F1 Power Rankings: Chinese Grand Prix

It’s the second half of our first back-to-back race weekend of this still young 2011 Formula One World Championship season. In the first two races, we’ve seen Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel dominate by scoring two wins and two poles. In fact, Vettel has been so dominant that a win at the Chinese GP would give him five straight dating back to last season. With that level of dominance, can anyone match Vettel’s pace this weekend?

#1 Sebastian Vettel (Last Race #1)
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. No, I’m not talking about the Red Bull KERS device, though that does beg the question of why Red Bull isn’t using Renault’s KERS. I’m talking about calling Sebastian Vettel the top driver in F1 right now. Before anyone argues about him being in a superior car, don’t forget the 2008 Italian Grand Prix when he took a Toro Rosso to victory lane. The kid has some serious speed.

#2 Mark Webber (LR#2)
The drive of the race last week belongs to Mark Webber. I don’t think anyone could argue that one. He dropped all the way back to 10th off the start because his KERS wasn’t working. He climbed his way back up to 4th and set the fastest lap of the race with the dead weight of the KERS slowing him down. I think that’s all the proof you need that the RB7 is a blindingly fast piece of kit.

#3 Jenson Button (LR#5)
Well, one week after saying that Lewis Hamilton’s all-out attack style of driving might get the most out of the new Pirelli tires, Button goes out and handily trumps his teammate. It looks as though we really don’t know what to make of the new tires yet except that we’re going to get some fun racing out of them while the teams sort out what to expect from the rubber.

#4 Lewis Hamilton (LR#3)
I really don’t understand the 20 second penalty handed to Hamilton after the Malaysian GP. Normally, I’m not one to complain about a penalty handed to Lewis but I can’t think of any move that I saw that warranted a penalty. And keep in mind that I am the first person to call for a blocking penalty every time there’s even a hint of multiple defensive moves. Adding a driver to the race stewards panel is a good thing but it doesn’t help if we don’t know how they’re making their decisions.

#5 Fernando Alonso (LR#4)
Speaking of dumb penalties, does someone want to explain Alonso’s penalty to me while we’re at it? He rips his front wing off on Lewis’s rear tire but does Hamilton no harm. Alonso has to pit for a new wing, his race is ruined, Hamilton moves on unharmed and yet Fernando get penalized. Shouldn’t having his chance at a podium because of his error be punishment enough?

#6 Nick Heidfeld (LR#14)
Heidfeld is back near the top of the Power Rankings. One spectacular start and some fortunate collisions and tire wear ahead of him got Renault their second podium of the season. Sure, this one wasn’t as much based on raw pace as Petrov’s podium in Australia but Heidfeld put himself in position to capitalize which is as important as being fast. We’ll have to see how the Renault does on a power circuit like Shanghai.

#7 Felipe Massa (LR#7)
Poor Phil Massa is just coasting by this season and I don’t think anyone has noticed how he’s done outside his immediate family. He’s finished both races in the points (7th and 5th) with one fastest lap and currently sits 6th in the points. But everyone wants to talk about Alonso as if it’s a foregone conclusion that Massa will not be allowed a shot at the title this season because Fernando has been declared faster that Felipe… Actually, that last sentence is fairly true.

#8 Vitaly Petrov (LR#6)
Could we have seen the F1 highlight of the year in only the second race of the season? Petrov catching air while trying to drive back onto the track from the grass has made every highlight reel of the Malaysian Grand Prix. Not everyone watches racing for the on-track action. Just ask NASCAR fans whether they prefer the racing or the crashing. I like racing and passing but a flying Renault is pretty hard to top on the spectacular scale.

#9 Kamui Kobayashi (LR#9)
Apart from the debut of Petrov-air, the most exciting driver in Formula One right now is Kobayashi. The guy just seems to be always looking for an opportunity to overtake. It’s a high risk, high reward approach to racing in F1 that we just don’t see any more in F1. As Jeremy Clarkson once said, drivers today are too worried about messing up their hair. Kobayashi seems to be the only one to realize that his hair will come out horrible from underneath his helmet no matter what.

#10 Sebastian Buemi (LR#11)
I was certain that Buemi would be the more likely of the two Toro Rosso drivers to lose his seat before season’s end to Ricciardo but it looks like I was wrong. Buemi has clearly been the faster of the two Toro Rosso drivers this season and has scored the team’s only points this season. And I just found out he’s only 22. That makes me feel old.

#11 Michael Schumacher (LR#12)
There really hasn’t been a standout among the two Mercedes drivers yet. Sure, Rosberg has been the faster of the two in qualifying but you don’t score points on Saturday. Schumacher is the one that has scored points for the Silver Arrows team so far. The thing is that Mercedes seems to be a long way off Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, Renault and even Sauber right now. There’s a lot of work to be done.

#12 Nico Rosberg (LR#8)
Rosberg’s pre-race quotage: “Our start to the season this year has been tougher but I’m looking forward to turning the wheel in a more positive direction this weekend. I like driving this track and have been pretty quick here in the past. We could have qualified higher in Malaysia so we know that more performance is there, when every system is operating correctly on the car. Hopefully we can improve further and make that happen in China. We are working on it very hard.”

#13 Paul di Resta (LR#15)
Di Resta’s pre-race PR quote: “I am looking forward to the race in China. It is quite a technical track and one that I am keen to experience more as I had a small taste of it last year. It will be interesting to see how the DRS activation works with the rear wing in Shanghai because if it’s going to work anywhere that’s where it will be because it has a very long straight. The corners are very long, with big radiuses. I visited Shanghai city twice last year, and it is huge with an amazing culture and great things to see, so it should be a good weekend.”

#14 Sergio Perez (LR#10)
The new F1 circuit in Austin, Texas, not only has a name but it has a second race on its calendar. The Austin track will now be known as Circuit of the Americas which is a very American sounding name. After all, this is the same country that has the Mall of the Americas in Minneapolis. Anyway, CotA will also have a MotoGP race weekend starting in 2013. That begs the question: When does IndyCar run their first race there?

#15 Jaime Alguersuari (LR#13)
It looks like we’re in for some more fun with the DRS (AKA the adjustable rear wing). The wing is only operational for the final two-thirds of the near kilometre long back straight of the Shanghai Circuit. I know that the FIA is trying to balance the ability to catch the lead car without making it too easy to pass them but do we actually know this will work? Computer simulations are all well and good but shouldn’t someone try this setup on track before they commit to it?

#16 Adrian Sutil (LR#17)
Sutil not talking about his poor form this season: “It is quite an interesting, modern circuit with an extensive paddock. The track has unique corners, with very long right handers where you really have to get everything right to gain an advantage. There are different lines you can take, so there are many ways to approach a lap, and the long straight where you can normally pass quite well. The weather can a little bit tricky with cold and sometimes wet conditions, but in general it is a grand prix I like. The metropolitan city is also exciting, with an amazing skyline, shopping and restaurants, it’s usually a good weekend and I am happy to go there.”

#17 Rubens Barrichello (LR#16)
Barrichello’s weekend preview quote: “I like Shanghai a lot. I like the layout of the circuit and I have good memories here, having won the inaugural race in 2004. We have an upgrade to the car this weekend which I hope will improve our speed and overall performance. It hasn’t been a good start to the season for us as we are yet to finish a race where we belong, but I’m hoping the upgrade will help us to move forward.”

#18 Pastor Maldonado (LR#18)
The Williams might in fact be as fast as everyone claimed it was going to be but it sure hasn’t shown it yet. There have been those reliability problems that are keeping the team from having any impact on raceday but they haven’t shown any form in qualifying. The team’s best start is 15th (twice) with a 75% rate of making it to Q2. That’s not points contender territory, that’s watch out for Lotus territory.

#19 Heikki Kovalainen (LR#19)
I love how the Lotus team can hand over Kovalainen’s car for a Friday morning practice run by one of the third drivers and Heikki still outperforms Trulli when it counts. Now, they haven’t both finished the same race this season but Kovalainen is still faster in qualifying than Trulli. When your team is aiming for Q2, qualifying speed matters. That’s something Kovalainen has despite the better efforts of his team.

#20 Jarno Trulli (LR#20)
I really don’t understand the management of Team Lotus. Mike Gascoyne says that his drivers need as much running time as possible to get the setup right and learn the tires so they can make Q2. The problem is that they’re going to run test drivers Liuz Razia and Davide Valsecchi in the first practice. Running them will really speed the team along to meeting their goals.

#21 Timo Glock (LR#21)
Glock on the Shanghai Circuit: “The Chinese Grand Prix is always a great race and I’m looking forward to competing there again for the fifth time. It’s always interesting to come to Shanghai. It’s another demanding circuit where you can reach very high speeds on the long back straight between corners 13 and 14 before braking hard at the hairpin turn.”

#22 Jerome d’Ambrosio (LR#22)
Jerome’s pre-race quote: “I’m ready for my third Formula One race weekend. After Australia and Malaysia, I can say that I have already learned a lot and this is going to help me keep focused for the next races. And this is what I want, to keep making small but solid steps and keep moving forward together with the team. I am very pleased with how I have started the season and I hope to continue like this.”

#23 Tonio Liuzzi (LR#23)
Liuzzi’s delusions of grandeur presented without further commentary: “We are confident the team will work better, we’ve got a lot more data to work on and have a better idea of what the car needs. We also have some upgrades which will help us be quicker and get closer to our competitors. We are aiming to qualify closer to our main rivals, maybe even ahead of them. Once again we are targeting finishing the race and getting more information on the car in order to be better prepared for the European races.”

#24 Narain Karthikeyan (LR#24)
Karthikeyan on his goals for the weekend: “I like the Shanghai International Circuit, it’s a fast, challenging track. I raced there in Formula 1 back in 2005 and also in A1GP, so I know what we’re up against. The conditions are very different to Malaysia, with lower temperatures, so we must try and adapt the F111 to the track and try and get the most out of the new package. The target for the team is to qualify in a good position and, personally, I’m looking to finish the race.”

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