Jenson Button took his second victory of the season in a dramatic and rain-affected Chinese Grand Prix.
The reigning world champion once again made the right call on tyres and in this instance, Button staying out on slicks in the rain while the others pitted for intermediates and showed his class again from the front.
Even when a safety car period eradicated his lead, Button’s tyre gamble paid off and he remained calm in the tricky conditions to take the chequered flag in Shanghai. Jenson now leads the world championship standings’ with 60 points.
McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton finished in second giving the team its first one-two result since Monza 2007, while Nico Rosberg continues to impress with another podium result for Mercedes GP.
After jumping the start and serving a drive-through penalty, plus making five pitstops in switching tyres, Fernando Alonso finished in fourth for Ferrari ahead of Robert Kubica’s Renault and Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull.
It was a disappointing race for Vettel as taking pole position doesn’t guarantee a victory so far this season. The German had a tense battle with rival Lewis Hamilton that even took place in the pits, with the pair racing wheel-to-wheel in the pitlane in an incident that will be investigated later by the race stewards.
Renault’s Vitaly Petrov did a solid job to finish in seventh, just managing to fend off the faster Red Bull of Mark Webber, while Felipe Massa and Michael Schumacher complete the top ten for Ferrari and Mercedes.
The expected rain shower made its presence at the Shanghai International Circuit and once again the weather played havoc with Formula One.
The drama started early when Vitantonio Liuzzi lost control of his Force India under braking, spun and collected Sebastien Buemi’s Toro Rosso and the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi.
Adrian Sutil, Jaime Alguersuari and Rubens Barrichello were also involved and headed for repairs in the pits, while Nico Hulkenberg did well to pick his way through unscathed.
But the safety car was still required, prompting the Red Bulls, the Ferraris, Hamilton and Michael Schumacher to gamble on changing to intermediate tyres.
Initially, it looked like the right call as Fernando Alonso charged past cars still on slicks. But Nico Rosberg and Button, up front having stayed out on the dry Bridgestone tyre, were lapping faster just one lap later as the intermediates burnt out quickly with the track not quite wet enough for them.
Within a couple of laps, all the drivers who made the initial switch to intermediates dived back to the pits for slicks, leaving Rosberg, Button, Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov well ahead of the rest.
The pitstops included Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel racing each other into the pitlane and leaving side-by-side too, an incident that will be investigated later. This incident might cost Hamilton the second position and if McLaren do receive a penalty it would be likely to take the form of a 25-second penalty that would drop him to fifth behind Robert Kubica. Or Lewis may get a grid penalty for the next race at Catalunya.
No sooner had the likes of Hamilton and Vettel fought their way back up the race order the heavens opened again, this time at a heavier rate. Leader Rosberg was caught out and a brief off-track excursion allowed Button to take the lead, and soon after everyone was in the pits to get intermediates back on.
The rain gifted Button, Rosberg and the Renaults a free pitstop, so the leaders 50-second advantage remained. But the safety car was back out after Alguersuari clipped the back of an HRT car and left front wing debris scattered on the track.
Button bunched the pack right up for the restart and, with the new rule about overtaking from the pitlane line, rather than the start/finish line, Vettel tried to take advantage to pass Hamilton into the last corner. But it backfired for his Red Bull team as he only succeeded in forcing Hamilton wide and shoving Webber off the track on the outside!
Hamilton once again had to fight his way back to the front and his progress included an entertaining battle with Schumacher. The seven-time world champion defended with great composure despite struggling for traction in his Silver Arrows. But eventually Hamilton made it by with an opportunistic dive between Turns 8 and 9.
Lewis then caught and passed Rosberg for second, just before the field descended on the pitlane once again for a final fresh set of intermediate tyres.
The race eventually settled down for the last 20 laps, as Button kept Hamilton at a safe distance. There was just a brief scare for the race leader as four laps from home Jenson overshot the final hairpin, but his McLaren team-mate was also struggling to keep his car on the road with fast-balding intermediates.
Rosberg was unable to mount a challenge for victory as he fended off Fernando Alonso for third in the closing stages of the Grand Prix. The Spaniard recovered well despite five pitstops, including a drive-through for jumping the start.
Kubica continued Renault’s good form, taking advantage on his early decision to stay on slicks to hold onto fifth, with Vettel taking a disappointing sixth for Red Bull.
It was another day of missed opportunities for Mark Webber. He was unable to make a rapid progress through the race compared to the likes of Hamilton or Vettel, and struggling with wore-out tyres at the end, the Australian lost out his seventh place finish to Petrov two laps from the chequered flag.
Heikki Kovalainen became the first driver for a new team to beat a driver from the established teams with P14. It helped that the Lotus driver made only two pitstops while Hülkenberg came in six times.
Behind them were the two Hispanias of Bruno Senna and Karun Chandhok, the latter suffering a spin in the wet conditions.
So, a frantic race in China that resulted in a McLaren one-two thanks to the wet weather. Button now leads the drivers’ championship with 60 points, followed by Rosberg on 50, Alonso and Hamilton on 49, Vettel on 46, Massa on 41 and Kubica on 40. While the McLaren-Mercedes team head the constructors’ championship with 109 points to Ferrari’s 90, Red Bull’s 73, Mercedes GP’s 60 and Renault’s 46.
Race results from Shanghai, 56 laps:
1. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1h44:42.163
2. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes +1.530
3. Rosberg Mercedes +9.484
4. Alonso Ferrari +11.869
5. Kubica Renault +22.213
6. Vettel Red Bull-Renault +33.310
7. Petrov Renault +47.600
8. Webber Red Bull-Renault +52.172
9. Massa Ferrari +57.796
10. Schumacher Mercedes +1:01.749
11. Sutil Force India-Mercedes +1:02.874
12. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth +1:03.665
13. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari +1:11.416
14. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth +1 lap
15. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth +1 lap
16. Senna HRT-Cosworth +2 laps
17. Chandhok HRT-Cosworth +4 laps
Fastest lap: Hamilton, 1:42.061
Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 27 laps
Di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 9 laps
De la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 8 laps
Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1 lap
Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1 lap
Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1 lap
Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1 lap
World Championship standings, round 4:
1. Button 60
2. Rosberg 50
3. Alonso 49
4. Hamilton 49
5. Vettel 45
6. Massa 41
7. Kubica 40
8. Webber 28
9. Sutil 10
10. Schumacher 10
11. Liuzzi 8
12. Petrov 6
13. Barrichello 5
14. Alguersuari 2
15. Hulkenberg 1
1. McLaren-Mercedes 109
2. Ferrari 90
3. Red Bull-Renault 73
4. Mercedes 60
5. Renault 46
6. Force India-Mercedes 18
7. Williams-Cosworth 6
8. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 2
NEXT RACE: Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona. May 7-9.