore the teams will be relieved to have been able to record some data on the tyres before the season starts.

The conditions did cause a number of stoppages throughout the day, with no fewer than eight red flags during the session.

With regards to the overall pecking order, Barcelona hasn’t taught us much more that we didn’t already know from the test in Jerez, although things look more positive for Mercedes, with Nico Rosberg saying the team has found more than a second from last season.

Williams have also made a good start to life with their new car and look to be somewhere near the front of the midfield, whilst Marussia look to be in a better position than Caterham at this stage, although their refusal to run Luiz Razia at all during the week is disappointing to say the least.

The top four teams from last season look very closely matched, with McLaren and Red Bull perhaps enjoying a small advantage over Ferrari and Lotus at this stage.

With that in mind, here’s a second (and probably wrong) pre-season stab at a pecking order:
1) McLaren
2) Red Bull
3) Lotus
4) Ferrari
5) Mercedes
6) Williams
7) Sauber
8) Force India
9) Toro Rosso
10) Marussia
11) Caterham

1) Lewis Hamilton (GB) Mercedes – 1:23.282 (52 laps)
2) Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes – 1:23.633 (70 laps)
3) Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1:24.071 (80 laps)
4) Jules Bianchi (Fra) Force India-Mercedes – 1:25.732 (96 laps)
5) Esteban Gutierrez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari – 1:26.239 (61 laps)
6) Giedo van der Garde (Ned) Caterham-Renault – 1:27.429 (50 laps)
7) Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari – 1:27.563 (80 laps)
8) Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault – 1:27.616 (64 laps)
9) Max Chilton (GB) Marussia-Cosworth – 1:29.902 (51 laps)
10) Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus-Renault – 1:34.800 (41 laps)
11) Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams-Renault – no time set (23 laps)
12) Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault – no time set (13 laps)

Stephen D’Albiac