Yet again we witnessed another breathtaking qualifying session. This time though Brawn GP had to settle for P4 and P5, as Red Bull shocked everyone to claim their first pole position. Even more surprising was Alonso’s last lap, which put him onto the front row of the grid.
The weights for tomorrow’s race have been published.
1. Vettel 644.0kg
2. Alonso 637.0kg
3. Webber 646.5kg
4. Barichello 661.0kg
5. Button 659.0kg
6. Trulli 664.5kg
7. Rosberg 650.5kg
8. Raikkonen 673.5kg
9. Hamilton 679.0kg
10. Buemi 673.0kg
11. Heidfeld 679.0kg
12. Kovalainen 697.0kg
13. Massa 690.0kg
14. Glock 652.0kg
15. Nakajima 682.7kg
16. Bourdais 690.0kg
17. Piquet 697.9kg
18. Kubica 659.0kg
19. Sutil 648.0kg
20. Fisichella 679.5kg
Both Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello were a bit disappointed straight after qualifying. However having seen these fuel loads, they may now be much happier about their prospects for tommorrow’s race.
The two Red Bulls and Alonso in the Renault have clearly gone very light in order to get at the front of the grid.
There is also another possibility as to why they have gone light. The super soft tyre will wear very quickly in the race tomorrow. So the teams don’t want to have to spend too long on this tyre.
Therefore I think the front 3 drivers will start the race on the super soft, and get that stint of the race done and over with. I would be surprised if any of these three drivers start on the harder tyre. We will have to wait and see.
Most of the others look as if they will do two long stints on the harder tyre, and then a shorter stint on the super-soft tyre at the end.
Piquet and Bourdais look as if they could be one stopping tomorrow. I am surprised that anyone is thinking of going down that route. I think looking after the super-soft tyre for that many laps will prove extremely difficult, especially here in China.
So when will people be coming for their first stop?
Fernando Alonso is on an extremely short stint. He could be coming in as low as lap 10 or 11. Vettel is next with two more laps of fuel on board. Expect him in on lap 12 or 13. Mark Webber has another couple of laps more fuel on board taking him to around lap 14 or 15.
The Brawn GP cars are significantly heavier. Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello could be stopping as long as 10 laps after Fernando Alonso. Expect Jenson and Rubens to come in after around 20-22 laps. Jenson Button is the lighter of the pair once again. Therefore Rubens did very well to do a quicker lap than Jenson, despite being heavier on fuel.
Kovalainen, Massa, Bourdais and Piquet all have more than 30 laps of fuel in their cars. These will be the last guys to pit.
Certainly at the front these are the most varied fuel loads we have seen so far this season. It will be really interesting to see how this plays out.
Summary of fuel loads at the front
Alonso first to pit
Vettel + 2/3 laps
Webber +4/5 laps
Button + 9/10 laps
Barrichello +10/11 laps
Who is my star of qualifying?
My star of qualifying has to go to Sebastien Buemi. To get the Toro Rosso into the top 10 is a tremendous achievement. The lap he did at the end of Q2 must have been near perfect. This will be a huge boast to him and the team. They have put quite a heavy fuel load into his car. I think he is a contender for a point or two tomorrow. It’s worth noting that his more experienced team mate Bourdais, couldn’t make it past Q1.
Also a mention for pole sitter Sebastien Vettel. The fact that he was light does contribute heavily to his pole position. However he went out there, and delivered a perfect lap under immense pressure. He only gave himself one lap to get pole, which isn’t easy. He also only gave himself one lap in the other two sessions. A great performance!
My race prediction
I think this could be a really exciting race tomorrow. There is also the threat of rain to spice up the action even more.
For victory I can’t see beyond another Brawn GP triumph despite a different looking grid. I think the gap has been closed but over the race distance Brawn GP are still the pacesetters. Brawn GP’s race pace advantage has a lot to do with how well the car looks after its tyres over a long run.
This means that when the top 3 (Vettel, Alonso and Webber) all come in for their pit stops, Button and Barrichello should be able to bang in some scorching laps. Remember how good Button’s in-laps were in Sepang. They should then come out in front of the others. From that point onwards they should be able to dominate the race.
If the top 3 start on the super softs as I suspect they will, they will pull away for the first 3-4 laps. The performance will soon start to drop-off and Brawn GP will start to peg them. The Shanghai circuit is very abrasive, and the super-softs won’t last that long.
The risk the top 3 face is that when they pit early, they will come out in heavy traffic amongst the drivers going longer on fuel. This will only help Brawn GP further.
The only thing that could stop Brawn GP winning again is a similar scenario to Melbourne, where the safety car came into play. This means that the drivers who start the GP on the wrong tyre can suddenly come into play in the closing stages of the race. As there is acres of run-off space in China, it is very hard to see a safety car period occurring. This makes a repeat of this scenario unlikely.
Of course the possibility of rain may also threaten to de-rail their progress. But with Button’s great performance in Sepang in mind, even that may not usurp them.
The most important factor for Brawn GP tomorrow is that they get a clean start and don’t lose positions or a front wing. That would definitely make their life more difficult and the give the Red Bulls a chance.
It will be a close run thing between Barrichello and Button. Barrichello starts ahead of Button with a heavier fuel load, so if he can stay in front of Button early on he has the tactical advantage. This could prove critical.
He has looked strong all weekend, so I think he has a chance of breaking Button’s monopoly within the team so far. He needs to finish ahead tomorrow so that Button doesn’t quickly earn number 1 status within the team. That would be déjà-vu for Rubens after all those years alongside Michael Schumacher at Ferrari.
Elsewhere I think the battle behind the Brawns (persuming all goes to plan and they get ahead) will be very tight between the Red Bulls, Alonso, Trulli and maybe even Hamilton. Lewis looks much happier in the car this weekend. He has showed good race pace and race craft in both races so far. Also he is the highest qualifying KERs driver, so he will feature heavily on the first lap.
So in conclusion it will be a tougher race for the Brawns. Once the strategy plays out though, they ought to end up in front with a 1-2 barring any mishaps.
So here is my top-eight prediction for the race
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