Rosberg dominant as McLaren’s use Pirelli medium tyre for podium charge
Nico Rosberg has stamped his name on the 2012 Formula One season with a dominant weekend in China, during which Pirelli says the Mercedes driver managed his allocation of the P Zero White medium tyre and P Zero Yellow soft tyre perfectly. With Ross Brawn behind him – as he was for teammate, Michael Schumacher’s seven Championship titles – Rosberg is now firmly marked out as a contender, claiming pole position by half a second, and taking his debut victory over 20 seconds ahead of the pursuing McLarens of Jensen Button and Lewis Hamilton. Both British drivers showed masterful use of pit stops and tyre compounds as Button, Hamilton and Mark Webber all passed defending champion Sebastian Vettel, who used a two-stop strategy, on fresher sets of P Zero White medium tyres.
Vettel chose a two-stop strategy, but was forced to defend from the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton, who claimed the final podium place on the penultimate lap, despite making one more pit stop than the reigning world champion. Hamilton now leads the drivers’ championship, with McLaren having adopted a different strategy to most of their rivals. The Englishman was one of the few drivers, including teammate Button, to stick with the soft tyre during his second stint, while the majority of other drivers went to the harder tyre on their first stops.
A wide variety of tyre strategies were seen all the way down the pit lane, with many teams pushing the limits of performance. Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen completed a 28-lap final stint on the P Zero White medium tyre, which at one point boosted him up to second place before he dropped down the order as the tyres went off. Such was the closeness of the action that Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi, who finished ninth and 10th respectively, set an identical lap time in the closing stages of the race – despite adopting completely different strategies.
The other Sauber of Sergio Perez, whose tyre strategy helped him to challenge for victory in Malaysia, stayed out longest on the soft tyre at the beginning of the race, moving onto the harder tyre on lap 16. The longest first stint of all, 18 laps, was run by Ferrari’s Felipe Massa – who was one of only four drivers (together with both Toro Rossos and Williams driver Bruno Senna) to start on the medium tyre.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery commented: “Many congratulations to Nico and to Mercedes for this thoroughly well-deserved victory, during which they exhibited a perfect understanding of how to get the most out of both compounds in challenging circumstances and keep the tyres within the optimal performance window.
Former Pirelli tester in the points
“As expected, we saw a high degree of tyre degradation in the tough conditions of China, with the front-left tyre in particular coming under particular stress. This gave the opportunity for the teams to try out a wide variety of different strategies, which resulted in spectacular yet clean wheel-to-wheel racing that if anything surpassed even last year’s Chinese Grand Prix. I’d also like to congratulate our former test driver Romain Grosjean, who claimed his best-ever finish with sixth overall for Lotus.”
The victory was the first for Mercedes since the 1955 Italian Grand Prix, using a two-stop strategy. Rosberg’s pace at the beginning of the race was enough to ensure that he was able to complete his first pit stop without losing the lead and from there on he was able to control his advantage, completing the race on the medium tyres. There was disappointment for Mercedes in Schumacher, who was the race’s only retiree, having started second on the grid.