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Nico Rosberg took his first ever win in the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix, ending a dominating twenty seconds ahead of Jenson Button. The Briton had a problem in a pit stop that cost him a fight for the win. Lewis Hamilton completed the podium, having participated in a ten car fight over eight positions in the third of the race. Kimi Raikkonen looked safe to finish on the podium, but drifted back to twelfth in that fight, as Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel completed the top five. It was a race of strategy, with teams using both two and three stop strategies. There was no rain, but plenty of clouds in a grand prix that saw plenty of dicing for position, and Michael Schumacher the only retirement.

Rosberg (1:35.121) set the pole winning time in a remarkable fashion, retiring to the garage after one fast run early in the final Q3 part of Saturday’s qualifying session. Though Hamilton qualified second fastest, a gearbox change penalty dropped the Briton back to the seventh starting position and put Schumacher on for a Mercedes front row. Not only is it Rosberg’s first pole ever, it is also the first pole for a Mercedes factory car since 1955, when two Silver Arrows also started on the front row in Italy. Hamilton and Schumacher set the fastest practice times, but neither’s quali lap was closer than a half second to Rosberg. Kobayashi qualified fourth fastest but began the race in third, with next to him on the grid. Button and Webber completed the third row of starters.

Webber contributed to teammate Vettel’s poor qualifying showing (he started only eleventh) by posting the fastest lap on the softer tyres in Q2 and knocking his teammate out in that session. Neither Red Bull looked to have any particular pace to match the Mercedes powered cars at the front in any of the practice sessions. Hamilton led both the Friday and Saturday morning sessions, with Schumacher taking the advantage at the end of the dry Friday afternoon session. Both Ferraris again struggled through the practices, but Alonso managed to qualify ninth and Massa twelfth. Despite the lack of grip and multitudinous slides and trips over kerbing, only Timo Glock suffered an incident during any of the sessions. He appeared to lose the front wing and nose cone entering Turn 1, leading to his skittering across the gravel and belting his Marussia into the tyre barrier. He was generally unhurt, though perplexed.

Race Start:
Vergne started from the pit lane after Toro Rosso made changes to the car overnight, but on the cloudy but dry grid, Rosberg and Schumacher got away cleanly at the front. Raikkonen slotted into third, then got passed by Button as much of the midfield shuffled into the first turn. There was a bit of contact between Massa’s rear and Senna’s front wing as well. As the lap progressed, Perez had moved up to get next to teammate Kobayashi by getting around Webber. Kobayashi had slid backward as Button and Raikkonen swamped him from either side into the the first turn. The Australian muscled his way through on Alonso as well. Still, Rosberg led Schumacher, Button, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Perez, Kobayashi, Alonso, Webber, and Massa as the top ten. Vettel dropped to fourteenth by the end of the first lap. On replay, Schumacher did a teammate’s job keeping the rest of the field cleanly behind Rosberg on the start.

At the front, Rosberg gained a one and a half second gap on Schumacher, with the older German gaining nearly precisely the same gap on Button to complete the top three as the third lap ended. Button, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Perez, and Kobayashi were all within a second of each other as DRS became enabled. Rosberg continued to gain at the front as the early laps ticked off, while Vettel complained that he could not get around Di Resta on the straights. Webber was the first to pit, from eleventh, on L7 for the harder, medium compound tyre. He dropped to twentieth. At the front, Rosberg was up to 3.5s ahead of his teammate, while Schumacher, Button, Raikkonen, Hamilton, and Perez were all less than a second apart. Webber, well down the order, was faring very well, posting the race fast lap on his new tyres. Despite a massive amount of DRS passing last year, there was little of it in the early stages of this race.

Pit Stops Begin/End L10:
Sauber took a look at Webber’s fast time and brought in Kobayashi on L10. Vettel and Hulkenberg also pitted that lap. That shook up the Rosberg, Schumacher, Button, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Perez, Alonso, Massa, Grosjean, Senna order as L10 ended. Button, Raikkonen, and Hamilton were having a right old battle without any parry or thrust, leading to Raikkonen and Hamilton pitting on the next lap for the harder tyres. McLaren barely got Hamilton out on the stop, as the two drivers went down the pit lane side-by-side. They came out as Webber came by. The Australian took Raikkonen through Turn 1, with the Finn attempting to fight back mightily. He did not manage to retak the position, as Webber wet off to take a look at Hamilton. Raikkonen returned Webber’s favor as Button and a train of cars made their way through the pits for new tyres. Schumacher pitted on L13, as did Alonso and Senna, leaving Rosberg, Perez, and Massa the top three. They had not yet pitted.

Schumacher rejoined in fifth, but Hamilton was around him immediately. Schumacher, though, did not continue, having pulled off and radioed the team, “I’m losing my wheel. Out of the race.” On replay, it was clear that the right front mechanic was waving to stop the release as Schumacher had already begun leaving the pit stall. Meanwhile, Rosberg had a clean stop from the lead, rejoining in third. Perez led Massa as L15 ended, though neither had yet stopped. Rosberg, Button, Hamilton, Webber, and Raikkonen were the nominal top five behind them. Perez finally pitted on L17 after a massive lock up. He rejoined in tenth, between Grosjean and Vettel. Massa led, but only for a few moments as Rosberg swamped him down the back straight on fresh tyres and was quickly nearly a second ahead. Massa finally pitted on L19, dropping down to fourteenth and keeping the harder tyre on his Ferrari. Meanwhile, the race control announced that Mercedes would be investigated after the race for an unsafe release.

As L20 ended, Rosberg held nearly a five second lead over Button, with Hamilton two seconds behind his teammate in third. Webber was a lonely fourth while Raikkonen, Alonso, and Kobayashi were tightly compacted across the line. Grosjean, Vettel, and Perez completed the top ten, but that order would not last long.

Second Pit Stops Begin (L22):
Webber pitted on L22 for another set of the medium compound tyre. He returned to the track in fourteenth. Hamilton pitted for his second time on L23, dropping down to thirteenth, directly behind Massa and in front of the closing Webber. Button pitted next on L25 with a quick stop, He came back out in tenth, just behind Maldonado. He was quickly locked in a duel for position with the Venezuelan. Kobayashi pitted as Button used the DRS to get around the Williams. Hamilton continued to pressure Massa as Webber did the same from the Briton’s rear. He pushed his way through, forcing Massa wide, without any contact from either man, leaving the Brazilian to Webber’s tender mercies. Having watched Hamilton make his way through at the hairpin, Webber did the same. Massa attempted to push back beside, but the Red Bull remained in front. Alonso pitted for the softer tyre from third on L28. He rejoined eleventh.

Halfway (End L28)/Second Pit Stops Continue:
The order remained mixed up, with Rosberg leading at halfway without having stopped for a second time. Raikkonen pitted as L28 ended, leaving Grosjean, Vettel, Button, Perez, Maldonado, Hamilton, Senna, Webber, and Di Resta the top ten. Button, Hamilton, and Webber all stopped twice while the rest were still on their second set of tyres. Raikkonen returned to the race in thirteenth. Senna stopped next on L30, as did Petrov. Vettel pitted for yet another set of the harder tyre as Rosberg continued to lose time to Button in third. Without attempting a two stopper, Mercedes was in danger of losing the lead on a pit stop. Grosjean stopped on L33 from second, leaving Rosberg, Perez, Maldonado, and Massa of the top ten likely attempting a two stop strategy. Hamilton and Webber, meanwhile, were stacking up behind Perez as he looked to make the tyres on his Sauber last. Webber saw an opportunity to have a go at Hamilton at Turn 4, and pushed hard, but the Briton recovered and fought back. They maintained position.

Rosberg finally pitted on L35, as did Webber. It was the Australian’s third stop. While they did so, Sauber encouraged Perez to hold out for another few laps. Rosberg rejoined in second, nearly ten seconds behind Button as L35 ended. Perez pitted at that time, leaving clear track ahead of Hamilton who moved into third. The Briton may have had more than four seconds to catch Rosberg, but Alonso was just tenths behind his old teammate while his current one held station seven seconds back to round out the top five with twenty laps remaining. Well back in eleventh, Webber lost a bit of control over the kerbs, getting a bit of air for a wheelie in his Red Bull. He safely returned all four wheels to the ground and continued on.

Third Pit Stops Begin (L39):
As L38 ended, Button led Rosberg, Hamilton, Alonso, Massa, Raikkonen, Kobayashi, Vettel, Grosjean, and Senna as the top ten. That order did not last as Hamilton, Alonso, and Kobayashi all pitted on L39. McLaren got Hamilton cleanly out ahead of Alonso, leaving the two men free to duel on similar rubber. Button pitted on the next lap for the harder tyre, leaving Rosberg in the lead. Button had a major problem with the left rear, dropping down to sixth with a terribly slow stop as the wheel gun did not want to properly attach the nut. Massa again moved up to second, having only stopped once by L41. Raikkonen and Vettel filled in the order ahead of Button, who had already disposed of Grosjean. The Frenchman was quickly dropping back, as Webber went around him on the next lap. Massa pitted on L42, leaving Raikkonen more than twenty-one seconds behind Rosberg. Vettel in third had also only stopped twice, but would have to stop again to switch tyre compounds as per the rules.

However, Raikkonen, Vettel, Button, Grosjean, Webber, Hamilton, Senna, Maldonado, and Alonso were all less than a second apart. Alonso had a go at Maldonado but got well off line and went wide, losing much position and nearly running into Perez when rejoining. Rosberg continued to gain on Raikkonen, over twenty-three seconds ahead of the former champion, and nearly safe to stop for the third time and maintain the lead. Webber pushed Grosjean hard for fifth, with the Lotus fighting back, then going off the track and losing that position and others.

10 Laps Remaining:
Rosberg had nearly twenty-five seconds on Raikkonen, who was under pressure from Vettel, with Button, Webber, and Hamilton all directly behind each other. Senna had some breathing room in seventh with Grosjean behind while Maldonado and Alonso completed the top ten with ten to go. Even on fading tyres, Rosberg continued to gain on the equally fagged Raikkonen as the laps ticked away. Hamilton had a look at Webber for fifth into Turn 1, but the Australain dove back and held his position. Vettel similarly pushed Raikkonen for second, forcing the Finn wide as Alonso had earlier. Vettel took second while confusion reigned with Webber also pushing and going off onto the grass. Raikkonen slid backward as Hamilton, then Senna, then Grosjean all made their way through on the Finn. Soon so did Maldonado and Alonso. Kobayashi and Perez also passed him, adding to the off line racing as Perez pushed his teammate extraordinarily wide to pass Raikkonen. The Finn dropped from second to twelfth in two laps on his rapidly degrading tyres.

Things had settled down momentarily as five laps remained, with Rosberg twenty-five seconds ahead of Vettel. Button was also comparatively safe in third, just a half second behind Vettel but two seconds ahead of his teammate Hamilton. It was not to be, though, as Button ended L51 by passing Vettel into the hairpin. That left Vettel just tenths ahead of Hamilton and part of the dice that included teammate Webber. Behind them, drivers had begun to gap a bit in the final laps. Still, Hamilton continued to push Vettel for the final podium position. Further back, Alonso looked ready to pass Maldonado as Kobayashi joined the mix to make it three wide. Ahead, Hamilton took third into the hairpin, but Vettel was beside him into the final turn. Hamilton made the pass stick and Vettel had to fend off Webber as two laps remained.

To begin the last lap, Webber pushed his way through on Vettel into the final turn and across the line. The big story was at the front, as Rosberg took his first ever win on the weekend he took his first ever pole. Button maintained his second place position, with Hamilton completing the podium. Only Schumacher did not complete the race.

Final Positions, 2012 Chinese Grand Prix:

  Driver Team Gap Pit
1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes   2
2. Jenson Button McLaren 0.6 3
3. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 26.0 3
4. Mark Webber Red Bull 27.9 3
5. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 30.4 2
6. Romain Grosjean Lotus 31.4 2
7. Bruno Senna Williams 34.5 2
8. Pastor Maldonado Williams 35.6 2
9. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 37.2 3
10. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 38.7 3
11. Sergio Perez Sauber 41.0 2
12. Paul Di Resta Force India 42.2 2
13. Felipe Massa Ferrari 42.7 2
14. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 50.5 2
15. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 51.2 2
16. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 51.7 3
17. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 63.1 2
18. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1 Lap 2
19. Timo Glock Marussia 1 Lap 2
20. Charles Pic Marussia 1 Lap 3
21. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1 Lap 2
22. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 2 Laps 2
23. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 3 Laps 4
  Michael Schumacher Mercedes 44 Laps 1
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  • What a spectacular race!

  • Tony

    Well Done NICO! great drive, overshadowed by the action for 2nd! Shame for Schumi and for Button, would have been (even more) interesting to see how those two panned out in the race without the problems.

    Well done Team Mercedes, I’ve been quite critical in the past of their seemingly laid-back attitude to where they were on the grid, and their issues. I for one hope they have solved them , it would also open a very interesting WDC even they start to mix up McLaren and Red Bull too.

    Ferrari – jeez where to begin – Alonso again 10/10 for effort….

  • Jack Flash (Aust)

    I cannot remember a Race in my 30-odd year memory of Formula 1, that has had more ‘racing’ wheel to wheel through the whole field, than that of the Chiness GP today. To borrow Christy’s terminology – “Spectacular Race”.

    There was just so much Race-action in passing, close dicing, ballsy moves, different tyre-stop strategies and congo lines of fighting; that it really needed two separate Commentary Teams and two TV Broadcasts to keep on top of everything.

    Well done to Nico Rosberg and Mercedes AMG Petronas. A thoroughly desereved breakthru win.

    If this is the taste of the closeness of competition in F1 racing coming to us for the remainder of the Year; then we are in for a treat (an Apex season). JF

    • Niyoko

      Exactly! The racing today was action packed.

  • Niyoko

    What a stellar race!! All around this was an extremely exciting race to watch, DRS included.

    The race high for me is either Kobayashi’s race through the pack and pass on Perez down the straight, or Hamilton’s pass on Vettel for third.

    Low has to be seeing Kobayashi start 3rd and end 10th. :(

    I think I’m going to pick Hamilton as my driver of the race.

    Large packs of cars were running so close, and there were fighting so hard for position. DRS really forced some drivers to be really brave. It was fantastic!!

    • The Captain

      “All around this was an extremely exciting race to watch, DRS included.” I fully agree with everything before the comma.

  • F1derbar

    Really great race! I second everything Jack said, congratulations Nico!

  • F1Champ

    Congrats Nico on his first F1 win. Gutted for Schumacher. He could have atleast been a contender for the podium if not win. But was surprised by his comment as he retired from the race (I was actually furious ;))

    “The front wheel got a bit loose, but I don’t know what happened. I feel a bit sorry for one of my boys, but that’s part of the game. Fingers crossed that Nico can get a good result for the team.”

    Very gracious of of the 7 time WC!

  • Eje Gustafsson

    What a awesome race. The field was so packed up all through the race. How often do you see midway through the race that someone that makes a pit stop from the front and falls down to lower than 10th place. Great win by Nico but to be honest I think Nico needs to buy Kimi a drink or two. Because Kimi drove a very excellent defensive race and allowed Nico to stretch out his lead. Usually we don’t see much action among the top 10 after last pit stop sequence but wow here we saw tons of action up and down the field until the last lap…

    Nice to see Nico finally getting his win.

  • F1Sommelier

    Many great moments, but my favorite was Webber passing Vettel on the last lap. Poor Mark was treated like a Massa last year and it’s great to see him take it to “Herr Fangio”.

    • I liked the Webber/Alonso dual at the beginning. :)

      • D.Baum

        Yeah! You could tell Webber wasn’t giving an inch that whole race.

    • squarebear

      I loved that pass as well. You could see the tension between the two of them as their cars were juttering into the braking zone.

      I was also a fan of the battle Alonso had with Maldonado. Risky stuff

      What a good race.

      • Exactly! They were aggressive but giving just enough room. Terrific pass by both drivers.

  • Spam

    Wow!! awesome race… I think I tested my new relationship with my girlfriend last night as she passed out during the race and I kept waking her up screaming about how awesome this race was. I didn’t think I would ever say this but Lewis’ consistent finishes are the reason he’s leading the championship. This race was everything I love about F1.

    • F1Sommelier

      Last nights race was a test of how girlfriend worthy she is. It’s a mark against her that she fell asleep during a race that exciting. Explain to her that she is on probation until the Singapore GP at which time she will have another chance to redeem herself as F1 girlfriend worthy.;-)

  • Steven

    How cool was it to see Nortbert Haug point to the shoulders of all 3 drivers noting the the engine manufacturers logo?

    It was a good race to watch. And even though Im a huge LH fan an he hasnt won a race yet, it was nice to see one of the nice guys win. Finally Nico got the monkey off his back and won one. He drove a perfect race. Both McLaren drivers were a little unlucky, Jenson’s pit was screwed up and Lewsi kept getting dumped into all the trafic after his pits. But all in all, a great race from every driver on the podium.

    People need to note Lewis’s patience, and I think he’s learned to play the “long game”, its a long season, and he’s scoring consistently, not overdriving the car/tires and picking up points, and thus leading the WDC.

    • I thought Lewis drive a heck of a race today. Given where he started, he had some great non-DRS passes all day and was really slicing through the field in the waning laps. Great stuff…good to see him back.

      • niyoko

        Hamilton’s pass for third on Vettel with DRS was great. He used the DRS to get the speed, and while vettel pushed him in to the corner he held and made the pass. DRS assisting in inducing some brave moves down the inside, mainly from Hamilton.

  • Spridle

    For wheel to wheel action I’ve never seen a Formula 1 race like this. Unbelievably aggressive driving with basically no tears. At the end of the race all I could think was that we have one very deep and talented field of drivers this year. Sorry to see Kimi fade so spectacularly but was great to see his aggression on full display.

  • Zzyzxx

    Good luck trying to pick pass of the race for the podcast.

  • UAN

    I liked the wheel to wheel stuff with Maldonado and Grojean. I can imagine seeing more of that over the season.

  • MIE

    OK, conspiracy theory time. Ross Brawn waits until the DDRS system has been protestested and confirmed as fully legal before allowing the drivers to set the car up to make best use of it.
    .
    No I don’t really believe it, I think it just highlights again how narrow the operating window of the Pirelli’s is this year. If cars aren’t running in clear air, they can’t keep the tyres at the optimum temperature, and they suffer as a result.
    .
    Donkey must go to Lotus for leaving Kimi out so long. I can understand that Raikkonen didn’t expect the tyres to degrade so far as he hasn’t experienced it before. The team however, must have known this would happen.
    .
    Drive of the race – I would nominate Webber. He always seemed to be battling with a world champion, throughout the race, and probably maximised hte result in the car.
    .
    Pass of the race – Perez and Kobayashi? Yes it was in the DRS zone, but both had the DRS open, and after last time it showed that the team aren’t afraid of letting their drivers race.

  • F1Sommelier

    Who’s going to break the news to Hamilton, that driving like Prost and not Senna has made him a better driver. :-) Lewis is now our modern day Prost. He is going to need to be put on suicide watch once he realize this;-)

    • Jack Flash (Aust)

      Pirelli tyre compound characteristics don’t allow anyone to drive “balls out” any more. They just die is a heap of marbles, if you try.
      —–
      It took a while for Hammy to ‘get it’, and to stop trying to buck that reality. He’s not the only one.

      • Shocks&Awe

        I was just thinking that Kimi may have shown how his inexperience with the Pirelli’s may have hurt his race.

        He didn’t experience the “falling off the cliff” from last year, and so may have underestimated how drastic a problem wearing his tires out would be.

  • Silberpfeil

    Has Schumacher got rubbish luck or what? 1st race: DNF, 2nd race: kicked by Grosjean, 3rd race: DNF

    Just a single lousy point scored. :-(

    • F1derbar

      maybe he used it up getting those 7 WDCs ;)

      • Silberpfeil

        Hehe, I hope not. :)

  • SkyeNinja!

    NICOOOO! My ex deleted the race and I didn’t see it but I don’t care! Totally jazzed that Nico got a win. I really miss his little segment at the start of race coverage where he draws & discusses the tracks’ compositions. That was a fun thing that always good PR.