F1 China Race Results & Report: Hamilton Wins Passing-Strewn Race, Webber 3rd

What Happens When It’s In the Strategy, and the Ability to Push

4:53am EST — Lewis Hamilton won a heart-pounding 2011 Chinese Grand Prix after nearly not making the grid Sunday. Teammate Jenson Button passed pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel on the start. It was not so clear-cut as that, with multiple tire strategies and close racing putting six different drivers in the lead. Vettel had his turn at leading after the first round of pit stops, but Hamilton took him in the final laps of the race. The star of the race was Mark Webber, pushing his Red Bull to finish third after starting eighteenth. Button was his last victim, finishing fourth on fading tires. Nico Rosberg, who led a good deal completed the top five, while Felipe Massa finished where he started and teammate Fernando Alonso finished seventh.

In what has become somewhat routine, Vettel started the race on pole, having set the fastest time by a wide margin during Saturday’s qualifying, and posting fastest times during both the Friday morning and afternoon sessions, as well as the Saturday morning practice. Other than Vitaly Petrov’s red flag stacking up seventeen drivers for a two minute shoot-out in Q2, qualifying followed the standard 2011 script: Vettel was very quick, with Button and Hamilton the only drivers in his vicinity. For Webber, qualifying was not standard, as he was knocked out in Q1, with KERS and possibly other issues. He started only eighteenth. Rosberg slotted into fourth to start next to Hamilton, with Alonso and Massa starting the race from the third row. McLaren barely made the grid, as Hamilton’s engine did not want to start whilst flooded with fuel, according to Paddy Lowe, though most others in the area called it a fuel leak. He managed to leave the pit lane with thirty seconds to spare, but missing bodywork that had to be added while on the grid.

The race got underway under the first clear blue skies of the weekend, with A great start for Button to take the lead, while Hamilton fought with Vettel for second, managing to take the position. Rosberg also took a look on Vettel, but could not manage to take third. Vettel lost time looking to block Hamilton, allowing Button to safely take the lead and be on his way. Rosberg then came under fire from the Ferraris, but held his fourth position. By the end of the first lap, Button had more than a second on Hamilton, with Vettel, Rosberg, Massa, Alonso, di Resta, Sutil, Schumacher, and Alguersuari as the top ten. Webber had moved up one position to seventeenth. After the second lap, Hamilton had gained back a bit on Button.

Though Button continued to lead through the first few laps, he remained unable to put more than a second between himself and Hamilton. Vettel remained less than a second behind Hamilton, with Rosberg two seconds behind his fellow German. Massa and Alonso were less than a second apart and close behind Rosberg, while di Resta was complaining of problems from the rear and over four seconds behind Alonso in seventh, five laps into the fifty-six lap race. Schumacher took some interesting lines to keep his Mercedes in cleaner air, with the team’s overheating problems continuing.

Meanwhile, Webber was on his way forward through the field, up to fifteenth on the hard tires by the end of L7. He was in a bit of a queue behind Alguersuari, with Buemi and Heidfeld ahead of him and all of them just a couple tenths apart on the track. At the front, some drivers were gaining time and others losing it. Button gained a couple tenths on Hamilton, who had Vettel breathing down his neck, and a gap to Rosberg behind. Back to that fight further back, Heidfeld pushed his way around Buemi, just after Perez had taken a position back on Webber. Alguersuari, caught in the middle, pitted on L10. He exited with a bit of a right rear wobble and the wheel nut flying off. He lost the wheel right in front of an HRT and could not make it back around to the pit.

Schumacher and Webber, along with Maldonado, pitted on L11. All three exited on the softer tire. Petrov and di Resta were in on the next lap. Rosberg pitted from fourth on L13, as did Buemi, with the latter exiting in the middle of a fight with Perez. Back in eighteenth, Webber posted the fastest lap to that point of the race on L12. At the front, his teammate was right behind Hamilton and about to attempt a pass for second. Both could see Button, just over a half second ahead in the lead. While the Red Bulll mechanics moved toward the pit lane, the McLaren crew appeared ready for a stop. Vettel was alongside Hamilton before using the DRS adn neatly took second from the Briton, only to immediately dive into the pits after Button. Button went through the Red Bull stall, nearly pausing for his stop from the wrong guys, only to lose the lead in the pit lane as Vettel was released just ahead.

Massa took the lead from Hamilton, only to have both dive into the pits, along with Sutil. Massa kept the position as the first stops cycled through very early in the race. Back out on the track, Perez took position from Hamilton, only to have the former champion retake the position. Alonso led, only to pit on L17 and relinquish the lead to Rosberg, who had already pitted. Heidfeld, in seventh, was attempting to hold his position against Schumacher, who passed, only to lose another position to Alonso as well.

Heidfeld pitted on L19, the last of the top ten to do so. At that point, Rosberg led Vettel by five seconds, with Button, Massa, Hamilton, Schumacher, Alonso, di Resta, and Sutil the top ten. Massa was less than a second behind Button, with Hamilton another half second behind. Alonso was close behind Schumacher, looking to regain another position. Button responded with the race fast lap to eke out another half second or more on Massa. Meanwhile, teammate Alonso, was right behind his former and continued rival, but unable to get quite close enough to attempt a pass. Just a few positions back, Webber was hoping to get around Kobayashi for tenth and a point, a difficult proposition at any time, though Kobayashi had a gaping hole in the nose of his Sauber.

In the lead, Mercedes radioed Rosberg, telling him to brake twenty-five meters earlier than he had been. He had a solid five second lead over Vettel. His teammate’s no good, very bad weekend continued as Red Bull radioed Webber to tell him that he had no KERS. Button pitted again on L25, rejoining on softer tires again and in eighth. Replays showed Alonso’s DRS open not within it’s designated area just before Rosberg and Hamilton pitted on L26, though word from the regulations indicated that it is allowed, with a good reason. With the second stops at nearly the halfway point, and most rejoining again on the softer compound, it appeared that most teams were going for a three stop strategy.

While attention was focused in the pit lane, Alonso and Schumacher performed a beautiful switching of position, only for the German to pit. At the halfway point, Vettel, Massa, and Alonso were the top three, only having stopped once each, with Rosberg, Button, and Hamilton third through sixth, all having stopped twice each. All six needed to switch to the hard tires to stay within regulations. Button, on fresher tires, took fourth from Alonso and was quickly well ahead of the Spaniard. However, it appeared as though Ferrari was going for a two stop strategy.

With thirty laps completed, Vettel led Massa, Rosberg, Button, and Hamilton as the top five, though the top two had only pitted once. Just outside the points, Sutil, Heidfeld, and Kobayashi all pitted on L30. Vettel pitted for the second time on L31, taking hard tires and rejoining in sixth. Alonso pitted on the next lap, as did di Resta. Just in front of Alonso’s reentry, Petrov was attempting to hold off Schumacher, nearly chopping across the German’s nose, only to lose seventh at the next turn. Webber took a look, but could not make the pass for position.

Massa pitted on L33 for the hard tires, clearly driving his left wheels across the white line on the pit exit, though it was an early, curved portion of the line and not fully back on the track. Webber finally took seventh from Petrov and was a second and a half ahead within a few corners.

With twenty laps remaining, Hamilton slid under Button for second at Turn 1, while Rosberg led. Vettel, Massa, Schumacher, Webber, Petrov, and Alonso completed the top ten, with some drivers yet to stop for the hard tires. Hamilton was alongside Button, and the latter gave a small push to the right, but allowed his teammate through without crashing the both of them. Button pitted on the next lap. He rejoined in fifth, in front of a feuding Schumacher and Webber. Hamilton pitted on L39, rejoining in fourth and ahead of Button. Meanwhile, Webber took sixth from Schumacher, running through the dust and debris for the position, after Schumacher made himself as wide as possible across the track.

Rosberg pitted from the lead on L40, as did teamamte Schumacher. Rosberg came out in third, barely ahead of Hamilton, who looked and looked for a way around the German. Hamilton attempted to go around the outside at Turn 6, but Rosberg held the position and managed to gap the Briton somewhat. Webber pitted again from sixth, though Hamilton continued to attempt to pass Rosberg, but succeeded only in locking up and flatspotting his tires. Meanwhile, Mercedes told Rosberg that “fuel is critical!”

Hamilton, though told that the time to attack would be during at the end of the race, continued to attack Massa with thirteen to go, neatly taking second from the Ferrari driver on L45. Just after, Rosberg ended his own race for the podium, outbraking himself to run wide at the hairpin and allowing Button to pass. Soon, Button was just three tenths behind Massa, while Webber continued the bad late race runs for Ferrari, passing Alonso for sixth. With ten to go, Vettel led Hamilton, Mass, Button, and Rosberg as the top ten, with Webber, Alonso, Schumacher, di Resta, and Kobayashi completing the top ten.

Perez, a lap or two earlier, slid well wide and pushed Sutil out into the gravel. Both continued on, though Perez received a drive-through penalty for an avoidable collision. Vettel’s radio woes continued, as the team was unable to understand his communications to them. Back in fourth, Massa was attempting to hold of Rosberg, less than ten seconds behind the leader and six laps to go. Hamilton, in the closest racing seen this season, was less than a second behind Vettel into the DRS zone, and was alongside the German onto the straight, only to run a bit wide into Turn 1 and stay in second.

Rosberg took fourth from Massa bu sliding underneath the Brazilian, who then ran off the track, soon losing fifth to Webber. But the best racing was at the front, with Hamilton continuously very, very close to the race leader. Hamilton dove under Vettel to neatly take the lead, with a backmarker coming up ahead of them. Soon, Hamilton had more than a second over Vettel and Button was being told to push. He was six seconds back, but gained a second and a half in just one lap, as Vettel might have an issue that he was unable to relay to the team.

In continued hard driving, Webber was all over the back of Rosberg, looking to finishe fourth after qualifying eighteenth. With just two laps to go, Hamilton had nearly three seconds on Vettel, with Button, Rosberg, and Webber the top five. Webber took fourth, locking up into a turn, but keeping Rosberg behind him. Interestingly, Sutil was able to re-pass Vettel after being lapped by Hamilton.

Button soon recieved a radio message he was likely surprised to hear, “beware of Webber,” he is behind you. He was, too, directly on his gearbox though the turns and onto the straight. Webber took the position, with Button fighting hard to stay on the podium, only Webber was on a mission and stayed in front. At the end, Hamilton took the win after barely making the grid, with Vettel and an absolutely charging Webber third.

Results from the 2011 Chinese Grand Prix:

Driver Team Gap
1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren
2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull +5.1
3. Mark Webber Red Bull +7.5
4. Jenson Button McLaren +10.0
5. Nico Rosberg Mercedes GP +13.4
6. Felipe Massa Ferrari +15.8
7. Fernando Alonso Ferrari +30.6
8. Michael Schumacher Mercedes GP +31.0
9. Vitaly Petrov Renault +57.4
10. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber +63.2
11. Paul di Resta Force India +68.7
12. Nick Heidfeld Renault +72.7
13. Rubens Barrichello Williams +90.1
14. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso +90.6
15. Adrian Sutil Force India +1 Lap
16. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus +1 Lap
17. Sergio Perez Sauber +1 Lap
18. Pastor Maldonado Williams +1 Lap
19. Jarno Trulli Lotus +1 Lap
20. Jerome D’Ambrosio Virgin Racing +2 Laps
21. Timo Glock Virgin Racing +2 Laps
22. Tonio Liuzzi HRT +2 Laps
23. Narian Karthikeyan HRT +2 Laps
Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso + 47 Laps

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