We hope that little lie in was worth it. Because those of you who spent the morning enjoying a self-indulgent Sunday snooze have just missed out on the best 56 laps of Formula One racing we’ve seen for quite some time. No bungled tactics, no pit-stop leap-frogging – this morning’s race goes down as a stone-cold classic thanks to some good old fashioned wheel-to-wheel racing, with positions changing hands at the front of the field with head-spinning regularity.
Pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel finally proved he isn’t just a terrifying, high-speed android in a small boy’s body by losing out to both the McLarens at the first corner, while eventual race winner Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber (whose 15-place romp through the field will take some beating for Drive of the Season) have both proven themselves solid title contenders. Jenson Button was responsible for one of the race’s few driving errors – the 2009 champ accidentally pulled up to the Red Bull pit crew during his first pit stop, an error which proved time consuming enough to see him spend the second phase of the race back behind Vettel. Things then got worse for Button as he lost out to Hamilton – his teammate pulling off a clean manoeuvre on lap 36, before cooly passing Vettel just four laps from the finish.
So, what’s the reason for this sudden upturn in on-track action? The new Wacky Racers-style DRS system (whereby drivers can adjust the angle of their rear wing) undoubtedly helped along the Shanghai International circuit’s long straights, but suggest to Mark Webber that today’s career best performance is all down to a little button on his steering wheel and we imagine you’d soon have some inventive new swearwords to add to your vocabulary.
The threat of Sebastian Vettel building an insurmountable championship lead is also undoubtedly to thank for this morning’s gritty drives. Particularly in the case of Mark Webber, who, following his dismal qualifying performance yesterday, had more to prove than most. But having finished today’s race less than a second behind his teammate (not to mention setting a fastest lap two seconds clear of anyone else), it’s fair to say that the Aussie has boldly stated his case for being treated as an equal to the World Champion. After all, Webber made a staggering 15 overtaking manoeuvres today, while Vettel, as unstoppable as he may have been in qualifying, ultimately ended up going backwards.
Whatever you put it down to, the defused worry of a Vettel and Red Bull whitewash is extremely good news for spectators. Mercedes boss Ross Brawn has promised his car will be more competitive once we reach the cooler climes of the European races and with Renault expected to continue their impressive form, it looks like this year’s title may not be a foregone conclusion after all. Race four of the 2011 season takes place in Turkey three weeks today – forget to set your alarm clock at your peril.
Here’s how they finished:
1. Lewis Hamilton Britain McLaren-Mercedes 56laps 1hr 36m 58.226s
2. Sebastian Vettel Germany Red Bull-Renault +00m 05.1s
3. Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault +00m 07.5s
4. Jenson Button Britain McLaren-Mercedes +00m 10.0s
5. Nico Rosberg Germany Mercedes-Mercedes +00m 13.4s
6. Felipe Massa Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari +00m 15.8s
7. Fernando Alonso Spain Ferrari-Ferrari +00m 30.6s
8 Michael Schumacher Germany Mercedes-Mercedes +00m 31.0s
9. Vitaly Petrov Russia Renault-Renault +00m 57.4s
10. Kamui Kobayashi Japan Sauber-Ferrari +01m 03.2s
11. Paul di Resta Britain Force India-Mercedes +01m 08.7s
12. Nick Heidfeld Germany Renault-Renault +01m 12.7s
13. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Williams-Cosworth +01m 30.1s
14. Sebastien Buemi Switzerland Toro Rosso-Ferrari +01m 30.6s
15. Adrian Sutil Germany Force India-Mercedes +1 lap
16. Heikki Kovalainen Finland Lotus-Renault +1 lap
17. Sergio Perez Mexico Sauber-Ferrari +1 lap
18. Pastor Maldonado Venezuela Williams-Cosworth +1 lap
19. Jarno Trulli Italy Lotus-Renault +1 lap
20. Jerome d’Ambrosio Belgium Virgin-Cosworth +2 laps
21. Timo Glock Germany Virgin-Cosworth +2 laps
22. Vitantonio Liuzzi Italy HRT-Cosworth +2 laps
23. Narain Karthikeyan India HRT-Cosworth +2 laps
Rtd Jaime Alguersuari Spain Toro Rosso-Ferrari 9 laps completed