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Button Heads McLaren 1-2 in Rainy China

April 18, 2010

Jenson Button became the first driver to take a double win in 2010, making a tyre call early on that would see him in control of the race, leading home his McLaren teammate in a wet Chinese Grand Prix.

There was plenty of action once again this year, and before the lights even went out, Fernando Alonso was jumping the start. His over-eagerness enabled him to get around Sebastian Vettel, while Mark Webber made a quick move past his teammate, but ultimately lost out to Alonso’s jump-start as well.

A safety car was soon to follow after Vitantonio Liuzzi, Kamui Kobayashi and Sebastien Buemi crashed at turn three, and the front-runners, bar Nico Rosberg, Button, Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov who made the call to stay out on slicks, came in for intermediate tyres. Alonso was among those stopping, but he was soon handed a drive-through penalty for jumping the start. In the meantime, Rosberg led the way on the slick tyres, while teammate Michael Schumacher, who had been among those who pitted for intermediates earlier on, began struggling, and was forced to pit once more for a fresh set of slicks. Schumacher was the first of several drivers who had to pit again, proving Rosberg and Button had made the right tyre choice.

By lap 6, Hamilton and Vettel found themselves losing time on the intermediate tyres, and both drivers raced into the pitlane, nose to tail, for a fresh set of slicks. But it was on their release from their pitboxes that became the most talked about incident after the race. Both were released within a second of each other, and it was Hamilton who ended up side-by-side with Vettel. The two fought their way down the pitlane, with Vettel nudging Hamilton, who was on the inside, between the slow lane and the fast lane, towards the mechanics. Hamilton eventually backed off, and Vettel exited the pitlane ahead of the McLaren driver. Both drivers were later reprimanded for the incident, narrowly escaping a post-race penalty.

While Rosberg maintained his lead, Vettel and Hamilton were left fighting their way through the pack. On lap eight, both drivers made their move on Rubens Barrichello, and by lap ten, Hamilton passed Webber on the back straight. On lap 11 Vettel passed Heikki Kovalainen in the Lotus. The Finn had spent the last couple of laps going backwards, having previously got up to sixth by lap nine. Hamilton made his move on his former teammate into turns one and two on lap 12, and Webber soon followed. On lap 13, Vettel was busy making a pass on Adrian Sutil, when Hamilton saw a way through, diving up the inside at the hairpin of turn 14, taking both Vettel and Sutil. Vettel eventually made the move on Sutil stick, while Hamilton continued to make a move, chasing down seven-time champion, Schumacher.

By lap 17, after two laps of trying to pass Schumacher at the hairpin, Hamilton made another attempt to get past the Mercedes driver, and although Schumacher tried to defend for the third time, Hamilton was able to get past after the German ran wide. Vettel and Webber were next on the attack, both successfully managing to pass Schumacher, sending the seven-time champion backwards through the pack.

On lap 19, after Rosberg ran off the track, Button was able to make a move to take the lead of the race. Rain began to fall, and by lap 20 cars began pitting for intermediates. Hamilton and Vettel came in on lap 21, with race-leader Button in a lap later.

Following contact with Bruno Senna on lap 21, Jaime Alguersuari suffered a broken front wing on his way into the pits for intermediates. The Spanish driver’s wing was already suffering when he clipped the kerb causing the wing to disappear under the car. The on-track incident between Alguersuari and Senna saw left-over debris on the track, and the second safety car of the race was deployed.

The restart came a few laps later, and it was Button left in charge as the safety car dived back into the pits at the end of lap 25. Button slowed right down at the hairpin of turn 14, causing the pack to bunch up, sending Hamilton slightly wide. By the last corner, after passing the first safety car line, Hamilton had Vettel all over the back of his McLaren, and Hamilton ended up pushing Webber wide. Both the Red Bulls lost ground, while Button led the way from Rosberg, Hamilton was left to make yet another move on Schumacher, who having pitted earlier than the McLaren and the two Red Bull drivers, had managed to make ground. Hamilton saw the opportunity into turn eight, and dived up the inside passing the German for fifth. A lap later and he passed Petrov in the same way, and next in his sights was Kubica in third. He didn’t have to wait long, passing the Renault driver at the hairpin on lap 30.

Button continued to build a gap between himself and Rosberg in second, and was some five seconds ahead of the young German. Hamilton tried to pass Rosberg on lap 36, but failed to make his turn eight manoeuvre work, and he pitted for a fresh set of intermediates on lap 37. Button and Rosberg pitted from the front a lap later, and while Button maintained his lead, Rosberg lost out, exiting the pits behind Hamilton who had made his way up to second.

As the last 20 laps played out, both Hamilton and Button’s tyres began to wear out. Hamilton was the first to complain, and after Button locked both front wheels into the hairpin on lap 52, it was obvious he was struggling too. Both battled on, and Button’s lock-up meant Hamilton was able to pull the ten second gap down to just 2. 6 seconds in the closing laps.

Button eventually crossed the line 1.5 seconds ahead of Hamilton, and the win, his second of the second elevates him to the top of the drivers’ standings with 60 points. Rosberg’s third-place finish sees him second in the standings on 50 points, with Hamilton just behind on 49. Alonso gained the most from the two safety cars, and despite his jump-start and drive-through penalty, he managed to finish fourth, pulling him level in the championship standings with Hamilton on 49 points. Kubica finished yet another successful race for Renault in fifth, with Vettel sixth, and Petrov seventh after a pass on Schumacher in the closing laps of the race. Webber finished eighth, ahead of Massa in ninth. Schumacher rounded out the top ten points-scorers in tenth. For the rest of the pack, Sutil finished 11th, with Barrichello in 12th, Alguersuari 13th, Kovalainen 14th, Nico Hulkenberg 15th, and Senna and Karun Chandhok 16th and 17th. Jarno Trulli, Lucas di Grassi, Pedro de la Rosa, Buemi, Kobayashi and Liuzzi all failed to finish.

For the fourth race in a row this season, the pole sitter has failed to turn his pole into victory, and Vettel now sits fifth in the standings on 45, with Massa sixth on 41, Kubica seventh on 40, and Webber eighth on 28. Schumacher and Sutil both have ten points, with the seven-time champion having failed to take substantial points for the fourth race in a row. In the constructors standings, McLaren’s one-two has put them ahead on 109 points, with Ferrari on 90, Red Bull on 73, Mercedes on 60 and Renault on 46.

The European season begins in three weeks time with the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona on the 9th May.

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