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Vettel Clinches Red Bull 1-2 in Soggy China

April 19, 2009

He gave us a taste of  his talent in the wet, with his first victory with Toro Rosso at Monza, last season, and now Sebastian Vettel has proved it wasn’t just a one off, after bringing his Red Bull home in first place at a rain-dampened Chinese Grand Prix. Teammate, Mark Webber scored his highest finish yet, following the young German home in second, to put Red Bull Racing on the top of the podium for the first time ever.

Despite the race starting behind the safety car at the soggy Shanghai circuit, Vettel drove faultlessly and with sheer determination to give the British team their first Grand Prix win. It wasn’t all plain sailing for the team though, who had to fight off stiff competition from Brawn-Mercedes throughout the race. Jenson Button, who qualified fifth behind teammate Rubens Barrichello in fourth, wasn’t giving up on the chance of a hat-trick of wins for the Brackley-based team, and led a fair proportion of the race, after passing Barrichello on lap 11.

When the Red Bulls of Webber and Vettel pitted on laps 14 and 15 respectively, the Brawn driver took over the lead. Whilst Button enjoyed clear air and clearer visability, BMW’s Robert Kubica rammed into the back of Toyota’s Jarno Trulli on lap 18, lifting himself off the track, and causing the Toyota to retire a lap later. Following the shunt, the safety car was once again deployed, during which the Ferrari of Felipe Massa gave up the will to live and came to a stand-still on lap 21. The race resumed on lap 23, and with Button and Barrichello having both pitted behind the safety car, Vettel took over the lead of the race from Jenson.

The following laps saw Button, who had exited the pits in second, and Webber in third, jostling for position, with Webber eventually passing and pulling away from the Brit. Following the second round of pitstops, Vettel was leading Webber, with Button and Barrichello behind. The standings stayed as they were with Button finishing third for Brawn, with Barrichello following in fourth.

Current champ, Lewis Hamilton, who started nineth on the grid, finished in sixth, behind teammate Heikki Kovalainen, who not only got through his first full lap of the 2009 season, but also secured his first points-scoring finish with a faultless drive.

Unlike Kovalainen’s impressive mistake-free comeback to the 2009 season, Hamilton had his fair share of spins in the newly-improved McLaren, spinning on two separate occasions in turn ten, and once in the final corner of the circuit in the closing stages of the race. McLaren brought their new diffusers to Shanghai following the FIA’s ruling on Wednesday that the diffusers of the Brawn, Toyota and Williams cars were legal.

Fernando Alonso, who also sported the new-design diffuser, had put in a hot lap in qualifiying and started second on the grid. Having pitted in the early laps in the Renault, he rejoined the back of the pack in time for when the safety car came in, but all the Spaniard could manage was nineth in the race.

As for Ferrari? Once again, the Italian team failed to score any points, with Felipe Massa retiring through mechanical problems early on in the race, and Kimi Raikkonen only managing to finish in tenth, despite his earlier battle with Hamilton for the points-paying positions. Raikkonen pitted on lap 28, and the team heavily fuelled the Finn to the end of the race, meaning the Ferrari driver was somewhat slower than his rivals. For a team who were unbeatable in the constructors standings in 2008, and who nearly won the driver’s championship, it is their worst start to a season since 1981.

For Red Bull, they leave the Shanghai circuit and head to round four in Bahrain with their heads held high. The Milton Keynes-based team have given Brawn a run for their money, and look set to continue their pace in the future races. Red Bull still need to adapt their car to incorporate the double-decker design diffuser since the FIA’s ruling this week, making their win all the more impressive. So far, with the McLarens and Renault’s Alonso being the only cars who have changed their diffusers, the other teams still have work to do ahead of Bahrain next weekend, with it looking likely that Ferrari won’t be introducing the part until the Spanish Grand Prix in three weeks time.

Despite having not finished in either of the first two races, and his ten place grid drop in Malaysia, Vettel’s victory puts him on ten world championship points and third in the overall standings. Button still leads the driver’s championship with 21 points, to Barrichello’s 15. Brawn continue to lead the contsructor’s championship after just three races as a team, with 36 points. Red Bull move to second in the contructor’s standings with 19.5 points.

 

The Bahrain Grand Prix takes place in a week’s time, with qualifying on Saturday at 12pm, and the race on BBC One on Sunday at one o’clock.

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