After Fernando Alonso’s supreme drive to victory in the Chinese Grand Prix, it looks increasingly likely the world of Formula One racing will be in flux for some time to come.
The Spaniard’s dominant win made him the third different driver to triumph in the third different car this season — echoes of that record-breaking 2012 season abound as the circus moves out of Asia and toward the increasingly desperate deserts of Bahrain.
Looking at last weekend and focusing purely on the racing, there was much to admire and celebrate as Formula One appears to be in good health. Lewis Hamilton’s maiden pole position for new team Mercedes on Saturday, followed by a master class in driving from Alonso, left us in no doubt that the championship is to be hotly contested by the stars of the show.
It wasn’t only the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers who rose to prominence — Jenson Button claimed a canny and gritty 5th place in the worst McLaren to have left the Woking factory since 2006; Sebastian Vettel executed a clever strategy to catapult himself within agonizing inches of the podium on the final lap; and Kimi Raikkonen staged an unlikely comeback for Lotus after messing up his initial launch from the start to claim 2nd. Five World Champions in the top five positions; a dream come true for hardcore racing fans.
Alonso’s victory was not a straightforward one. The Ferrari ace shadowed Hamilton from the off, and when his chance came just three laps into the race he seized it with aplomb, pulling off the sweetest of overtakes on his former McLaren teammate to achieve a lead he never relinquished. His stablemate Felipe Massa similarly outfoxed Hamilton but was crippled by a bewildering strategy call from Ferrari that left him one lap too long on rapidly degrading Pirelli tyres, a mistake that left him floundering down in 5th once the first round of pit stops were over.
“It couldn’t have gone better than this today!” exclaimed the delighted 2005 and 2006 World Champion after he emerged from his battle-stained scarlet steed.
“I hadn’t won since Germany [Alonso’s last win back in July 2012] and this has a special feeling because it was a tricky race full of action. Along with the second place I got in Australia, this result shows that the car is competitive and that we are working in the right direction to always be in the fight for the podium. For that, I have to thank the team for the huge efforts it has made both here and back in the factory. They have worked so hard to put me in this position from which I can fight with the others on equal terms.”
“Second wasn’t quite what we wanted, but in the circumstances it was the best that we could manage today," claimed an ever truculent Kimi Raikkonen post-race. “I’m not 100 percent happy because we didn’t win, but it is what it is and second place is a good result after a bad start and the incident with Sergio [Perez].”
The incident the Finn alludes to occurred when the Lotus driver attempted an overly-ambitious move around the outside of the slower McLaren in the downhill run to turn four; Perez "never saw" the black and gold machine on his rear wing and inadvertently ran Raikkonen onto the grass at the side of the track. It was the lowpoint of a depressingly poor weekend for the Mexican.
“It wasn’t my best weekend in terms of pace, so there’s some work to do.” Said the grim Perez after his race ended with 11th place.
“Congratulation to Jenson [Button] — he drove a fantastic race today. He found a better rhythm and really made the strategy work. I couldn’t find a flow throughout the whole race and was struggling with the car. I had a reasonably good first stint and thought we could achieve a good result with the strategy, but then we encountered degradation with the tyres and that compromised our pace.”
Perez’s teammate Jenson Button made use of a perilous two-stop strategy to vault his difficult MP4/28 mount into 5th by the finish, the highlight of what have been disastrous first three races for the premier British team.
So a poor weekend for McLaren, an unfulfilled weekend for Mercedes, and a disappointing weekend for Lotus.
“Grande Weekend!” crackled the Ferrari team radio in the most emotional Italian tones as Alonso crossed the finish line. “Grande Weekend!”
And, for the Scuderia, it most certainly was.