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Red Bull vulnerable to Button and Ferrari at Spanish GP

McLaren's Jenson Button

Chinese Grand Prix in 90 seconds

By Mark Hughes
BBC F1 commentary box producer

Red Bull were soundly beaten by the weather at the Chinese Grand Prix after dominating qualifying. Yet there was evidence they would not have won even if the Shanghai race had been dry.

When both Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber pitted prematurely for a rain shower that quickly passed, Red Bull's chances on Sunday were scuppered.

That set the stage for Jenson Button's victory. In a dry race, the chances are it would have been Fernando Alonso's Ferrari that beat the Red Bulls - and the reasons why make the Spaniard a strong contender for victory at the next race in Spain.

Bridgestone's technical manager Hirohide Hamashima spoke post-qualifying in China about the big variation in tyre usage he was seeing between different cars - and between team-mates in the same cars.

The Shanghai circuit - with its middle sector of long-duration fast sweeps coming soon after the tyres have already been punished by the never-ending grind of Turns One-Two-Three, flat in top on entry, constantly slowing and turning until down to second gear - is the biggest tyre killer of the four tracks visited so far.

Differences in how various cars and drivers use their rubber are exaggerated here. These patterns will be a good indicator, too, for how things might stack up in Barcelona - a track which, if anything, is even tougher for the tyres.

Jenson Button

Closing laps were tricky - Button

Of the top cars, the Red Bull was taking the most out of its tyres, the Ferrari was by far the kindest. One McLaren - Jenson Button's - was almost as good as the Ferrari in its tyre usage; Lewis Hamilton's car was almost as bad as the Red Bulls.

The soft compound tyre being used as the option in Shanghai was much faster than the hard, but also much more delicate.

From the wear rates Bridgestone was seeing in the practice sessions, it was unlikely to have lasted much more than 15 laps on the most aggressive usage, with a possibility of up to 30 laps for cars that were gentler on it.

In other words the Ferrari was likely to have been able to use the faster tyre for up to twice as long as the Red Bull, had the race been dry.

Alonso's car may have been a couple of tenths of a second per lap slower at its peak than Vettel's Red Bull, but the difference in tyre performance after a few laps was going to be far more than that. Over a sequence of dry laps, the Ferraris - and Button's McLaren - looked likely to have been faster than the Red Bulls.


Passing opportunities are relatively good at Shanghai, with grip through the tight Turn 11 rewarded with greater speed down the long back straight that follows.

A routine dry race there with the existing grid might well have seen the two Red Bulls leading the early stages but soon being hunted down by Alonso's second-row Ferrari.

Once past, Alonso would likely have left them well behind as their tyres deteriorated at twice the rate of his.

Button? From the third row he would likely have been fighting with Nico Rosberg.

The Mercedes was pretty good on its tyres too, but arguably not quite as fast as the McLaren. Button may well have lost too much time in fighting Rosberg to have been able to take the challenge to Alonso.

It's also likely that they would have been joined in battle by Felipe Massa's Ferrari, the Brazilian having qualified out of the car's natural position on account of a crucial mistake on his final qualifying lap.

The Red Bulls would likely have fallen back into this group as the race went on, all playing further into the hands of Alonso as they held each other up. All total conjecture of course - but based on very clear tyre usage patterns seen during the practices.

Mark Webber

We just weren't quick enough - Webber

The final pre-season tests were conducted at Barcelona and there the Red Bulls were very quick, but prone to high tyre degradation.

Everyone's cars have been developed extensively since then, but Shanghai suggested that basic trait of the RB6 is still there on tracks punishing enough on the tyres to bring it out.

There is little doubt that on tracks with shorter duration turns - ie, most of them - the Red Bull is F1's fastest car and is therefore likely to win a whole bunch more races this season.

Even if the team has scored only one victory from the first four races, they are still the logical championship favourite.

But another defeat at Barcelona, at the hands of either Ferrari or McLaren, would probably help make the points battle rather more exciting than it otherwise might be.

Mark Hughes has been an F1 journalist for 10 years and is an award-winning author of several books

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Chinese Grand Prix

RaceLast updated: 15 Nov 2012 12:35 UK
Position Country Driver Race Time
1 great britain J Button 1:46:42.163
2 great britain L Hamilton 1:46:43.693
3 germany N Rosberg 1:46:51.647
4 spain F Alonso 1:46:54.032
5 poland R Kubica 1:47:04.376
6 germany S Vettel 1:47:15.473
7 russian federation V Petrov 1:47:29.763
8 australia M Webber 1:47:34.335
9 brazil F Massa 1:47:39.959
10 germany M Schumacher 1:47:43.912

see also
Button revels in 'best' victory
18 Apr 10 |  Formula 1
Hamilton & Vettel given reprimand
18 Apr 10 |  Formula 1
Ferrari play down Alonso overtake
18 Apr 10 |  Formula 1
Schumacher frustrated by struggle
18 Apr 10 |  Formula 1
Red Bull 'blown away' says Webber
18 Apr 10 |  Formula 1
Volcano cloud threatens F1 teams
19 Apr 10 |  Formula 1
Chinese GP - Top three drivers
18 Apr 10 |  Formula 1
Red Bull face fight to stay ahead
06 Apr 10 |  Formula 1

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