There are two certainties about the Chinese Grand Prix: the first is that an awful lot of Westerners are going to have fun trying to get home after Iceland's generous contribution to global chaos; the second is that it is going to rain at some stage today. Whether that is during the race, which is due to start at 3pm local time, remains to be seen.
So, one bit of bad news, one bit of good, because as we saw in Australia, there is nothing that quite enlivens a Formula One race so much as a decent rain shower. Cut down the grip, and the possibility of overtaking rises in inverse proportion.
And there is more. Of course the odds must inevitably favour the Red Bull duo Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, who ran away and hid last time out in Malaysia and who wrapped up the front row of the grid again here yesterday. But right behind them, Fernando Alonso, Nico Rosberg and the McLaren drivers – Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton – are all potential winners, such is the finely poised balance of Formula One right now.
Indeed, you had to feel sorry for Hamilton. He generally set the pace for much of the weekend, including the first and second parts of qualifying, but when it really mattered his McLaren's handling lost its fine edge just as Vettel moved closer to team-mate Webber's set-up to pounce for his third pole position of the season.
The German set the pace in the first runs of the crucial Q3 session, the last part of qualifying which decides the top 10 grid places, lapping his Red Bull RB6 in 1min 34.970sec. But on the second and final runs, Webber, fastest in morning practice, moved ahead with 1:34.806. Just when that seemed to be it, however, Vettel came hammering round in 1:34.558. Game over.
"It was tough today," Vettel said. "I was not so happy yesterday and this morning especially Mark was quite a bit quicker than me. We did some changes, so we went a little bit in Mark's direction. It was extremely difficult and I was struggling in the first sector especially but going out of qualifying I was [quick] in sector one, so we did a good step forward. I found a better line in the end, remembering last year a little bit. I lost the way a little bit in free practice. But I had two very good runs in Q3.
"In the last corner in the first run I was a bit too wide, otherwise it would have been a very good time, but the second one was just a bit better everywhere and it was a fantastic lap."
It was the fourth consecutive pole position for the Adrian Newey-designed car, proof that it suits all kinds of track. "I'm very pleased with the day," Vettel said. "Especially thanks to the mechanics as they had zero lunch as we required a lot of changes. They had to work from the end of free practice to qualifying, so thanks."
Once again, Webber was philosophical that his team-mate had got the upper hand. "In practice this morning Seb said he came a little bit my way on some of my settings and it was a good battle again between both of us," the Australian said. "He has done a good job in Q3 again. It was definitely a very good lap from Seb. I am pretty happy with mine, so it was again big credit to the team. We have locked out the front row again."
Hamilton too was philosophical, and at least a P6 start is a lot better than P20 from Malaysia. "I'm a little disappointed," he admitted. "We wanted to get pole today, and thought we could; I don't really know where the time went in Q3. The tyres felt fine, pretty much exactly the same as in Q1 and Q2, when the car felt great, but in Q3 the car started moving around a lot more, and it felt like the front was bottoming. We'd been quick all weekend, but sixth was the best I could do in Q3. I think we ought to have been further up the grid – but we'll fight our way as far up the field as we can."
His team-mate, Jenson Button, also struggled, but in the first two sessions. By Q3 he had his MP4-25 going the way he wanted it to. "It was much better, but it was a little bit too late by then," Button said. "The car felt quite different, balance-wise, and I had to play around with the front wing to find a good feeling in the car. It wasn't a bad lap; it's just a bit frustrating that it took us that long in qualifying to get the balance right. But fifth is just about OK, and I think we'll have a good car for the race."
If the rain comes at the right time today, it could still be anyone's race. If not, then it is hard to see the Red Bulls getting beaten.Reuse content