Jenson Button showed the world today that his Australian triumph at the end of last month was no fluke by taking a perfectly-executed win in the Chinese Grand Prix.
The Englishman was his usual unflappable self in conditions that saw his main championship rivals slither and slide, and as any idea of strategy went out the window Button was best placed to take the victory.
He led the team in making crucial tyre choices, including opting to stay on slicks as the rain came down in the early stages. Many dived into the pits to take on intermediates, predicting that the rain would intensify. But it did not, and their treaded tyres rapidly deteriorated. Button was able to make hay and never truly lost that advantage, maintaining a comfortable lead over Nico Rosberg once he had passed him and resisting a late charge from Lewis Hamilton.
“It is not luck we came out on top today,” Button said, conscious of the allegations that were levelled at him following his Australian win. “We chose correctly in the conditions. The start was the right call definitely but it was slippery and we knew how quickly the soft tyres would be working.
“It was the right call,” said the Frome man.
Second-placed Lewis Hamilton produced another stellar performance, overtaking whosoever was unlucky enough to find themselves in front of him. Despite his own charge, he conceded that Button had merited the win more because of his moves on tyres. “Congratulations to Jenson. He made a better choice,” admitted Hamilton.
The plaudits for best team performance should deservedly go to a McLaren team that, despite looking very good in practice on Thursday and Friday, failed to make the most of Saturday qualifying. This raised fears of another Red Bull-dominated afternoon, but in fact Vettel and Webber were outclassed on the slippery Shanghai track and were only really as good as the sixth and eighth places they eventually took. But McLaren’s race pace, as the team themselves have been saying for some time, is very competitive.
Nico Rosberg was third, and was there or thereabouts in terms of potential race-winning pace from lights to flag. He seems to be making a habit of unobtrusive but strong performances, in stark contrast to his illustrious team-mate. Schumacher found himself in a competitive position early on, thanks to wily tyre decisions, but did not fight the cars coming past him in the way we remember the old Red Baron doing. There was a spirited moment or two with Hamilton, but the amount of resistance he offered Vettel was embarrassing. He even succumbed to a disinterested-looking Felipe Massa in the closing stages. It is not how he would have envisaged his fourth race back.
Speaking of Ferrari, Fernando Alonso was looking to stamp his authority on the team coming into a weekend where his team-mate led the drivers’ standings. And stamp he did, overtaking Massa on the entry to the pitlane, an iffy manoeuvre with which the Brazilian can’t have been happy. It was not the first questionable act from Alonso, convicted as he was of jumping the start, and serving the penalty. Considering that and the other four stops he was forced to make to change his boots, Alonso’s fourth place is a remarkable achievement. Massa ended ninth, and has fallen to sixth in the drivers’ standings. Such was the drama of the weekend at Ferrari.
The race was spiced up considerably by the other wheel-to-wheel battles that featured throughout. There was a pass into the hairpin at the end of the back straight almost every lap, and Hamilton in particular was fantastic to watch down there. The Stevenage man was also released from a pitstop directly into the path of the man he was racing tooth and nail at that time, Sebastian Vettel. There surely could be no action taken by the stewards, as the release was almost simultaneous from the two teams. Although Vettel’s edging of Hamilton into the new boy mechanics at the far end of the pitlane was inadvisable, a reprimand for the two is more than enough. The stewards, chaired this time by Alex Wurz, appear to have done a good job.
They may yet have something to say, though, about Button’s restart of the races after the second safety car period. Button slowed his car drastically into the aforesaid hairpin, bunching the field up until it resembled an Asda car park and forcing poor Hamilton off track. It was noted that he might have broken the regulation which states the driver at the front, charged with restarting the race, must not drive in too erratic a fashion. What followed was more fun, as Vettel shoved a speculative nose inside of Hamilton into the last left flick before the pit straight, and the Englishman was forced into an unsuspecting then irate Webber on his outside.
Honourable mentions must also go to the two Renaults, who in the hands of Kubica and Petrov are turning in respectable if quiet performances every race now. Kubica merited his fifth place, tidy as ever, and seventh-finishing Petrov was fast if a bit prone to off-track excursions. The team should be well-satisfied with their haul of points, and are looking a credible threat to Mercedes for fourth placed team.
In a consistent performance, Kovalainen finished the race at the head of the new teams, and Senna and Chandhok should be happy to have brought their two HRT machines home. There were no Saubers to be seen at the end, another potential engine-related worry to bother Ferrari perhaps.
But the day belonged to McLaren, and more specifically Jenson Button, whose measured methodical talents are proving to be worth no less that the cut-throat dynamism of the man the other side of the garage. It is a fascinating battle between the two and something fantastic for the British fan. If the team manage to sort their qualifying pace out, one of the two Englishmen will be in with a shout for the world championship.