Ferrari gathers around Felipe Massa. President Montezemolo himself explains that they have great faith in Felipe.
"Around I haven't seen who knows how many phenomena...".
So, he calms down. The president helps the Brazilian in every way, nipping in the bud the rumors that Felipe Massa was replaced by Sergio Perez, the new tightrope walker acclaimed by Ferrari fans after the Malaysian Grand Prix and the spectacular comeback attack against by Fernando Alonso. Perhaps, in the meantime, two things are certain: Massa's contract expires in June and the young Mexican from Sauber is already a protégé of the Maranello team, because he grew up in the Academy. In short, Sergio Perez is exactly what Lewis Hamilton was for McLaren, a product of Luca Baldisseri. How this story will end remains a mystery. What is certain is that Felipe Massa has already been dumped by the fans but, above all, it is certain that Ferrari in these conditions has no chance of conquering the Constructors' World Championship, car permitting of course. Even if Fernando Alonso were to become a phenomenon and the F2012 were to be reborn, it would be virtually impossible to win the constructors' title with just one driver. In short, Luca Montezemolo (but also Stefano Domenicali) help Felipe Massa, but now he is the driver who has to help himself. First of all, avoiding acid jokes on the F2012 (at Sepang he was able to say that the car is not competitive, perhaps forgetting what Fernando Alonso had done...) and then bringing results. In fact, what he did in these two Grands Prix had never been seen in the history of Ferrari. Not even poor Rubens Barrichello, at the end of his career in Ferrari, in full depression and torn to pieces by everyone, had been capable of doing worse: never passed in Q3, thirteenth in Australia and fifteenth in Malaysia. No points. If this continues, not even Montezemolo will be able to save him. Going back to Maranello, facing different time zones, and then going to the other side of the world again is good for you. Stefano Domenicali has done it several times with excellent results and now it's the turn of Felipe Massa, who has changed all his previous plans (basically canceling several days off to the delight of Anna Rafaela Bassi, his wife) to get from Sepang to Maranello , where he meets his engineer, Rob Smedley, and has a long discussion with Pat Fry, going over everything that happened:
"Because only in this way I think you can understand the reasons that led to these two bad weekends".
On the other hand, the moment is difficult for him.
"I'm disappointed, I won't hide it: not scoring points in two races hurts but now let's move on. It's not the first time I've had a difficult moment like this and I know very well that things can change quickly but now is the time to do my best to make that happen, because I don't want to have a negative period like this anymore. I want to go back to normal, to a situation where I can express my talent as it has always been, as the team knows I can do".
Felipe Massa's results in Australia and in Malaysia are annoying, obviously, even if some help came from the words of Montezemolo and those of Domenicali.
"It wasn't a surprise, because I know I can count on the support of a real, second family for me, like Ferrari has always been all these years. I feel that there is trust around me, feeling that the team is united in supporting me and this is very important: now I want to transform it into results and repay everyone for this support".
In short, Massa gives it his all. God forbid, the fans would say, but judging by his travels (he will only go home to Monaco for one day, trying to make it up to Anna Rafaela, and then rushing back to Maranello) the will is there. Indeed, for Felipe there are scheduled meetings with the technicians and engineers and many hours to spend on the simulator. Reason? We need to understand the new car: yes, the F2012 development program is so big that it's correct to talk about a new car, in the hope that already in Shanghai to win it won't be necessary to resort to Fernando Alonso. Speaking of the Spanish driver, the victory in Malaysia brought his smile back, but in view of China, the third Grand Prix of the F1 World Championship, Fernando Alonso remains cautious and looks at the team's work.
"We always stick together, both in good and bad times and we can count on the help of our fans all over the world".
Alonso does not hide the secret of his grit.
"Every morning I wake up with motivation and the desire to win. I feel the same in all the sports and runs and games I play. Will I continue to drive until I am 45? I will ride as long as I feel competitive and able to win and help the team. I hope it stays that way for a long time to come".
The World Championship leader has changed his mind after ten years on Twitter and Facebook, and explains why:
"There has been a lot of unnecessary confusion over the last few months about where I was staying, with whom and why. Everyone felt free to talk about it, even if it wasn't true, and it confused you, the fans, those who follow my career. Moreover, I believe there is a fun way to use social networks. It is my point of view, what I see during my travels and my trainings and whoever finds it interesting will be able to read it. It's also true that Raquel del Rosario tried for a long time to convince me to take this step: she knows how demanding and professional the life of a rider is and when you know little about it".
The World Champion then explains some of his secrets, such as taking the playstation to various circuits around the world.
"Of course! Especially when I go outside Europe: I always carry the Play and the computer with games with me. What do I think about on the track? It depends, you usually think about the next corner, about doing it a little faster than in the previous lap But it is true that in some tests or in some long trials you think about which day I will do this or that thing, about which I have to get a visa in my passport for the next trip. Even very normal things".
Finally a question on the reaction to a stimulus.
"For example, as regards the start of the traffic light, the average last season was around 0.185 seconds. We do even less in training".
In the meantime, it is Ferrari's technical director, Pat Fry, who explains the situation behind the scenes of the Maranello team. A good thing because Ferrari does not always have clarity. We have to understand them, of course, with the lethal pressure of the press perennially upon us. But the words of the technical director explain many things:
"Our position is due to a series of circumstances, above all related to the fact that Fernando has competed in two great races. In Melbourne, after the problem in qualifying, the good start and the first corner put a few things in order. Malaysia the weather worked in our favor and our car performed well in those circumstances: we were able to make the most of the opportunities that arose.We made the right calls in terms of strategy and the team did a great job : every time Fernando came into the pits to change tires he was able to either gain positions or extend his lead. For Fernando it's very nice to be leading the World Championship, something I certainly wouldn't have expected a few weeks ago. But the reality is different : I think our performance in the dry is still about eight tenths off the best".
Obviously always aiming for Alonso doesn't go anywhere. And Fry certainly does not hide it:
"Right from the very first stages of the tests, we realized that they had some problems to solve. Everyone in the factory worked hard but there is still a long way to go. Conditions of poor grip and a damp track seem to be positive for our car and hide some of the problems: we saw it on Friday in Melbourne and then in the race at Sepang".
But Fry goes even further, coldly analyzing the Massa case:
"The car is quite difficult to drive and Fernando managed to get the most out of it while with Felipe we struggled to find the right balance to put him in the best conditions. Furthermore, in Malaysia when Felipe was on the intermediate tires after the red flag he started to have a lot of understeer and so we took the risk of making an extra stop, which didn't pay off. Not realizing that the tires only had graining and weren't worn was the only mistake the pit wall made in the last race. It was a shame for Felipe, another unfortunate circumstance for him. If I had to judge the Scuderia's overall performance to date, I would have to give different judgments for the different areas. The team and the mechanics on track worked very well: in Melbourne we did the faster pit stops and in Malaysia the pit lane performance and strategy allowed us to gain positions or time on the others at each stop".
All right, but what will happen now? Fry reveals that he has great faith in the team's ability to come back. Production, for example, seems to have responded very well to very aggressive requests in terms of development. And this is perhaps the best guarantee for the future. And already because here either the technical development is very fast, or it is useless. Speaking of developments: in F1 we don't just talk about technique, but also about politics. And already because the race scheduled for Sunday 22 April 2012 in Bahrain causes discussion: the teams fear that the F1 race could fuel new riots and protests by the Shiite minority. The teams are reportedly pushing for the race to be canceled or postponed.
"We are all hoping that the FIA cancels this race".
He admits a team principal covered by anonymity.
"No one wants to go to a country where you are not welcome".
Confessed another top member of a team. So far the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone have ensured that the race will take place, comforted by the reassurances of the Bahrain authorities that they exclude safety risks.
Yet, the revolt that forced the cancellation of the race from the calendar last year is still there: demonstrations by the Shiite minority in the Sunni emirate. A protester is on a hunger strike. Many British Conservative and Labor MPs are calling for the tender to be canceled despite the Bahraini government continuing to guarantee security to date. For the Times of London, the teams would have a plan B: two types of return tickets from the Grand Prix in China: one for the emirate, the other for Europe and home. Meanwhile, in the week leading up to the Chinese Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso makes no announcements after his success in the Malaysian Grand Prix. Indeed, the goal is clear:
"We'll have to do our best and bring home as many points as possible: a bit like ants that put away today what will be precious in the future. Arriving here in China as leader of the World Championship I would never have expected, at least after what we had seen in the winter tests. It means that we have done a good job, managing to get the most out of the potential available and making the most of all the opportunities. Since I arrived in Maranello at the beginning of 2010, I have seen that the team is grown a lot in all areas of activity on the track, from strategy to work in the pits and pit stops. I know I can count on a very strong group and a great unity of purpose. We know that our car is not at the level we wanted on the eve of this season but everyone is reacting very well, sticking together as a real team that wants to achieve its goals should be".
Alonso does not hide that Ferrari is not yet at the top.
"I don't expect many surprises in this race compared to what we saw in Australia and Malaysia. It's true that almost three weeks have passed, but it's not like you can overturn the cars in such a short time: we will have some small updates but nothing particularly relevant, also because I imagine that the other teams will also bring something new.So our approach to this Grand Prix will not change: to get a good result we will have to concentrate on ourselves, try to be perfect and take advantage of all the possibilities that can be show up over the weekend".
The Ferrari driver makes no predictions:
"I don't want to stand here and say that our goal is this or that placement, these are speeches that leave the time they find. We'll have to do our best and bring home as many points as possible: a bit like ants, who put away what which will prove valuable in the future".
And he continues:
"In the dry we are still 0.8 seconds behind the best. In order to be able to fight for the win we should hope to find a wet track with low grip again, otherwise we can't hold a candle to the comparison. Alonso was great in Australia, where with a good start and an excellent first corner he fixed Saturday's disaster, and formidable in Malaysia, the team worked perfectly on the track and is reacting well to the stress of the comeback, but we can't always hope for outside help. We didn't do well in the winter, we weren't able to present an immediately winning car and now there's a lot of work to do. We are aware that we can no longer make mistakes, already in China we will bring five new updates, we will improve aerodynamically, waiting to have a totally new package in May, in Barcelona, for the fifth race. I hope that Alonso will once again be able to get the most out of it, but I fear that in Shanghai too he will be forced to run in defense".
Help could come from the weather: it was raining in China and the forecasts don't consider a wet race impossible. If there was confusion, Alonso could make the difference. An added value which, on the other hand, still isn't Felipe Massa. Pat Fry explains:
"The car is difficult to drive and with Felipe we struggle to find the right balance. If he doesn't make it, the fault is above all ours. It's up to us to put him in a position to give his best and so far we haven't succeeded".
But another disappointing performance from the Brazilian would be hard to accept. That's right, Felipe Massa lets off steam. He certainly no longer wants to experience what happened in Australia and Malaysia, the first two Grands Prix of this season born for him under the worst auspices:
"I really hope I can have a normal race, without any problems. It's a special moment for me and I can't and, above all, I don't want to continue like this. That's for sure".
Felipe Massa wants redemption, he wants to demonstrate that the negative judgments against him are bogus:
"I know there are a lot of criticisms about me from the outside but I'm used to it: it's certainly not the first time this has happened. I feel that the team has faith in me and that's enough for me. And I know equally well that it takes very little to change a situation from negative to positive".
Certainly, a miracle cannot happen:
"I know it won't be easy, also because I don't think we can expect big news, at least in the short term. We will have to try to squeeze everything possible out of what we have, as Alonso managed to do".
And the Shanghai track could be the right one to start again and get a positive result: here Massa got on the podium twice, in 2007 and 2008:
"And last year I finished the race in sixth place but it was only in the last part of the race that I was in trouble. Too bad, because on lap 43 I was still second. This is a track that I like".
The Formula 1 circus lands in Shanghai, where the Chinese Grand Prix will take place on Sunday 15 April 2012, where Lewis Hamilton will have to serve a penalty with a loss of five positions on the starting grid. The Englishman was penalized due to the gearbox being replaced. A notable handicap for the McLaren driver, who last year had won and started from pole position in the first two races of the 2012 season, finishing third in both Australia and Malaysia. According to the regulation, the gearbox can be replaced after a minimum of five races. In the meantime, Bernie Ecclestone continues to assure that there will be no change of plans for the Bahrain Grand Prix. On Friday 13 April 2012, the British manager will meet the team managers in Shanghai to take stock of the situation. Ecclestone, however, assures that the Bahrain issue is not on the agenda:
"I will meet the teams for other matters. The race in Bahrain is on the calendar and, unless the local sports institutions decide to cancel it, we will be there".
The fear is that the Grand Prix could somehow fuel the protests and tensions in the Persian Gulf country.
"I don't see any difference between China and Bahrain, it's the same. It's just another race on the calendar".
The final decision will be up to Bernie Ecclestone and the FIA, whose president Jean Todt will not be in Shanghai. In Ecclestone's opinion, there is nothing to fear when it comes to security:
"I don't see why, I don't think people in Bahrain have anything against F1 men or journalists. Apparently people there go about their business in a normal way, I'm told. I haven't been there But a guy from Lotus went to check and said everything is perfect".
According to the Patron of Formula 1, certain issues should remain out of the question:
"When we enter a country in the normal way we don't deal with religion or politics. We will go there. We in F1 shouldn't get involved with other people's political issues".
Friday 13 April 2012 the first free practice session begins on a wet track, therefore the teams prefer to carry out aerodynamic tests. The first driver to set a valid time was Mark Webber, who laps in 1'39"558. In the central part of the session, the rain returned to the circuit, preventing the drivers from improving on the Australian's time. Only in the final part, with As the track dries up, Lewis Hamilton sets the fastest time, ahead of the two Mercedes drivers, Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher.Lotus files an official protest against the rear wing fitted to the Mercedes F1 W03.This wing stalled during the activation of the DRS. This system was judged to be compliant with the regulations in the first two races of the season, and also by the stewards of the Chinese Grand Prix. Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn said ahead of the verdict he was saddened to see the controversy dragging on for the third consecutive race.
"I think it's disappointing after three races that we're still in this situation. The system hasn't changed and the position of the FIA hasn't changed, and as far as I understand their arguments haven't changed. So if you protest now, why haven't they protested in Australia? There is nothing new".
However, the FIA rejected the British team's appeal, which decided not to continue its protest action. In the first practice session, Valtteri Bottas takes the place of Bruno Senna at Williams, Giedo van der Garde that of Vitalij Petrov at Caterham and Jules Bianchi that of Paul di Resta at Force India. For Bianchi and van der Garde it is the debut in a session of an F1 Grand Prix. The second session takes place in dry track conditions. Lewis Hamilton sets the best time in the first part of FP2, when all the cars are on Medium tyres. Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel set the second and third fastest times respectively, before Kamui Kobayashi managed to slip between the two. Towards the end of the session Sebastian Vettel, on Soft tyres, bettered Lewis Hamilton's time. But fourth limit is later improved by Michael Schumacher the best time. At the end of the tests, the German driver precedes Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. Paul di Resta is the author of a spin while Vitalij Petrov is the protagonist of an exit at the last corner.
Marussia-Cosworth's Timo Glock, after losing his front wing, crashes in the first corner, then suffering from pain in his hands. Lewis Hamilton, after two pole positions and as many third places in the race, is aiming for his first success in Shanghai, an objective made complicated however by the fact that the Briton will be penalized with the loss of five positions on the grid, given that he was forced to replace the gearbox before the four minimum Grand Prix envisaged by the regulations. Something that mate Jenson Button did not do, who set the sixth fastest time in free practice. Red Bull Racing is also back to being appreciated, a disappointment at the beginning of 2012 after dominating the last two World Championships: Sebastian Vettel recorded the third best time of the day, followed by teammate Mark Webber, who used an old configuration of the exhausts, effectively rejecting the new one. Ferrari, which arrived in China with Fernando Alonso leading the World Championship despite the current difficulties, did not show any particular improvements: the Spaniard finished eleventh in the morning and tenth in the afternoon respectively, with a gap of 1.343 seconds from Michael Schumacher. Not to mention Felipe Massa, who continues to have problems with his car. Another race in defense is announced for the two drivers of the Maranello team, who tried both tires made available by Pirelli - Medium and Soft - and completed the long run with a full load of petrol.
"Definitely lacking a bit of performance".
This is how Fernando Alonso sums up the first day of free practice.
"It was a normal Friday, focused mainly on evaluating the new aerodynamic solutions in the first session and on the usual tire tests in the session. As always, we tried to figure out which compound was the fastest to use in qualifying and which was the most consistent over long distances".
Sauber, powered by Ferrari, continued to surprise positively: Mexican Sergio Perez fourth and Japanese Kamui Kobayaschi fifth in the first session, while the latter recorded the seventh fastest time in the afternoon, and the Mexican slipped to eleventh position. Force India did well, placing both drivers in the top ten, a sign that the car adapts well to the curves of the Shanghai International Circuit: Paul di Resta is eighth, Nico Hulkenberg ninth. For the Scotsman, there was also a spin on the last corner, luckily without consequences. Fear for Timo Glock, author of the twenty-first time: the nose of his Marussia completely detached at the end of the main straight and the German went off the road taking a blow. However, the checks at the Medical Center ruled out any problems for the pilot.
"Free practice always leaves some time to spare. We know there's still a lot to do".
Luca Montezemolo analyzes Ferrari's results after the first day of free practice for the Chinese Grand Prix, without dramatizing the results.
"It will still take a few weeks to improve the car, in these two races we will have to cushion the damage as much as possible".
The Ferrari president agrees with Fernando Alonso: this is the moment to collect as many points as possible.
"We have to bring some grain home to then see the situation. If there's even a splash of rain, so much the better. Logically, I expected a better car right from the start. I didn't imagine I'd be leading the World Championship after the first few two races".
Saturday 14 April 2012, during the third and final free practice session, Lewis Hamilton set the best time in the final part, on Soft tyres. The British driver precedes Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg. A few hours later, in the first phase of qualifying Sergio Pérez set the fastest time. The Mexican precedes Fernando Alonso, while the reigning World Champion, Sebastian Vettel, risks elimination until the final stages of Q1. The two Caterham drivers, Heikki Kovalainen and Vitalij Petrov, the two Marussia drivers, Timo Glock and Charles Pic, the two HRT drivers, Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Kartikeyan, and Jean-Éric Vergne are eliminated. In Q2 all the drivers immediately put on the Soft tires. The two Mercedes drivers set the best times, while the two Ferraris were tenth with Fernando Alonso and sixth with Felipe Massa. With the second attempt made by the pilots, the Brazilian leaves the top ten. Mark Webber set the fastest time, but in doing so his team-mate, Sebastian Vettel dropped out of the top ten and was eliminated. For the German it is the first elimination in Q2 since the 2009 Brazilian Grand Prix. In addition to Felipe Massa and Sebastian Vettel, the two Williams drivers, Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna, the two Force India drivers, Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg are eliminated , and Daniel Ricciardo. In Q3 Nico Rosberg set the best time, followed in the standings by Lewis Hamilton (later moved back five places due to a gearbox replacement) and Michael Schumacher. In the last attempt Kamui Kobayashi sets the fourth fastest time, but no one can do better than Nico Rosberg. Surprise pole position in the Chinese Grand Prix, third round of the Formula 1 World Championship scheduled on the Shanghai circuit. Nico Rosberg will sprint in front of everyone. The German from Mercedes, in his first career pole position, was the fastest in qualifying lapping in 1'35"121. Nico Rosberg will start ahead of his teammate and compatriot Michael Schumacher. Mercedes takes back the first place on the grid after a waiting for more than half a century. To find a Mercedes in pole position, in fact, we have to go back to Juan Manuel Fangio's performance in the 1955 Italian Grand Prix. The two Mercedes will start ahead of the Sauber of the Japanese Kamui Kobayashi and the Lotus of the Finn Kimi Raikkonen In the third row, the McLaren-Mercedes of the Englishman Jenson Button and the Red Bull of the Australian Mark Webber.The Englishman Lewis Hamilton, in the other McLaren-Mercedes, set the second fastest time, but moved up to seventh position Mexican Sergio Perez completes the fourth row, behind him the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso, who will be joined by the Lotus of Frenchman Romain Grosjean. At the end of qualifying, Nico Rosberg says:
"It's a special feeling. Everything went well, now obviously I'm thinking about the race. The track was getting colder and the rear tires started working better. We changed set-up before the last lap and everything went well. So far in the race we haven't been as fast as we were in practice. However, we are making progress and in the next few hours we will work to get the most out of the car. We probably won't make big leaps forward in two weeks: it takes time, but we'll get there".
And Michael Schumacher is also satisfied:
"Nico's time was phenomenal. I have no reason to be dissatisfied. For the first time the team conquered the entire front row, it's a great result. The race is a question mark but one thing is certain. We We'll do our best".
Fernando Alonso has no illusions, who says:
"Another race awaits us in defense. We were all very close, we knew qualifying would be tough. Under normal conditions it will be difficult to recover positions, the wet race would be a lottery: we have nothing to lose, we have everything to gain. Let's hope , We see…".
Instead, Felipe Massa takes a few steps forward:
"Honestly, the car has improved between one session and the next. We're there, we're slowly moving forward. Tomorrow we hope to do a good job, I'm in good company on the grid".
Despite the eleventh place on the starting grid, Sebastian Vettel is ready for battle:
"The race will be a little more difficult, but not impossible. Obviously I'm not satisfied. In Q2 I was happy with my laps, but obviously I wasn't fast enough. I was satisfied with the car after yesterday's free practice, so we decided to continue to use the old exhausts. In retrospect it is always easy to analyze and talk. Now we have to start from 11th position, everything is a little more difficult but it is not impossible to have a good race. We have a lot of work to do, but the race will be long and this gives us so many chances".
Fernando Alonso had said it will be a difficult weekend, and now he collects this ninth place on the starting grid with disarming disenchantment, the same obtained in Malaysia (which later became eighth due to Kimi Raikkonen's penalty) and just three steps ahead of the disastrous opening in Australia. The fourth row at Sepang was the springboard for an unexpected and incredible triumph, but this time the Spaniard is under no illusions.
"With a good start we could overtake some cars in front of us, but we also have to be careful of Vettel, who is faster than us and is eleventh by chance, and Grosjean himself, who was very fast with his Lotus in the winter tests. The Ferrari is still the one from the first tests in Jerez, we have made some changes, but for the moment these are not significant updates. We know we are a second slower than our best rivals, the gap to close is large and it will take a long time. We have identified our problems, it's true, we are aware that it all boils down to aerodynamics, but in Formula 1 you only win if you work well and we haven't done it so far".
China presents a Fernando Alonso who really struggles to get excited, the low profile has become the rule of life, even if, upon specific request, the Spaniard defines himself as optimistic about the comeback.
"Ferrari, by tradition, is forced to win, again this year, as always, the goal is to fight for the World Championship, but we're not stupid and we realize that right now we're not able to do it. To be honest, we don't even know exactly what situation we are in: the first thing to do is to put together all the possible improvements and mount them on the machine, to have a precise picture of our delay, only then will we be able to understand if reaching the others is a possible undertaking".
Words spoken calmly, but still heavy as boulders. Ferrari is a car that struggles to make itself understood, as can be seen from Massa's words, who thus recounts his gap from the best, even if topped off with a miserable twelfth place starting from the sixth row:
"In a few hours I gained 1.5 seconds and the car was always the same. I just changed the tyres. What happened I don't know".
The fact remains that this ordeal is not in line with history and expectations. Perhaps Pat Fry, the technical director, is not exaggerating:
"We have to radically change the working methodology in terms of choices, planning and implementation".
Sunday 15 April 2012, at the start of the Chinese Grand Prix, Nico Rosberg maintains the lead of the race, followed by Michael Schumacher, while the two McLarens gain positions; on the long straight before the end of the first lap Fernando Alonso passed Mark Webber and moved up to eighth place. Behind the two Mercedes are Jenson Button, Kimi Räikkönen, Lewis Hamilton, Sergio Pérez, Kamui Kobayashi, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber. Sebastian Vettel is fourteenth. The lead positions remain unchanged for the first laps. At the end of lap 6 Mark Webber was the first to change tyres, followed three laps later by Kamui Kobayashi and Sebastian Vettel. On lap 11 Lewis Hamilton passed Kimi Räikkönen taking advantage of the tire change, with the two coming close to contact in the pit lane. As he exited the pit lane, Mark Webber slipped between the two, resisting Kimi's attack. Michael Schumacher, still second, changes tires during the twelfth lap. The right front wheel is not well fixed and after a few bends the German is forced to retire. Race leader Nico Rosberg stops on lap 14. This allows Sergio Pérez, who hasn't changed tires yet, to move into first position, followed by Felipe Massa, also still on used tyres. After the respective stops of the Mexican and Brazilian drivers, Nico Rosberg returned to the lead, followed by Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber, Kimi Räikkönen and Fernando Alonso. At the end of lap 21 Mark Webber decides to make his second stop, followed one lap later by Lewis Hamilton and on lap 24 by Jenson Button. Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber would get stuck behind Felipe Massa before being able to overtake on lap 26 and 27 respectively. Now behind Nico Rosberg comes Limi Räikkönen, followed by Alonso and Romain Grosjean. After the tire change made by the Finn and the Spaniard, Romain Grosjean moved up to second place, followed by Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button. During lap 30, the Englishman passes Sebastian Vettel, who like Romain Grosjean, Sergio Pérez and Nico Rosberg seems to want to make only two stops. Two laps later Sebastian Vettel pitted for his second stop, followed by Romain Grosjean. Jenson Button, now second, reduced the gap to Nico Rosberg who, in turn, made his second stop on lap 35, rejoining second ahead of Sergio Pérez who was defending himself from the attacks of Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber. The Australian also made his last stop during the same lap.
During lap 38, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso stop for the third stop, and shortly after it's Jenson Button's turn, who however loses seconds due to a less than perfect tire change, seeing any chance of victory vanish. With fifteen laps to go Nico Rosberg was 20 seconds ahead of a group led by Kimi Räikkönen, followed by Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button, Romain Grosjean, Bruno Senna, Mark Webber, Pastor Maldonado, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. Mark Webber passes Bruno Senna and Romain Grosjean, which also succeeds Lewis Hamilton. Fernando Alonso, on the other hand, ended up on the dirty side of the track trying to pass Pastor Maldonado, also being passed by Sergio Pérez. A small row of cars formed behind Kimi Räikkönen, until lap 48 when the Finn, having a crisis with his tyres, ended up losing eight positions in just one lap. Simultaneously Lewis Hamilton passes Mark Webber and climbs to fourth place. With five laps to go, Sebastian Vettel was passed by Jenson Button, who returned to second place. Sebastian Vettel, who has the older tyres, had to give up his position three laps later to Lewis Hamilton and finally to his own team-mate. Nico Rosberg wins the Chinese Grand Prix and takes his first victory in the F1 World Championship, after 111 races. For Mercedes this is the tenth victory in the world championship, the first since the 1955 Italian Grand Prix won by Juan-Manuel Fangio. Jenson Button is second, followed by Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel, Bruno Senna, Pastor Maldonado, Fernando Alonso and Kamui Kobayashi. Nico Rosberg conquers his first victory in F1 in the best way, without any mistakes, without any concessions to his opponents: he starts from pole position and leads the way to the finish line. An impressive showdown, obviously due to the performance of the reborn Mercedes which in fact literally dominated. Michael Schumacher himself, in fact, would certainly have finished second, if in the pits they hadn't screwed a wheel wrong during the pit stop. In short, a historic victory for the German company and for all of F1: Mercedes has been back to victory since 1955 and - above all - now it is firmly inserted among the top teams. Speaking of top teams: the two McLarens finished in second place - with Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton in the order - but what is surprising is the Red Bull Racing disaster.
In fact, despite having placed Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel in fourth and fifth positions, the World Champion team appeared to be in enormous difficulty, with Vettel in the end almost humiliated by the two McLarens. The German driver claims:
"I made no mistakes, the car was perfectly balanced, everything looked normal".
But the situation could not have been normal, if the World Champion failed to enter the top ten, which had not happened since the 2009 Brazilian Grand Prix, and finished in a disastrous eleventh place.
"We have to acknowledge that we are not fast enough. Pushing hard wasn't enough, the others did it too and they destroyed us".
Yet Red Bull Racing, to help him, had decided to go back to the old ways, fitting the old exhausts, an abjuration equal to that of Ferrari, but with the aggravating circumstance of having done so in the third race and only on his car, not on that of Mark Webber. Sebastian Vettel had pushed for this choice, but his partner beat him again. Something like this at the beginning of the season no one could have ever imagined because this, among other things, is the third Grand Prix in a row without a Red Bull Racing driver on the podium. Behind the two Red Bulls was Romain Grosjean's Lotus and seventh was Bruno Senna's Williams ahead of teammate Pastor Maldonado and Fernando Alonso. Kamui Kobayashi's Sauber closes the top ten. Already from this we understand that the race of the Maranello cars is a race to forget, with Felipe Massa finishing in thirteenth position and with two Williams and a Lotus (nearly even a Sauber) finishing ahead of the Ferrari. The Brazilian's situation then becomes more and more difficult within the Maranello team: the results just don't want to know about arriving. And the doors of an early dismissal are opening more and more for him. We will see. Meanwhile, what is certain is that the World Championship standings are dominated by Lewis Hamilton, ahead of his teammate, Jenson Button, and Fernando Alonso. A perfect snapshot of the fact that now - apart from Mercedes - McLaren is the car to beat.
"What's going on back there?"
The voice on the radio is excited, Nico Rosberg is in front, there are just a few laps to go, he is flying towards the first triumph of his career, a dive into personal history, but also of the brand he brings to the track, because Mercedes, his car, does not he has been winning a Grand Prix since 1955, 57 years ago, and the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio was behind the wheel.
"Don't worry, there's always a different one, they overtake each other, a furious battle, but everyone stays away".
Go Nico, nobody can stop you, your time has come, say it in the language you want, since you are German and your father is Finnish, but you also know English, French, Italian and Spanish. Go Nico and remember Shanghai forever:
"How can I ever forget this place, this circuit, this Sunday, I've been waiting for a day like this for a lifetime, me winning an F1 race and trying to imitate my father".
Go and don't say you don't like number 11, since from now on it will be an irreplaceable talisman, because this race in China is the number 111 of your career, because Mercedes won the first race 111 years ago, and why, also remember that Fangio in Monza, in 1955, had triumphed on 11 September. Go, and speaking of your father, Keke Rosberg, an unbearable pain in the ass as you define him, but also an incomparable teacher, tell us if to celebrate, after the award ceremony, you were the first to phone him or Vivian, your fiancée, German, but with credit for introducing you to Italy and Milan, because she studied there, architecture, and you've made a lot of friends. Do not say:
"I had only imagined such a moment in a dream, but now I'm keeping my feet on the ground, because we won here in China, the car went fast, but there's still a lot to work on":
Let yourself go, because your performance was extraordinary, leading from start to finish, flawless start, perfect strategy, flawless pit stop. Rejoice, because it wasn't easy, the team put you to the test, Jenson Button was pressing from behind (the mechanics wasted time fitting the left rear wheel, nine seconds fatal for possible overtaking) and there is certainty of winning it was just avoiding the third stop, with tires that risked lethal wear. But no, it is clear that the word Shanghai was written in your destiny.
"The tires have held up well".
Contrary to what happened to Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus, who went from second to fourteenth in the last eight laps, or to Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull Racing, overtaken in the final kilometers by Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and teammate Mark Webber, a of the World definitively descended on earth, fifth at the finish line. Leave him to his curses, with a Red Bull Racing (not even Mark Webber, fourth, is happy, as well as fear for having risked taking off on the track after contact with the curb) that stutters almost as much as the Ferrari, while your face is radiant, like that of Haug, head of Mercedes sport, which recalls the history that was, but above all:
"That we have only taken a little over two years since we returned to experience such joy".
Or that of Ross Brawn, who has been arm in arm with Michael Schumacher for a lifetime, who is in charge of this team. If you want to leave the confines of your team, talk to Jenson Button or Lewis Hamilton, the two McLarens, who bowed down to Nico Rosberg, but are leaving China convinced they are the favorites in the fight for the title. The former perhaps paid for the three-stop strategy, the latter hit the lowest step of the podium for the third time and thanks to this consistency he is leading the World Championship. At the same time, miracles don't repeat themselves, it's true, but after the victory in Malaysia, something more was expected from Fernando Alonso, who was only ninth in the end.
"It didn't go very well. In Malaysia we said the strategy had been perfect, here we have to be honest it didn't go well. We were always in traffic and weren't able to exploit the potential. The car was good in the race. Three stops is a strategy where you have to overtake but with the speed we have in the straight we have to overtake in impossible places, on the outside on the corners and when you make up too many things it goes wrong. The Williams also finished ahead of us".
But also the technical director of Ferrari, Pat Fry, agrees to analyze the race by explaining the strategy of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa:
"We knew the race would be a challenge given the starting position. The first stop was quite easy to manage. In the second we managed to pass Kimi and we tried to do the same thing with Lewis in the third. We chose three stops with Fernando Alonso like last year, Felipe Massa had a good race, the strategy was two stops, more difficult for the tires but we knew it would be a challenge.Mercedes? Did a great job in qualifying and a good race , congratulations, also last year here they had the best result in terms of race pace".
Felipe Massa for his part agrees with Alonso:
"I think the strategy didn't work so well, otherwise it could have been possible to score points. Even Fernando with a different strategy wasn't able to do more than ninth, so you can't even be sure if anything would have changed. I'm definitely a little happier for my race, for what I did on the track than in the first two Grands Prix. There are many strong teams, we have to work to be strong too".
And says the Ferrari team principal, Stefano Domenicali:
"We're disappointed, there's no denying it. We had the potential to get a better result than this but we weren't able to. The lack of top speed, one of the weak points of this F2012, prevented Fernando above all from making the most of a strategy that , at one point, had put him in a position to fight for a place in the top five. Felipe bet on the two stops, counting on tire degradation from his rivals which, however, only occurred in a few cars. It was quite a race anomalous, which however held some surprises compared to the forecasts and I think it is worth analyzing the development in depth to try to understand how to interpret the next appointments in the best way.In Bahrain we will have to run again in defence but that does not mean that we will go there resigned. We had three different winners in three races, with the alternation of performances that changed for some cars from race to race in a very significant way. In this phase we have to do our best on the track and take advantage of all the opportunities, but the most important work must be done in Maranello, especially on aerodynamic development".
It's not a surrender, Alonso is not the type. He dreamed of comebacks even last year, in the second part of the season, when by now everyone had understood that Sebastian Vettel was an uncatchable missile, let's imagine now that he is just eight points behind Lewis Hamilton and that he still has seventeen battles ahead. He doesn't give up, the Spaniard, even if his race was depressing. Anger and frustration dominate his soul and, in the outburst in the pits, here is the indictment. He doesn't like this new Ferrari at all.
"We lack speed. And without that you won't overtake. I spent the entire Grand Prix in the middle of traffic, there was always some car that I couldn't get over and in these conditions ruining the tires is inevitable. Perhaps we could have even adopted a different strategy, two stops instead of three, but not immersed in that tussle. We need to improve quickly. Because I'm tired of overtaking in impossible corners, only to be sucked into the straight and passed again with ridiculous ease".
Longing to turn the page.
"Up to now we've always worked very well on the track (the Ferrari pit stops were the fastest yesterday) and the points in the standings prove it. But the ranking does not photograph reality. The problems we have are much wider than the gap from the best. I knew my first place was random and this race proved it. It's no coincidence that Massa has never been able to enter the top ten in the standings and I didn't make it in Australia. We don't have a competitive car and we have to hope that things change quickly. Because Hamilton and I, seventeen laps from the end, entered the pits together, we were close together. At the finish line he finished third, I ninth. He passed, I was forced to follow. With Perez I made a mistake, but with Maldonado there was no way. I had no speed".
Alonso's travail, after China, seems evident. The problem is that, despite the great work, Ferrari has not managed to turn the situation around. It won't even happen in Bahrain, says Pat Fry, the technical director.
"I can't expect miracles if we go on the track with the same car".
Yet Stefano Domenicali, the team principal, angry despite his smiles and polite manners, asks for haste.
"I hope that our technicians prepare a car up to par as soon as possible, different from this one. I don't think our technicians suddenly became all… you decide the adjective, they are people who know how to work and who will be able to find a solution. And I don't expect it today, but yesterday".
Jokes aside, it would be enough tomorrow too and not at the end of the season. Because Ferrari is now a car that bows to Mercedes, McLaren and Red Bull, but can't even compete with Sauber, Williams and Lotus. Massa was tender, after the umpteenth round out of points. In Shanghai she took it out on the strategy:
"Two stops was the right choice, but the first had to be done much earlier. Instead I ended up in the traffic and goodbye dreams".
Who knows if, as he says, we'll take a big step forward from the fifth race in Barcelona. If this is not the case, someone in crisis like him risks breaking through the all-time low of red-shirted riders. Meanwhile in Shanghai the FIA confirms that the Bahrain Grand Prix, scheduled for Sunday 22 April 2012, will take place regularly. The Federation, through a note, highlights that the conditions necessary to allow the normal running of the race will be guaranteed in the Asian country.
"The FIA confirms that the Bahrain Grand Prix will take place according to schedule. The FIA assures that each event included in the World Championship is organized in a manner that complies with the statutes of the Federation and with sporting and technical regulations. The safety of the public, officials of race, drivers and teams is ensured at every stage of the event.The FIA must make rational decisions based on the information provided by the Bahraini authorities and the commercial rights holder (Bernie Ecclestone, ed.).Furthermore, we have tried to evaluate the current situation in Bahrain. President Jean Todt led a fact-finding mission to the kingdom in November last year, met many people in relevant positions, including some members of parliament, the chairman of the independent commission of inquiry, ambassadors of countries Europeans, the prince, the interior minister and various representatives of the business world, all expressed their hopes for the smooth running of the tender. Since then the Federation has remained in close contact with all these subjects. Out of the public eye, the FIA received regular updates on the security situation from senior diplomats in Bahrain and other independent parties".
Furthermore, the note highlights:
"The Formula 1 Commission or the commercial rights holder have not asked the FIA World Council to postpone or cancel the race. Based on current information, at this point, the FIA is satisfied, and believes that adequate safety measures are in place. been adopted in view of the event".
The smell of money stuns more than tear gas: 30.000.000 euros is a creepy figure, difficult to give up, even if you risk running into a wall of indignation and violence, a country in turmoil, a bloody protest, on the borders of civil war, against the sovereign and his family, a Shiite majority that for more than a year (it all started last February and so far there have been more than 30 dead) has been asking for greater freedoms, while the Sunni king fights the processions with weapons and gas, disperses the crowd by any means, makes organizations like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch cry out for the violation of human rights. This has long been Bahrain, no longer the happy island it once was, little oil, but many banks for Saudi wealth, this is the venue for the next Grand Prix. Certainly not the ideal scenario for a Formula 1 race, a container of riches and entertainment, which should produce passion and smiles. Says Joe Stork, vice president of the Observatory of Human Rights:
"impossible in the guerrilla climate that the population is experiencing, a heavy atmosphere in which cheerfulness is forbidden".
A theater of anguish and fear. Yet the FIA has decided: we go to Bahrain, the race remains on the calendar. For days in Shanghai there was talk of nothing else, many teams, even if never openly, confessed their apprehensions and pushed for a renunciation. The sporting authority, to cut short any discussion, sanctioned its choice with a press release.
"There is no reason to cancel the Grand Prix, the local authorities guarantee the safety of those arriving in the country and we are only following this information".
Nothing to fear: the FIA, with its president Todt, is sure of it, as sure and gloating is Ecclestone, the owner of the commercial rights, the man who should return the 30.000.000 euros to Bahrain, depriving the teams of half , in case it was Formula 1 that took a step back and not the organizers. It matters little if news of explosions with even serious injuries continue to arrive from Bahrain, if the demonstrators have first called on Formula 1 to desist.
"Don't mix our blood with your show".
And now they are ready to fight it, with photos of Ecclestone already burned in the square, if Manama, the capital, is preparing to lock down the hotels of foreign guests and design a sort of red zone to keep Europeans away from possible areas at risk. And it doesn't matter if the choice causes indignation in many international observers, while the leader of the protesters is in prison on hunger strike. Amnesty International stands openly:
"Disputing in the Grand Prix risks being interpreted by the government as a symbolic return to normality, while harsh repression is underway. The international community must not turn a blind eye to the human rights crisis underway in the country".
The FIA's decision (which in Shanghai appears above all to be of an economic nature) risks passing as a political choice, given that for Human Rights Watch, Formula 1 thus takes the side of the Bahraini government. But the FIA has no intention of changing its mind, unless the situation worsens further in the next few days and the local authorities surrender. After all, Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt wonder why so much noise:
"There is no team that has asked us to cancel the event".
Yet there is talk of worried meetings in a continuous stream. There is fear and fear. Evidently that of exposing oneself is stronger than that of bombs.