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Page last updated at 07:58 GMT, Wednesday, 21 April 2010 08:58 UK

Behind the scenes at the Chinese GP

By Ted Kravitz
BBC pit-lane reporter

Ted Kravitz gives his inside line on the Chinese Grand Prix, bringing you the stories behind the headlines from the fourth race of the Formula 1 season.

McLAREN

Being world champion is usually enough to lift you into the premier league of Formula 1 drivers, but there are some in the paddock who still class Jenson Button outside it.

Perhaps those doubters will reflect on Button's performance in China and wonder whether they have got it right.

Certainly Button's skill and application have come as a pleasant surprise to the McLaren team.

We spoke to chief engineer Phil Prew after the team's victory photo in the pit lane well after the race, and he admitted that, before the season, he would not have expected Button to have won half the first four races for his new team.

Bear in mind that Prew has been Lewis Hamilton's engineer ever since the youngster burst into F1 in 2007 and knows how good Hamilton is, so his regard for Button's driving carries considerable weight.

Jenson Button

Highlights - Button triumphs in Shanghai

In many respects we're seeing a different Jenson Button this season, both in and out of the car.

He's relaxed, brimming with confidence, and secure in the knowledge he's with a solid team, whose car is not only quicker than the Brawn/Mercedes team he left, but who can also develop that package into the summer months and make it a true challenger to Red Bull on dry pace, rather than just a wet-weather wonder.

As for Hamilton, he could easily have won the Chinese Grand Prix had he shadowed Button and stayed out on slick tyres during the first rain-shower.

His lap times in the wet were quicker than Button for much of the race. Hamilton could not close on his team-mate when he finally got up into second place, but by then his tyres were past their best.

It might have been a case of 'once bitten, twice shy' for Hamilton after a wrong tyre call by his team cost him second place in Australia.

This time, he says the decision to make that fateful first change to wet tyres was his own; even leaving it so late that he had already missed the pit lane entrance.

"I made a very late call when I thought I'd heard a comment over the radio, and pulled into the pits when I was halfway round the final corner," Hamilton said. "Unfortunately, it wasn't the right choice - the tyres started graining almost immediately and I needed to stop again, this time for dry tyres."

In the final analysis, this erroneous decision probably cost Lewis the win, but if he was regretting it after the race, he didn't show it.

MERCEDES

We learned some more in China about the changes to the Mercedes car that will be introduced in Barcelona in an attempt to save Michael Schumacher's season.

Team principal Ross Brawn confirmed that his team had under-reacted to the new-for-2010 narrower tyres and as a result, the car's dynamics had resulted in a naturally understeering car.

They had also made a mistake with the weight distribution in that they had reached the maximum weight they can move forward in the car.

Schumacher's problem in China was an inability to accelerate effectively out of slow speed corners. Poor traction accounted for most of the lost time, but it was the car's balance in those slow-speed corners that also slowed Schumacher down.

It was a vicious circle: The car's weight distribution is wrong, according to Brawn, so bring weight forward and work the fronts harder to get the car to Schumacher's liking. But as a result the rear is light so traction is poor, which means the rear slides and wears out the tyres.

ANDREW BENSON BLOG

Even Nico Rosberg, who can handle this car better, complained of high tyre degradation on the intermediates.

As we have discussed before, the changed car with better weight distribution set to debut in Spain will help Michael tailor the car more to his driving style, even though Schumacher himself thinks it will be mid-season before he is fully on top of everything.

It's tempting to write Michael Schumacher off after his struggles in the first four races, but I for one can't do it. I still think he'll win a race this year.

There was a particularly amusing moment in the team's media briefing on Saturday evening. I asked Ross Brawn about the wing stalling device incorporated into the new rear wing both Schumacher and Nico Rosberg had on their cars.

"Yes, it's a passive stalling device", said Brawn.

He then let slip one of the technical controversies of his time at Ferrari in the early 2000s: "In the past, we got the wing to stall by making it flex at high speeds."

As those assembled raised their eyebrows, Brawn was quick to add, "of course, completely legally", before continuing with his explanation.

FERRARI

I understand that Felipe Massa was furious at team-mate Fernando Alonso's cheeky overtake as they both came into the pit lane. It was all very legal, as the pit lane didn't start for another hundred metres or so when Alonso made his move.

But this was not the first time Massa will have experienced the lengths Alonso will go to in order to win.

Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso

Cheeky Alonso nips past Massa in pits (UK users only)

The two banged wheels when Alonso's McLaren passed Massa's Ferrari to win at the Nurburgring in 2007, leading to their famous row in the podium assembly room afterwards. Then there was Alonso's pass around the outside at Turn One at Bahrain this season. Ferrari's post race press release tried to play the situation down.

"It was a normal move and it definitely won't compromise our relationship", said Alonso. "It was just a racing incident and there is absolutely no problem between the two drivers," according to team boss Stefano Domenicali.

Right, everyone got that?

To his credit, before making his feelings well known on the radio, Massa had the presence of mind to tell the team that Alonso had overtaken him so that they would have the Spaniard's tyres ready in the pit box, rather than his own, as the mechanics had been expecting.

RENAULT

Renault has twice as much development being brought to their car than last year, which will please Robert Kubica as much as it might disappoint Fernando Alonso.

They are able to do this because of the new wind tunnel and new supercomputer capabilities invested in over the last few years, ironically enough under the co-direction of Pat Symonds, who was kicked out of the team last September after being found guilty of trying to fix the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.

But the surprise of their season has been Vitaly Petrov.

Renault's chief engineer Alan Permane was full of admiration for the Russian after the race. Despite most of his test days over the winter being in wet conditions, Petrov has adapted impressively to F1 over the first four races.

Indeed, he could have finished fourth, with team mate Kubica on the podium in third had Renault not lost out in the second safety car period. By closing up the field both cars were made vulnerable to Hamilton and Alonso, who duly overtook.

TORO ROSSO

Interested in why Jaime Alguersuari had suddenly shown rather more speed than he had previously, I asked technical director Giorgio Ascanelli for his explanation.

"He'll hate me for saying this, but it's Jaime's physical fitness that's a large part of his improvement", said the Italian.

"I first noticed it in Valencia last year. Jaime got out of the car and was sweating a lot. I told him, I'm allowed to sweat because I'm 50 and fat - you're 20 and you're meant to be fit."

Alguersuari took the hint and worked hard. When the body is fitter, so is the mind, apparently…

F1 VERSUS THE VOLCANO

The F1 paddock being, by nature, intensely focused on the race weekend, self-obsessed and inward-looking, those who inhabit it only started paying serious attention to their journeys home after qualifying on Saturday.

By then it was clear that European airspace was off-limits to the commercial planes due to fly us all home, so discussions turned to what individuals and teams were going to do.

Button, Rosberg and Force India's Adrian Sutil seemed to be going on holiday for a week in South-East Asia, so were not bothered.

606: DEBATE
Phil Warman

Hamilton was off to the other side of the world - South Africa - for a sponsor appearance, while those with their own planes (Bernie Ecclestone and Michael Schumacher) left it up to their pilots to figure out a way to get them home.

Half the BBC Sport production team made it back to Germany two days after the race only to face a road trip to London. The other half are still in Shanghai as of Wednesday morning.

As for this reporter, I'm writing from seat 37A of a Continental Airlines Boeing 777 over Alaska en route from Shanghai to New York, to wait out the ash cloud in style.

Three rows behind me sit fellow BBC F1 columnist Mark Hughes and motorsport writer Simon Arron, who came up with a genius plan on Saturday morning: They are routing New York to Portugal, train into Spain and then the Santander to Plymouth ferry.

I'm due to fly out of New York on Sunday. We're a resourceful lot in F1, but if I'm stuck in the USA for the Spanish Grand Prix, you'll know why.



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see also
F1 stewards 'should be tougher'
20 Apr 10 |  Formula 1
Why Button could win again in Spain
20 Apr 10 |  Formula 1
F1 big picture
19 Apr 10 |  Formula 1
Button revels in 'best' victory
18 Apr 10 |  Formula 1
Ferrari play down Alonso overtake
18 Apr 10 |  Formula 1
Button pips Hamilton to China win
18 Apr 10 |  Formula 1
Hamilton & Vettel given reprimand
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
Chinese Grand Prix as it happened
18 Apr 10 |  Formula 1
Chinese Grand Prix photos
18 Apr 10 |  Formula 1


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