Hamilton beats Vettel through superior tyre strategy
Pirelli’s aim to put tyres at front-centre in Formula One race analyses in its first season as sole tyre supplier once again paid off, as McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton employed a three-stop strategy to give him the fresh rubber he needed to overcome Sebastian Vettel’s faster-qualifying Red Bull in the Chinese Grand Prix’s closing stages. Hamilton passed Vettel for the lead with four laps to go, with the German driver then forced to defend his lead from Jenson Button in the other McLaren and his Red Bull team mate Mark Webber, who recovered to finish on the podium after exiting qualifying in the first round, itself caused by the Australian’s desire to keep the softer option PZero fresh for racing.
Pirelli’s Motorsport director Paul Hembery was delighted by the excitement surrounding the race: “The races just seem to keep on getting better and better this year! I think nobody watching really knew how it was going to finish until the very end, which is exactly what we wanted to achieve when we started our Formula One project. We saw an interesting split of strategies, with McLaren managing to make three stops work for Hamilton but Red Bull coming very close to winning with just two.
“Compared to Malaysia we experienced a lot less degradation, with some drivers managing to get 20 laps or more out of the hard tyre. We didn’t experience an excessive amount of the toffee-like ‘marbles’ out on track and it was clear that this race was won and lost on tyre strategy. The end result was that all the leading runners were very close together at the finish, and the people who had looked after their tyres best took the top results. It’s hard to imagine how we can top this at the next grand prix in Turkey, but we’re certainly going to try to have something just as good.”
Webber finished third after starting from 18th on the grid, following a three-stop strategy alongside the McLarens of Hamilton and Jenson Button, who finished fourth. Webber’s somewhat shambolic exit from qualifying could be viewed as fortuitous in hindsight; he was able to save three sets of soft PZero tyres for the race, which he was able to use to devastating effect on Sunday, including a fastest lap under 1:39, a second and a half better than even Hamilton could manage. Having worked his way through the field by sprinting between his three pit stops, Webber was able to climb onto the podium by passing Button on the penultimate lap.
Red Bull selected two stops for Vettel, and the defending champion was able to make his strategy work up to the closing stages. However, in completing a much longer stint on the hard tyres than his rivals, Vettel inadvertently set up a thrilling finish in which the top six were covered by just 15 seconds. The race was characterised by plenty of overtaking from start to finish, including some thrilling battles featuring multiple world champions Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso, and some of the new and exciting talents to emerge in the sport such as Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi.
Once more this year the weather remained dry throughout the weekend, with the race starting in ambient temperatures of 22 degrees centigrade and a track temperature of 30 degrees centigrade. All the drivers apart from Webber started the race on the soft tyre, with the teams split between two and three stop strategies. A notable exception was HRT driver Narain Karthikeyan, who was classified 23rd after stopping only once on lap 23. The fastest lap of the race, set by Webber (1m38.993s) was also considerably quicker than the fastest race lap set by Hamilton last year (1m42.061s) – during which there were some periods of light rain.
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