FERNANDO Alonso was left hailing “a perfect Sunday” even if confusion often reigned in the land of Confucius.
Alonso was flawless in the Chinese Grand Prix yesterday, three weeks after crashing out of the Malaysian Grand Prix with a front-wing failure following an opening-lap collision with Sebastian Vettel.
The race at the Shanghai International Circuit was always going to boil down to which car, driver and team combination could execute the ideal strategy.
As the event unfolded, the lead consistently changed hands due to an overwhelming number of pitstops.
But there were no doubts about Alonso’s performance en route to the 31st victory of his Formula 1 career, equalling Nigel Mansell’s mark and hauling the Spaniard up to fourth on the all-time winners’ list.
“It was definitely a fantastic race for us from start to end, without big problems with the car – a perfect Sunday,” said double world champion Alonso who won in China in 2005.
“The team did a perfect job with the set-up of the car for qualifying and the race, with perfect pitstop times and the way they were executed.
“The victory is a good reward for the team, and well deserved after the disappointment in Malaysia. It feels great. With the two races we have finished this year, with a second place [in Australia] and the victory today, the start of this campaign is looking good. We are very optimistic, but we need to keep going like this in this direction, with good weekends, without any extra risk, and, hopefully, in Bahrain [on Sunday] we can again score some good points.”
Even Alonso, however, has admitted the race “was not so easy to understand sometimes”.It was not helped by Pirelli’s choice of the soft tyre for this event as one of their two compounds as the rubber rapidly degraded, lasting for no more than three or four laps.
In qualifying, the first seven drivers set their best times on the softs, giving them an early advantage in the race, but knowing they would be forced into pitting early.
The six drivers behind – McLaren’s Jenson Button, Vettel in his Red Bull, Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg, Force India duo Paul Di Resta and Adrian Sutil, along with Sergio Perez in his McLaren – all started on the medium compound. That gave them early durability but left them needing to switch to the soft tyre late on, ensuring it would all be about position come the closing stages.
“We were overtaking the McLarens, Hulkenberg, Sebastian, so it was a little bit of a mix, so it was not an easy race,” said Alonso.
“There were some moments of action, let’s say, and the risk is there when you have to do an overtaking manoeuvre, which you have to manage as well.”
Alonso jumped second on the grid Kimi Raikkonen at the start and passed pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton at the beginning of lap five. It was those two drivers who finished second and third, with Lotus driver Raikkonen hindered in his bid for a win by a minor collision with Perez that affected his front wing.
Raikkonen is now three points behind championship leader Vettel, who had to settle for fourth, just 0.2 seconds adrift of Mercedes driver Hamilton.
Alonso has closed to within nine points of Vettel, with Hamilton 12 behind the reigning three-times world champion.
Although Hamilton dropped two places by the end of the 56-lap race, the 28-year-old was content enough.
As team principal Ross Brawn told Hamilton over the team radio at the end: “Phew! That was close.
“We are not quite there yet, but we are not so far away so let’s keep working hard.”
Hamilton added: “I’m really happy with the result, it’s a great one for the team, and I’m very happy with the points. The team did a fantastic job all weekend. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the kind of pace Fernando and Kimi had, but are still very fortunate to get on the podium.”
Behind Vettel, Button finished a creditable fifth given the ongoing limitations of his McLaren.
The Briton was followed by Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, Daniel Ricciardo in his Toro Rosso, Di Resta, Lotus’ Romain Grosjean and Hulkenberg in tenth, with Marussia’s Max Chilton 17th.
Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez, who rear-ended Sutil on lap 16 and forced them both into retirement, has been handed a five-place grid penalty for next Sunday’s race in Bahrain.
Red Bull’s Mark Webber will serve a three-place penalty for running into Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne, forcing a pit stop which saw him retire a lap later after his right rear wheel came off.