CHINESE GP ’12 – THE PODIUM THAT GOT AWAY


3 weeks break and its finally time for some clear cut racing. As you probably know, we primarily focus on Kimis campaign in F1 here. The Chinese GP have brought him some good results before and the car has had the promise of being capable of positions close to the top. So expectations were high all around. Sadly, the higher they are the harder they seem to fall.

QUALIFYING

Unfortunately the updates brought for this race was found to not be working as expected on the E20, so they were taken off again. Still we saw a solid qualifying result for Kimi. 5th place which was bumped up to 4th due to a gearbox penalty for Hamilton. Grosjean qualified 10th and opted to not set a time in Q3 to save tires for the race.

The field were amazingly close together in the final 2 sessions. The two huge surprises was Nico Rosberg on pole position and possibly even more surprising were Kobayashis Sauber in 4th, bumped up to 3rd. Nicely done!

THE RACE

Lights out and a good start for Kimi gets him past Kobayashi. Button has an even better start and goes on the outside of Kimi in turn 1 to pass him. A nice move that unfortunately was the first nail in the coffin for Kimis race.

He settles in behind Button with no trouble in keeping up with the McLaren while the Mercs are slowly pulling away in front. Or at least Rosberg is. At this point he looks to be slightly faster on the softs than both the McLarens and the Red Bulls around him.
The DRS doesnt help in passing at all. In fact there was nowhere near the same number of passing moves as in 2011. They shortened the DRS zone to limit this, but I believe they overdid the shortening.

At this stage the race still looked promising. Then came the pitstops.. Hamilton goes into the pits right behind Raikkonen on lap 10. The moment I saw that I suspected that Lotus would lose this pitstop battle compared to their previous performance in the pits. And sure enough, Hamilton came out in front. Another place was lost to Webber who had already pitted on lap 6 and had made some great progress through traffic. He even did a wheelie to celebrate this: http://i.imgur.com/sl2GQ.gif

All is far from over at this point for Kimi. Still keeping up with Webber. He is unable to put any pressure on him though and is instead being pressured from Alonso behind him. Schumacher is out of the race due to a mistake in the pits with a wheelnut and everybody gains a position except race leader Rosberg.

Webber pits on lap 21 and this is where things start to get hazy. Kimi now has a clear track ahead of him and he has the chance to narrow the gap to Rosberg ahead. Instead he is barely able to break the DRS gap of 1 second to Alonso behind. The mediums is turning out to be the tire of choice for the Chinese GP. Sadly they do not seem to be working as good on his Lotus as the softs did comparatively. His pace has so far generally been better than his teammate Grosjean but the Frenchman is starting to catch up as Kimi pits on lap 28. Half race distance.

TIME OUT

Here is where I need to break it down. Im sure 98% of the people reading this review already know that Kimi would stay out the remaining 28 laps on the same tires. The thing that makes me scratch my head is that the Lotus team claims that a 2 stop strategy was planned all along.

First pit stop was done after 10 laps. A bit early in my opinion for a 2 stop, but other 2-stoppers did similar things so fair enough. The optimal would probably be to look at what race winner Rosberg did. Which was pit on lap 13 and 34. That meant two stints on mediums at 21 and 22 laps. Very do-able. Especially with two new sets of mediums like he had.

However what Lotus did was put new mediums on the 18 lap stint and the used mediums on the 28 lap stint. Link: http://bit.ly/IXusEo

Umm, okay? Im sorry but that doesnt look planned to me at all. Surely, if it was planned, it would have been the other way around. I think it was a case of, “Oh feck, we are going backwards due to slow and badly timed pitstops. Lets see if we can salvage a podium by letting Kimi stay out.” Having said that, Kimi went for the gamble as well. Nothing in his interviews indicate otherwise. Here is one: http://bit.ly/IN2ZpE
Sky interview after the race: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ax9VKCCqKJo

From then on he was just trying to make the tires last and defend well enough to finish 2nd. As you know, that failed horribly.

Another point I would like to put in numbers is the time Lotus is losing during stops. Lets compare the combined time of Alonsos first 2 stops with Kimis.
Alonso: 40.4 seconds.
Kimi: 42.9 seconds.

Thats a full 2.5 seconds. Massas two stops was even a tenth faster. Ferrari were the fastest crew, but all of the top teams had better times than Lotus not counting mistakes. I have touched on it before and Lotus have said that they are adressing it. Again, that gap is how you lose a position or two in a race. It has to be rectified as soon as possible.

So, could a podium have been possible? Yes, but it would have required a perfect strategy as Kimis pace on the mediums was not as good as one could have hoped for. 12 laps on the softs, 24 laps on the new mediums and 20 laps on the used set might have paid off with a 2nd or 3rd place. Mind you, the drop-off came on lap 20 on the used mediums so it would be touch and go.

Could they have gone 10 laps, 18 laps, 18 laps and then a 10 lap stint on softs? Sure. But it would not have been a podium. The field was bunched so close together that a pit stop would have dropped him to 14th most likely. To do any better than 9th or 10th from there is a stretch.

Ah well. Hindsight is a beautiful thing. The Lotus team have received a lot of flak from Kimi fans after the race. Deserved? Well, the biggest cock-up was definitely to use his new mediums on the shorter stint. If the new set of primes had been put on for the final 28 laps, would that have made a difference? Maybe. But I dont think so. The used mediums were gone after 20 laps for Kimi and I dont think they had as much as 8 laps on them from Q1 where they most likely were used. As mentioned above, for that supposedly planned 2 stopper to work, it would have had to be spread out far better than it was.

ENTROPY

In the end, all Kimi could do was play the hand he was dealt. Also being stuck behind Massa for quite some time only worsened the issue and the tire wear. My guess is that being held up by Massa was the deciding factor to try and let him stay out til the end.

He made a heroic effort but it didnt work out. He is not the first driver, nor is Lotus the first team to play out a strategy that fails. Vettel saw Kimi starting to struggle for grip on lap 48 and pressured him for second place. While defending, Kimi got on the marbles and lost 2 positions straight away. Down the straight a couple more. And it was a tumble down to 14th from there as his laptimes fell off a cliff. Sad to watch but like I said, it happens.

Kudos to Grosjean for making his set of used mediums last 24 laps to the end. Not to be overly apologetic of Kimi, but most people will agree that there is a world of difference in fighting to keep 2nd place while Red Bulls and McLarens are hunting you down, than coming up behind from 11th-12th position.

I will also put out a little reminder that this is only Kimis 3rd race after a 2 year break. Before the season started, I expected Kimi to use half a season to get up to speed. The way he has made his comeback have exceeded my hopes. And it is only natural that he still might need a little more getting used to the Pirellis. Having said that, we also saw that Vettels 2-stop gamble didnt entirely pay off either as he went from 2nd to 5th.

Big congrats to Rosberg for finally making it onto the top step of the podium. I have been expecting and waiting for that since I saw his debut in 2006 in Bahrain. Well done. They say it becomes easier from now on. Perhaps another contender in the championship battle?

Luckily we will not have to wait long before the next race. At least it looks like Bahrain will go ahead. It has not been a track that has been overly kind to Kimi through the years. But he did go from 22nd to 3rd in 2006 in a McLaren that never won a race that year. Fingers crossed 😉

SORENS RACE RATING

Its a tough one. It was an exciting race but a real downer to see Kimi plummet down the order at the end. So I will disregard that and look at the race as a whole. Nico was never really threatened. And the battle for the win that could and would have been, went out the window with the botched pitstop for Jenson Button. A close field and a lot of shuffling behind the leader was exciting and lands it on a 6.5 out of 10 for me.

Go ahead and have your say in the poll:


Peace!
Soren

Images © Lotus F1 Team, Charles Coates/LAT Photographic, Daimler/Hoch Zwei, Pirelli/LAT
Do not hesitate to contact me if you need any of these photos taken down for any reason.

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