Jenson Button made it two wins in four starts for McLaren with a victory at the Chinese Grand Prix, as once again the world champion showed his sure touch in wet conditions. Teammate Lewis Hamilton put in a typically feisty performance but ultimately lost out to Button’s superior strategy.
Rain had been predicted for Sunday and with perfect timing it began to fall just as the cars headed out to the grid. It was only a gentle drizzle and not quite enough to push anyone into starting on intermediate tires.
At the start Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso jumped into the lead by shooting past the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, but the Spaniard had clearly jumped the gun and was ultimately assessed a drive-through penalty.
A first lap crash brought out a safety car, and with the rain increasing in intensity some drivers down the field stopped for inters at the end of the lap. Second time around most of those at the front decided to come in, with Alonso, Webber, Vettel and Hamilton leading the charge. However, Button, Nico Rosberg, Robert Kubica and a couple of others decided to stay out on dry tires, which left them at the head of the field for the restart.
For a couple of laps those on inters seemed to have the advantage, but with the track drying quickly it soon became clear that the decision to stay on dries was a good one. Those on inters had to stop again and switch back, leaving the guys who hadn’t stopped at all clear in front.
Later the rain returned and led to another round of stops, this time for everyone, while a second safety car for debris closed up the field. Button maintained his lead at the green, but as the race wound down he was caught by Hamilton, who had spent much of his afternoon fighting his way past people, and even enjoying a drag race out of the pits with Vettel. In the closing laps both McLaren drivers were struggling with worn out tires, but they crossed the line safely with Button just 1.5 seconds in front.
“It was a tricky race out there, and again we called it right and it means a lot,” Button said. “It is not just about being quick, it is about reading the conditions and obviously coming across the line just one second in front of Lewis I think shows what a team effort this has been and what a great result for the whole team.”
Rosberg turned his good early strategy call into third place, a result that gave the Mercedes team a boost. After an eventful race that saw him struggling to hold off other cars, his teammate Michael Schumacher had to settle for a lowly 10th.
Alonso recovered from his drive-through penalty to take fourth, having overtaken Kubica in the closing laps. Vettel lost a lot of time with a bad early tire call and delay in the pits, and could not do better than sixth as once again his pole was wasted. Vitaly Petrov did a good job to take seventh and his first finish for Renault, ahead of Webber, Massa, and Schumacher.
Adrian Sutil was just outside the points in 11th, while among those who didn’t make the flag were Pedro de la Rosa, who had an engine failure, and first lap crash victims Tonio Liuzzi, Sebastien Buemi, and Kamui Kobayashi.
Button: Chinese Grand Prix his best victory so far
Jenson Button says his brilliant win in the Chinese Grand Prix was the best of his F1 career so far.
The world champion led teammate Lewis Hamilton across the line at the end of a dramatic wet/dry race which Button judged to perfection.
“For me it is my best victory,” Button said. “Every time that you win I think it becomes your best victory, but this one was very special as it was very tough conditions, and the great thing is our pace was good today. It wasn’t just the luck of calling the weather, we had good pace. The team towards the end of the race said ‘you are two seconds odd quicker than most people except for Lewis who was doing the same time as you.’
“The pace was very good in those conditions, and it is great to see that. We still don’t know where we are in the dry, but we are going to forget about it at the moment as we are just going to enjoy this victory in the wet. We have proved that our car is good over the race distance.”
The key to Button’s win was his decision to stay on dry tires when others stopped for intermediates in the early laps, only to have to change back again. Later Button lost his advantage when a safety car closed up the field.
“That made the race. If we didn’t have that safety car later on for debris we would have been a long... well, I don’t know, I don’t know how quick Lewis was in the race. But the safety car definitely helped the situation for people that stopped for inters. Staying on the drys was the right thing. You wouldn’t think it driving around as it was raining quite a bit, but we got a lot of grip from those tires.
“We just had to be a little bit careful as every time you arrived at a corner it was a different condition to the previous lap, either better or worse, so it was pretty tricky, but it was definitely the right call. When the team called me in for inters that was the right call as well because the tires had started graining on the front left and the rear left, and it was too wet for the slicks.
“My first few months with the team have been extraordinary you could say, and I really feel a part of this team now. It is a nice position to be in after four races, leading the championship. Three weeks break now. I am going to enjoy that very much and I am looking forward to Barcelona.”