Rather stupidly I managed to sleep in and so missed the first 12-13 laps or so. This was not only annoying in itself, but also meant I had no idea until after the race (when I checked Betfair) whether the safety car made an appearance or not. Happily (especially given the lack of hedging) both bets proved green, and this was the best result since the very first race when Ferrari top scored in Australia.
When I started watching Grosjean was leading (I admit, this made me rather excited), ahead of Webber and Vettel. That was a near perfect situation. Hulkenberg was just outside the top six, and I had no idea if there was a safety car or not.
A quick check of the first 10 seconds showed that Grosjean had a great start and Hamilton got a puncture. Meanwhile, Caterham and Marussia encountered one another, sadly meaning Mr. M’s bet on Force India retiring first didn’t come off.
The gaps between the leading three cars was moderate, 2-3s or so. They were already some distance ahead of the rest of the field, and after the first round of pit stops emerged in the same order.
However, each of the three leading cars had a slightly different strategy. Webber pitted earliest by far for his second stop, and went on a three-stop strategy, putting the medium (option) tyres on for the final stint. Vettel stayed out longer than Grosjean by quite a few laps and both of them went for two stops. This meant that Vettel was able to quickly pass Grosjean for the (effective, Webber had yet to make stop three and technically led) lead, after which he was untroubled. Webber pitted with about 11 laps left and set about chasing Grosjean down.
Unlike Vettel, who had swooped past the Frenchman, Webber had a much harder time of it. He was clearly faster, but Grosjean was driving well and the Lotus had good enough straight line speed that it was difficult for Webber to make use of the solitary DRS zone to pass him. With a few laps left the Australian finally got ahead, but by this point Vettel was over the hills and far away.
So, Vettel won again, but it was far more entertaining than his usual modus operandi of getting pole and leading every lap. It was also very impressive by Grosjean, whose car just isn’t as fast as the Red Bull.
These three were a long way (a pit stop, or more) ahead of those battling behind them, where there was also much action. Hulkenberg, with about 15 laps left, was behind Webber, and followed by Alonso and Raikkonen. Earlier, Raikkonen had been down in 10th, but a combination of passing and others receiving drive-throughs (Massa for speeding in the pit lane and Rosberg for an unsafe release in the pits) enabled him to climb to 6th, at this stage.
It seemed as though Hulkenberg would be able to repeat his Korean performance and keep 4th, but, alas, Alonso and Raikkonen latterly got past him. However, it was still a strong drive, and he got another strong finish.
It was a great day for Sauber, with Gutierrez 7th, securing his first ever points. Sauber have taken a great leap forward in the Constructors’, opening up a gap over Toro Rosso and now (on the basis of this race) within striking distance of Force India.
Rosberg was 8th, and although he couldn’t get past Gutierrez this was due to some solid defence driving from the Mexican, and the fact that the German driver was forced to turn down the performance on his engine for the last few laps due to a critical fuel situation.
Button got 9th, about two inches ahead of Massa in the closest finish I can remember.
On the final chicane of the race Maldonado forced Bottas off of the track to take 16th, in a move which will not have ensured him a place on the Finn’s Christmas card list. After the race, following an interview with the Venezuelan, Eddie Jordan stated that Maldonado and Williams would part ways after this year.
The Constructors’ is Red Bull’s. Perhaps not officially, but it will be theirs. However, the rest of the Constructors’ is intriguingly poised. From 2nd down (ignoring the pointless teams and Williams) we have:
Force India 62
Toro Rosso 31
Sauber now have a real chance of overhauling Force India, who have dropped off the pace sharply since the tyres were changed. In the last few races Sauber seems to have gained some performance and made up 14 points on both Toro Rosso and Force India, neither of whom got a single point out of Japan.
I’d be surprised if they could catch McLaren, however.
At the sharp(ish) end it’s also very tight. Mercedes is faster than Ferrari but more bad luck cost them today and allowed the Prancing Horse to trot a little bit ahead. Lotus have been very competitive in the last couple of races, and it’s not impossible for them to catch one or both of the teams ahead of them.
In betting terms, it was a green race. It was also the first time this season I’ve offered more than one tip on a single race, so it was nice both came off. Of the bets I considered but didn’t take, neither came off. Webber didn’t win and Lotus didn’t top score (if Grosjean had won then not only would that’ve been a great tip from Mr. Putney, it also would’ve meant Lotus would’ve top scored).
Mr. M’s suggestion that Grosjean would get a podium also proved correct.
There are four races left, two pairs of back-to-backs. Unfortunately we have the rubbish Indian circuit next, and then the slightly tedious Abu Dhabi, but after that we have the new circuit in America, which was great last time, and the excellent Interlagos.
The race in India is in a fortnight.