Can Sebastian Vettel snatch defeat from the jaws of victory again this weekend?
Is Mark Webber really going to let his team-mate usurp his chances of a win at his home Grand Prix in front of his passionate Australian fans?
And needle at Red Bull is not the only intra-team rivalry on the cards. Fernando Alonso appeared to have seen off his Ferrari team-mate in qualifying, but Felipe Massa is nothing if not persistent.
And, after being bested in Bahrain, Jenson Button is streets ahead of Lewis Hamilton over at McLaren this weekend – and he says he fancies a shot at a podium.
Hamilton, meanwhile, has been having the weekend from hell and may be wanting to make fans remember this event for different reasons than the ones that have already made front- and back-page headlines.
Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher has once again qualified behind Nico Rosberg and, cynics might say, has started the mind-games by claiming his rivals blocked him. After qualifying he went to have a word with Alonso before the Ferrari driver was even out of his car.
We’ll wager he’s picked on the wrong target there.
All in all, it looks like Melbourne might be set to deliver considerably more excitement than the processional season-opener in Bahrain two weeks ago.
Stick with us as we live-blog the action, leave comments or find us on Twitter as @britsonpole. Hit refresh to see the latest below this line.
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Pedro de la Rosa is interviewed about the experience of racing in his home town, which is good to see. He talks us through the circuit which, after his years of testing with McLaren, he knows like the back of his own hand. He talks about the experience of racing in front of family and friends – and the extra time he found in qualifying yesterday certainly backs up the theory that it’s given him a boost.
Lee McKenzie suggests he draws the track with his eyes closed, in the manner of IndyCar driver Simona de Silvestro (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qv3KYRwPKAo) – he does a decent job but not as good as her freakishly impressive performance. Still, he autographs the finished result.
Grid walk: Brundle fails to hunt down either Button or Schumacher and starts the inevitable progression towards the back of the grid. Ross Brawn is rejected on the grounds that he’s already been interviewed. Nico Rosberg is sheltering under his umbrella and takes off his sunglasses immediately, the little media star. He denies the car suits him less than Schumacher, saying that’s not a productive way to think about things, and adds he can live with the car.
Hamilton due to start on the clean side of the track, let’s hope he keeps his head. Brundle talks about the McLaren responding well to race trim and mentions that Lewis isn’t so keen on doing race interviews. Bernie flits by, trying to promote interviews with people we’ve never heard of. Denied the chance to speak to Alonso by the queue formed by the entire Spanish media (when did Spaniards ever do queues before this?) Brundle is trying to find, contain your excitement, the Ferrari driver’s gloves to check the padded back of the right-hand one.
Mark Webber, bless him, is happy to talk to Brundle and in a very chatty mood. He smiles at the notion of Vettel nicking the lead and says: “Jenson got done off pole last year, it’s a long, long run with a headwind. But I’m going to fight like hell for the lead.” Brundle mentions Alonso and the straight-line speed of the Ferrari and Webber says he’ll be watching out.
Telly showing brooding shots of Alonso backed with flamenco music. You almost expect him to throw his arms up and start dancing a lively zapateado. ¡Baile!
Martin Whitmarsh says his team is under no illusions about just how hard Red Bull will be to beat, but says McLaren intends to try. Fernando Alonso says of his car setup: “There is something wrong with me.”
Jenson on the Freedom of Frome: “I heard I can take sheep through the town centre.”
Interviewer: “That’s handy.”
Also, the BBC has found his driving instructor, which is comedy gold.
Interesting interview with Christian Horner talking about Adrian Newey and his working methods. But, as Jake Humphrey points out, the polesitter has not yet won a race. On the subject of Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn says he’s happy with the car but unhappy with the pace of the Red Bulls. He says the key to it is getting the tyres to work well – something that Red Bull and almost no-one else has achieved.
Pre-race: We’re DC-less today after he failed to make it back from the Mille Miglia. Now he’s got his feet up in front of the telly in Monaco watching the F1 coverage. It’s a terrible life he leads, isn’t it?
Yay! And mention of the most famous Italian road race brings us footage of Sir Stirling Moss looking very much better after his accident. Great to see him getting on so well.
Press conference: Button says the safety car left him with his heart in mouth, then later he struggled after running wide – aquaplaning every time there was water. Unsurprisingly, he is happy to have made the right call on tyres again.
Hamilton calls it an eventful race and congratulates Button for his race and for making the right call on the tyres. He completely blanks a question about the pitlane incident with Vettel, claiming to know nothing about it. When pressed, he described it in great detail – thinks it was fair except Vettel pushed him over. Hmm.
Rosberg says he was thinking ‘please stop raining, please stop raining’. Enjoyed leading, suffered more tyre degradation than Button and lost out after making a mistake. Says upgrades to the car are promising for the future.
Post-race: Once again rain gives us an exciting race. Plenty of overtaking this weekend, and no mistake. Final points-paying places after Vettel were Petrov, Webber, Massa and Schumacher.
Button and Hamilton greet each other with every appearance of unforced cameraderie – although a 1-2 finish after starting on the third row could be enough to explain the smiles. And a very shaky hoist raises two Union Flags plus the German for Rosberg. Button holds aloft a shiny doughnut on a firey plinth, and now all that’s left is for everyone to work out how they’re getting to Barcelona with flights all to cock. Apparently some teams are considering the Trans-Siberian Express. Best of luck to them with that, we say. Hope they brought their own cushions.
Lap 56: Lewis being warned on the radio to be careful. Massa doesn’t care it’s the last lap and tries again to take Schumacher. Schumi has to go onto the wet bit of the track to defend, skids about horribly provoking a brief yellow flag, but recovers and keeps on, albeit a place down. Hamilton now so close behind Button that a slight mistake would give him the win. But Button is home and dry, if you’ll pardon the pun. A McLaren one-two and Button takes the championship lead. Rosberg has the last podium place then Alonso, Kubica and Vettel. Button shrieking on his radio as the McLarens do the in-lap in formation.
Lap 55: Hamilton going faster than Button but, even if he was in a position to try something, it might cost him his remaining tyres. Camera goes to John Button and his lucky pink shirt. And Button comes round to start the final lap.
Lap 54: In a confrontation with plenty of history Massa tries to pass Schumacher but ends up on the grass and losing time. Petrov still hassling Webber. And Webber goes sideways on the wet track, recovering the car but letting Petrov through into seventh place. Next up the road is Vettel.
Lap 53: Four laps left including this one and the result is not necessarily a foregone conclusion unless both McLaren drivers hold their concentration and preserve their tyres. Petrov now hunting down Webber for seventh. Commentators remark that Schumi is being incredibly light on the throttle, suggesting that he doesn’t trust his car.
Lap 52: Button locks a brake and runs wide at the hairpin but is OK. He’s dropped four seconds to Hamilton as a result. Petrov is hassling Schumacher and cruises straight past. Hamilton’s skating about but also hangs onto the car. Can McLaren hang onto this finish?
Lap 51: Rosberg took two seconds out of Hamilton on his last lap and the contrast with Button’s tyres is telling. If the race ends like this it will shake the world championship standings up a bit – something like Button, Rosberg, then Alonso and Hamilton tied. Alonso puts his car up a kerb, wobbles and holds on.
Lap 50: Vettel hassling Kubica for sixth. Hamilton remains well ahead of Rosberg but is falling back from Button which suggests he will indeed have a handful with his tyres for the next few laps.
Lap 49: Red Bull are said to be very disappointed with their weekend and looking to salvage whatever they can. Alonso still harrying Rosberg but not past him yet.
Lap 48: Hamilton, fretting about his tyres, is reassured by the team.
Lap 47: Alonso has got right up behind Rosberg with the task of salvaging the maximum possible points haul clearly on the Ferrari drivers’ minds. Massa’s got himself one – can Alonso displace the Mercedes driver and make his way onto the podium? He has nine laps to try to do it. Barrichello is also past Alguersuari.
Lap 46: Petrov might be a bit better-placed to get past Alguersuari this time. All three of them are side by side on the straight. Petrov through and then Massa after a fight. Shame. Alguersuari tries to nab the place back but can’t. Now Sutil having a look at him. Trying to go up the outside, slight contact, Sutil also through. Could there be a problem with the car or its tyres?
Lap 45: Petrov and Massa are trying to force their way past Alguersuari for ninth, 10th and 11th places but the Toro Rosso driver’s car is a bit too wide just now.
Lap 44: Vettel is slowly catching the Alonso-Kubica battle but is not in a position to challenge yet. Button about three seconds ahead of Hamilton. Fans of Chandhok may be interested to learn that Chandhok spins.
Lap 43: Plenty of fight in this race yet. Button has Hamilton two and a half seconds behind him and going faster. Down the road, Alonso and Kubica are squaring up to each other.
Lap 42: Button calling on the radio for details on how close Hamilton is behind him. People very interested in McLaren team relations will note he called him ‘Lewis’ rather than ‘Hamilton’ as he did it.
Lap 41: Nothing happened on this lap. The commentators are indulging in a spot of competitive quoting of the rules of each other, which should give you an indication of how exciting it was.
Lap 40: 16 laps remain. A discussion about whether McLaren will need team orders if Hamilton catches Button. Too late in the race in our view, they should hold station to the end and not try to race each other and risk pissing it all up the wall.
Lap 39: Button comes in followed in short order by Rosberg and Alonso. Button comes back out ahead of Hamilton but Rosberg rejoins in third. Sutil, Massa and Petrov all in the pits. At the hairpin Webber is shown going straight on at a corner and nearly loses a place to Schumacher as a result. But he hangs on. Order is Button, Hamilton, Rosberg, Alonso, Kubica, Vettel, Webber, Schumacher, Petrov, Alguersuari, Massa, Barrichello, Sutil, Kovalainen, Hulkenberg, Senna and Chandhok.
Lap 38: McLaren mechanics are out. In comes Hamilton, who has been complaining about his rear grip on the radio, New inters go on the car. He’s away without incident and comes out behind Petrov. Kubica and Vettel have also stopped. In the lead, Button does not blink. But surely he must come in next lap?
Lap 37: Rosberg manages to open up a bit of a gap on Hamilton. Both Vettel and Alonso have got past Petrov. Schumacher pits for new inters and Webber has also put inters on. This could be strategically important if there’s more rain before the end of the race.
Lap 36: Hamilton has been prevented from doing his signature overtake on the straight. But he’s not giving up and is right on the back of Rosberg still. Button is seven seconds up the road and Mark Webber is pitting.
Lap 35: Hamilton now on the back of Rosberg for a battle of who has the most left in their tyres. The pair are side by side but Rosberg hangs onto the inside line and keeps the place.
Lap 34: Order is Button, Rosberg, Hamilton, Kubica, Petrov, Alonso, Vettel, Sutil, Schumacher, Massa, Webber, Barrichello, Alguersuari, Kovalainen, Hulkenberg, Senna, Chandhok. Scrap that – Petrov spins, manages to keep going and comes out ahead of Sutil. He nearly took Alonso with him there.
Lap 33: Button three seconds clear of Rosberg as the lap begins. It is thought that the Mercedes driver’s tyres are suffering. Sutil still defending successfully against Schumacher.
Lap 32: Now it’s a question of whether Rosberg can hold off Hamilton and prevent a McLaren 1-2. Hamilton currently the quickest man on the track.
Lap 31: Webber takes Barrichello for 11th and is hunting down Massa in 10th. Commentators point out that if Button wins this race he will lead the world championship.
Lap 30: Now Vettel is having a look at Sutil and he takes the Force India driver comfortably. Schumi is next in the queue to overtake him. But Sutil defends and he can’t make it stick. Further back Barrichello is defending against Massa.
Lap 29: As Hamilton takes Kubica, Alonso takes Sutil.
Lap 28: Now we have the question of whether Hamilton has technically overtaken Webber under the safety car. And also the question about whether Button has committed a sin by backing up the field too abruptly. Neither of these incidents are under investigation yet and we will just have to wait and see what happens. Meanwhile, in the racing, Alonso is trying to take a place of Sutil. Order at the front is Button, Rosberg, Kubica, Hamilton, Petrov, Sutil, Alonso, Vettel, Schumacher Barrichello. Hamilton has a go at Kubica on the straight and passes him to take third.
Lap 27: Hamilton has gone round the inside of Petrov and is straight past. Now he is hunting down Kubica. A replay shows that he might have punted Webber straight off the track so his chances of coming away from this race with points is looking increasingly remote. Schumi has now dropped to ninth and the track is very wet.
Lap 26: Button, causing chaos by backing the pack up, has meant most cars had terrible problems with the corrner before the straight. This has cost Red Bull dear and given Hamilton the opportunity to get past. Hamilton is right up behind Petrov and Schumacher is losing places hand over fist as Alonso passes him.
Lap 25: Massa is said to be exceedingly pissed off with Alonso about that pitlane entry incident and it’s a shame we can’t hear his radio exchanges. Meanwhile Martin Brundle is blaming McLaren for releasing Hamilton into Vettel’s Path, Hamilton for driving aggressively and Vettel for giving him a shove in the direction of the mechanics. But it’s still Hamilton who’ll get the penalty. Meanwhile Hulkenberg, driving a race on his own, goes straight on with dry tyres as the track curves. Button, backing the pack up for a restart, causes Hamilton to brake hard and end up on the grass.
Lap 24: Behind the safety car Schumi is in front of both Red Bulls and Lewis Hamilton. Can he hold the place, or will he get passed when racing re-starts? Who’d be Petrov at this momemt, with that pack behind them? Hulkenberg pits for Williams.
Lap 23: Still in the dark as to why the safety car is out. A replay shows the two Ferraris in an incredible shoving match on their way into the pits attempting not to be the one who has to queue. A match that Massa lost. Viewers of American racing may recognise this safety-first kind of safety car… not good to see it in F1.
Lap 22: Yellow flag and safety car. This wouldn’t happen for debris – is this the other shoe dropping regarding Alguersuari’s wing damage? Order is But, Ros, Kub, Pet, Sch, Web, Ham, Vet, Sut, Alo, bar, Mas, Kov, Huk, Alg, Sen, Cha.
Lap 21: Button leaves the pits having preserved his lead. Hamilton and Vettel both pitting. The McLaren driver probably looking at a 25-second penalty or a grid penalty at the next race. Both Vettel and Hamilton away without trouble, leaving Webber leading having pitted a lap earlier. Alguersuari is pitting after his front wing disintegrated in the pitlane entrance leaving a liberal scattering of carbon fibre in this crucial spot. Looks like someone pressed a similar button to the one that felled his team-mate in qualifying.
Lap 20: Schumacher and Webber dive into the pits for intermediate tyres. Webber has a stuck wheel which lengthens his stop. Now there’s a charge for the pit by Alguersuari, Sutil and both Ferraris – Massa will be queueing behind Alonso. Hamilton is under investigation for his pitlane fight with Vettel. This rain is not the same as the last rain. This rain is heavier, and it has driven Button into the pits.
Lap 19: Tony Fernandes reports on Twitter that Jarno Trulli has hydraulics problems. Alguersuari picks a fight with Sutil and gets a place off him which might be worth a point or two to him. Button is up with Rosberg – can he possibly take the lead? For some reason Rosberg’s pace is just falling away and Button takes the place. Rosberg tries to take it back and fails. Button leads the race.
Lap 18: It seems a bit early to be wondering if Rosberg can hang on for the win. But if he manages it, or if Schumi comes good, it will be four wins from four different teams. Now Vettel is past Schumacher and Webber’s having a look at him probably because the Mercedes driver’s rear tyres are going off.
Lap 17: The straight comes round again and Hamilton gets past Schumi this time. Schumi tucks in behind him to get a tow, briefly gets the place back but Hamilton secures it. He’s now in fifth place and looking at Petrov.
Lap 16: Rain is forecast in three minutes’ time, according to Mercedes. Hamilton makes another move on Schumacher, trying to drive around the outside, but couldn’t do it. Schumi is foiling him each time by holding his line on the corner.
Lap 15: Hamilton is faster than Schumacher and tries to outdrag him on the straight. Doesn’t manage it and the two cars are side by side. Schumi holds the place but Hamilton’s right on his gearbox and hassling him. This is the Hamilton-Schumacher battle everyone’s been calling for.
Lap 14: Lewis Hamilton is now in sixth with Petrov and Schumacher ahead of him. The Ferraris are 13th and 14th. Schumacher being told more rain expected, of the same intensity but lasting longer. Order at the front is Rosberg, Button, Kubica.
Lap 13: Vettel has another crack at Sutil in a drag-race like overtake on the straight. Sutil on the grass trying to defend but Vettel is past and Webber too thanks to that small mistake from the Force India driver.
Lap 12: Cars three wide on the straight as Vettel and Hamilton pick a line either side of Sutil. Sutil has the pace to defend against one but not both and picks Vettel. Hamilton gets past both of them but Vettel is still behind Sutil and may have a damaged car. Webber catchng him as a result. Vettel has another look at Sutil but is not past yet. But the thing to take away from this is that Hamilton is down the road with the Red Bulls behind him. Rosberg is still the race leader.
Lap 11: Sutil passes Kovalainen and the Red Bulls are queuing up to pass him with Hamilton in the mix too. Despite his prescient tyre choices Schumi is said to be a second slower than his team-mate.
Lap 10: Hamilton has overtaken Webber who is thought to be in trouble on the straights thanks to the fact that he’s got the car set up with an eye to heavy rain later. Vettel currently the fastest man on track in ninth and Hamilton in 10th. Another fast car is Nico Rosberg’s.
Lap 9: Vettel has just cruised past his team-mate. Order is Ros, But, Kub, Pet, Alg, Kov, Sch, Sut, Vet, Web, Ham, Bar, Mas, Tru, Alo, Sen, Hul, Cha, DiG.
Lap 8: Red Bulls and Hamilton are trying to work their way up the field. Hamilton currently having a fight with Barrichello who has reportedly not been happy with his recent behaviour. Massa, trying to pit, beaches on the gravel at the pitlane entrance but gets away with it. Only now is Alonso in a position to change his tyres, having served his drive-through. Ouch – de la Rosa’s engine blows for the second race.
Lap 7: Order is Rosberg, Button, Kubica, de la Rosa, Petrov, Alguersuari, Kovalainen (who lost places but has regained them) and Schumacher who read the conditions perfectly and acted accordingly. Many cars out of position which may make for some interesting times. As they try to sort themselves out the cars are practically three-wide in places. What is this, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
Lap 6: Hamilton fishtailing in the pitlane as they race out side by side. Hamilton driving over air lines. Did McLaren release him into Vettel’s path? Will this be investigated? We see him overtake Vettel in the approach to the pitlane and this could end badly. The cars that didn’t pit for inters, who include Rosberg, Button, the two Renaults and de la Rosa, are looking very good.
Lap 5: Schumi making his second pitstop and goes back out on slicks. Hamilton runs wide. Alonso has been awarded a drive-through penalty for his jump start which he must serve in the next three laps. Vettel duelling with Hamilton in 13th and 14th who is telling his garage that the inters have gone off already. Hamilton and Vettel both pit for slicks.
Lap 4: Green flag and we are racing again. Ferraris and Sutil sailing past all those people who didn’t change onto intermediate tyres – but their tyres may go off extremely quickly. This is a very cautious lap by most drivers.
Lap 3: Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel lead the charge into the pitlane for inters. Safety car out this lap but coming in next lap. Blimey – Hamilton weaving to keep his brakes warm manages to swerve across the gravel into the pitlane which might be a penalty. Top four are the unpitted Rosberg, Button, Kubica, Petrov de la Rosa and Kovalainen. If they come in Alonso will lead.
Lap 2: Safety car. Proper rain. Midfield cars dive into the pits for new tyres but no-one blinks among the leaders. McLaren radio says Alonso jumped the start and Martin Brundle agrees. A replay of the start shows Charlie Whiting gesticulating at Alonso very amusingly and car eight is now shown as under investigation so Mark Webber could soon be leading this grand prix.
Lap 1: Vettel makes a slow start and Alonso goes right round him for the lead. Webber has second and Vettel is down to third. He’s fighting Webber but his team-mate has the place. Alonso, meanwhile, is down the road while Massa and Button look at Rosberg and Hamilton. Three cars at the back have come to grief, yellow flags, debris everywhere, safety cars. Order behind it is Alo, Web, Vet, But, Ros, Ham. Out already are Liuzzi who span under braking to cause this, Buemi and Kobayashi. Hulkenberg manages to drive around the outside of it.
Parade lap: We hear that the last thing Red Bull want is a wet race – having the dual advantages of the fastest car and a front-row lockout the status quo would have suited them just fine. Hispania’s Chandok and Virgin’s di Grassi to start from the pitlane. At least one car towards the back is on inters – Timo Glock. And there’s a disaster for Glock as his car is found to be jacked up when everyone else pulls away. He’s wheeled off for a pitlane start. Everyone else is away safely. Meanwhile, drizzle is turning into proper rain.
TV montage showing row after row of empty seats and deserted viewing areas – they do manage to include a couple of shots of the pit grandstand full for qualifying but a sell-out this is not. Apparently it is unseasonally cold in Shanghai and that would have had knock-on effects for getting the tyres to work if existing strategy hadn’t been chucked out of the window because of the rain.
Chandhok is in bother with his hydraulics and has had to have much of his car’s systems changed. Weather forecast suggests heavy rain is coming and it is possible that one or two teams, including Ferrari, might have adjusted their cars towards a wet set-up after qualifying. Lucas di Grassi’s clutch has been replaced which, we are told, is one of the worst jobs on the car. Speculation as to whether the rain will favour that noted wet-weather specialist Michael Schumacher. Bernie Ecclestone in a baseball jacket pictured having an intense conversation.
Grid walk: Brundle buttonholes Mark Webber and asks him if he can win. “Hope so, mate” is the pithy answer. Webber will be starting on the option tyre but says he is not concerned about that. Red Bull have their heavy mob arranged threateningly around the back of the car again (not sure if they’re wearing sunglasses in rainy Shanghai) and the camera is chased off.
Grid still very light on drivers and Brundle is chased away from McLaren but he does eventually track down Ross Brawn. He says drizzle then rain is expected and expresses puzzlement about what is wrong with his star driver. In fact, for someone who over the past few years has been quite chatty in front of the cameras he is remarkably taciturn.
A McLaren engineer says the decision about whether to start on inters will be taken in the next five minutes. Massa is his normal approachable self but is somewhat preoccupied with the weather, as you might expect. Brundle tackles the issue of whether Formula One can leave China thanks to the flight restrictions and is told not before the end of the week.
Pre-race: Morning all. Spots of rain are visible on the pitlane camera and umbrellas in the stands so we could be in for an interesting time.
Lewis Hamilton is assuring Jake Humphrey and the world that Jenson Button is a great team-mate and that it’s fine he has the number 1 on his car. But you can tell he wants it back really, really badly. He also expresses regret for losing it with McLaren after the Australian Grand Prix.
DC explains that the issue about weaving that is causing so much chatter is to do with lack of rearward visibility in those small mirrors and drivers needing to know where the car behind them is.
Post-race: A collection of exceptionally hot and tired drivers make their way to the podium. After this Massa leads the drivers’ championship on 39 points but behind him it’s as tight as the proverbial gnat’s chuff. Alonso and Vettel are tied on 37 points while Button and Rosberg are tied on 35. Behind them is Hamilton on 31 and Kubica on 30. Of the remaining ‘big four’ drivers Webber is eighth on 24 and Schmacher tenth on 9 points.
Lap 56: Final lap sees Red Bull finally get two cars home and capitalise on their superb qualifying speed. Massa will lead the world championship following this race thanks to Alonso’s retirement. Vettel and Luscious Liz weave across the track in celebration but we doubt Johnny Herbert will want to have a word about excessive weaving this time. Behind him are Webber, Rosberg, Kubica, Sutil, Hamilton, Massa, Button, Alguersuari (two points, thank you very much, fellow-countryman) and Hulkenberg getting a well-deserved point after a rotten season so far.
Lap 55: Button will have to keep concentrating for the final two laps if he is to keep Alonso behind him… Alonso is right on his gearbox and cruises past, brakes late and Button is straight back past him. God’s blood, bones and teeth – the Ferrari driver has blown his engine doing it. He is parked up and will not finish (although he may have gone far enough to be classified).
Lap 54: As you were. What, you want excitement this late?
Lap 53: Alonso’s challenge to Button appears to have faded somewhat (we may regret typing that). The pair are lapping the back-markers but Jense isn’t throwing his Ferrari rival a single scrap of opportunity. Alonso may be showing signs of frustration – he’s gone wide and braked late in a couple of corners here. Lotus are reporting hydraulics problems on both cars. Virgin have gone into fuel conservancy mode.
Lap 52: Button (keep them crossed) holding off Alonso. Hamilton going fastest of anyone. Rob Smedley a trending topic on Twitter after his effusive congratulation of his driver’s overtake.
Lap 51: Settling down to a procession to the end.
Lap 50: Six laps left. Trulli has now let both Hispanias past and Kovy’s ‘is he/isn’t he’ race is still limping along. He’s six laps back and on the track but does not appear to be classified.
Lap 49: Massa just set a fastest time and is going quite a bit quicker than Hamilton in sixth and seventh. Brundle comments that if anyone fuelled with a wet race in mind they might be in trouble towards the end and have to go into fuel-saving mode.
Lap 48: Red Bull garage said to be happy. Well, they would be, wouldn’t they? Is the reliability monkey finally off their collective backs? Apparently they are checking, double-checking and triple-checking every bit of telemetry they can find. Elsewhere, J-Alg up for his first F1 point if he holds on to 10th place.
Lap 47: Alonso goes round Button on the outside and briefly takes eighth place but Button holds the inside line and keeps the place. Hamilton being warned that Massa will catch him. Adrian Sutil doing personal best laps. Fernando Alonso, the man who can crack walnuts with his neck, is spotted resting his head in a right-hand corner.
Lap 46: Button one of the slowest cars on the track – is there a problem above and beyond the tyres? Barrichello in for his second pitstop for Williams. Chandhok overtakes Trulli.
Lap 45: Rob Smedley to Massa: “Good boy – beautiful! Go on now, get on with it…” Cue a chorus of commentators, fans and Twitterers around the nation: “Felipe baby!”
Lap 44: Massa pulls out to have a look at Button and takes the place. Massa immediately pulling away and Alonso cruises up behind him. The McLaren is clearly slower. Tyres?
Lap 43: Button is being warned that Massa is finding Alonso all over the back of him. Buemi takes Barrichello for 12th.
Lap 42: Button closing up on Hamilton. Alonso closing up on Massa. Webber being given bizarre instructions about how to press his throttle pedal.
Lap 41: Hamilton on the radio complaining that he can’t find a way past due to the Force India’s straight-line speed.
Lap 40: Massa making no impression on Button. Order is currently Vet, Web, Ros, Kub, Sut, Ham, But, Mas, Alo, Alg, Hul, Bar, Bue, DiG, Tru, Cha, Sen, Kov (ret again).
Lap 39: Still no sign of rain.
Lap 38: Massa looking at Button but it’s not clear that he will be able to pass. Hamilton still right up on the back of Sutil.
Lap 37: Mechanics out for Alonso and he finally pits. Out again in 4.2 seconds and he comes out in clean air. Massa now a long way up the road from his team-mate.
Lap 36: Hamilton now in dirty air. As the commentators are pointing out that is a straight battle of Mercedes engines going on between those two. Massa is pulling up behind Button.
Lap 35: Hamilton all over the back of Sutil but he hasn’t found a way past yet. He’s got six seconds on Button at the moment.
Lap 34: Hamilton has caught Sutil. Petrov’s car seems to have failed. Much speculation about how much longer Alonso can possibly destruct-test his soft tyres for.
Lap 33: Yellow flag for a beached Renault. Petrov in the grass which is a tragedy given the way he was driving up to now…
Lap 32: Much grumbling as the BBC shunts us over to Two thanks to some archaic religious ritual…
Lap 31: Hamilton finally pits. He comes out side by side with Button. Button has the momentum. Hamilton has the position. And he hangs on to it, leaving the two McLarens seventh and eighth. In front of them are Sutil, Alonso (unpitted), Kubica and Rosberg. Alguersuari has performed an assured overtaking manoeuvre on Hulkenberg for 10th place and a point.
Lap 30: Button is currently the faster of the two McLarens.
Lap 29: Increasingly clear that Massa has the jump on Alonso in this race. The Spaniard still hasn’t come in and it looks as if he’s been trying to leverage pitstop strategy to get the jump on the Brazilian. Doubtful chances of that working now. McLarens are now second and eighth with Button 21 seconds behind Hamilton and one pitstop ahead.
Lap 28: Kubica catching Rosberg in fourth. Alonso is sixth but still has to stop.
Lap 27: A 4.4 second stop for Massa. He comes out ninth. Reports of Kovy’s retirement were premature – his hydraulics problem has been fixed and he has been sent back out. Determined bunch, Lotus. Massa has got past the Toro Rossos and Hulkenberg, so expect dancing on the streets of Sao Paolo…Vettel has just done a fastest lap and Webber is falling back.
Lap 26: Approaching halfway through now and Vettel is the fastest car on the track. Ferrari mechanics are out and it is Massa coming in.
Lap 25: Webber pits for a 6.2 second stop due to a stuck air gun. He comes out third behind Hamilton and the problem is not thought to have cost him a place. Brundle wonders aloud if the wheel nut is on properly.
Lap 24: Vettel’s stop 4.8 seconds – did he put the kettle on? One thing he did do is swerve onto the grass coming in. He comes out with Hamilton on his tail but holds off the McLaren driver. Order is Webber (unpitted), Vettel, Hamilton (unpitted) and Rosberg at the top. Kubica, Massa, Alonso, Sutil and Button behind them.
Lap 23: Ferrari is reporting a downshift problem on Alonso’s car. Mercedes have just done the fastest pit stop of the season – sub-4 seconds. Unpitted Ferraris currently sixth and seventh and looking to see what they can salvage. Vettel pits from the lead.
Lap 22: Kubica pits and we hear Petrov’s rear tyres have gone. J-Alg swarming all over the back of him. Kubica comes out in front of Massa and hangs on to his place by the skin of his teeth with his cold tyres. Meanwhile after several takes and re-takes J-Alg and Buemi are both past Petrov. Renault will surely bring him in pretty much straight away. Rosberg pits from third.
Lap 21: Force India’s Sutil pits from fifth. Hamilton was close to catching him anyway and is flying. He comes out ahead of Button in eighth. J-Alg looking at Petrov – and that could be a fun encounter if he gets up the speed for an overtake.
Lap 20: J-Alg pits and Massa is freed from having to commit the incivility of an overtake. The Toro Rosso driver comes out in 12 ahead of team-mate Buemi and just behind Petrov. Kovy has suffered a hydraulic failure.
Lap 19: Button set to jump both Ferraris in the pitstops and arrive somewhere like sixth. We hear that both Ferraris had to change part of their pneumatic systems in parc ferme, so the red cars are not thriving in the heat. They are currently eighth and ninth while unpitted. Kovy pits again and is parking up for what is their first outright retirement of the season (Trulli retired in the first race but late enough to be classified).
Lap 18: On Twitter Mike Gascoyne is reporting that Kovy had a puncture. Massa is the latest front-runner to find himself stuck behind Alguersuari. Conflicting reports about weather – McLaren think it will be clear to the end of the race but we suggest Lewis might get better info by sticking his hand out of the car palm-upwards, if quali is any guide.
Lap 17: Now we hear that rain may be due in about half an hour. Schumi is interviewed and mentions a wheel nut.
Lap 16: Button now in a points-paying position but Vettel putting in flying laps too. Not a hint of rain yet – famous last words, we expect. Red Bull team radio: “Mark, Sebastian has had the call to push a bit. Stay with him.” Order is Vet, Web, Ros, Kub, Sut, Ham, Alg, Mas, Alo, But, Hul, Pet, Bue, Bar, DiG, Tru, Cha, Sen, Kov. Retirements are DLR, Glo, MSC, Liu and Kob.
Lap 15: Liuzzi back to the pits and being wheeled into the garage. “This is a race of attrition, Martin!” Hamilton now sixth and Buemi pits, uncorking the Ferraris. At least, uncorking them as far as J-Alg. Button still the fastest car on the track. Buemi comes out in 13th.
Lap 14: Renault are quicker and Petrov leaves his pit box inches behind Hulkenberg. However the Williams keeps the place. They emerge behind Button.
Lap 13: Kovy’s pitted following his tangle with Di Grassi and Button is putting in fastest laps – his new tyres have taken two seconds out of Alonso. Vettel leads Webber by 1.4 seconds with Rosberg 6.2 seconds down the road. Hulkenberg and Petrov in the pits.
Lap 12: Button’s pitstop is reportedly part of some McLaren strategy that has taken half the planet’s computing power to calculate. Liuzzi’s Force India has slowed to walking pace and Hamilton is past. Schumi pictured getting a lift on a moped back to the pits. Your correspondents were once nearly run down by Allan McNish at Silverstone in such circumstances.
Lap 11: Hamilton now on the back of the Liuzzi-Hulkenberg battle – that is for sixth, seventh and eighth. The radio informs us that Hamilton has been told off for excessive weaving (that conjures some surreal images) and is warned to behave himself from now on. Kovy tries to overtake Di Grassi, clips him and takes off his own front wing.
Lap 10: Surprise pitstop for Button, Hamilton is reportedly warned for reckless driving on the pit straight. Was this in the battle with Petrov? And Schumacher is crawling to a stop at the side of the track. He’s trying to nurse it back to the pits but can’t and parks it off the racing line. Looks like some kind of left rear suspension or wheel problem.
Lap 9: Button takes Alonso, which is always a good day at the office. Another yellow flag, so far unexplained. Brundle: “This is not the Fernando Alonso we know love and despise, all at the same time.” Kobayashi seems to be the cause of the yellow flag, he is beached on the grass. Looks like a car failure, probably not quite a full engine blow since there’s no cloud of smoke.
Lap 8: Massa still stuck behind the Toro Rossos and, as a result, is bottling up Alonso and Button. Imagine the conversations he must be having with Smedley…
Lap 7: Petrov is definitely ahead of Hamilton despite the FIA thinking otherwise. Looks like he passed and couldn’t keep the place. Petrov proving very determined here. Hamilton re-passes but is having to defend very hard. Petrov fought like a demon but Hamilton had the inside line and was able to hold it. Brundle: “These young GP2 drivers have a different mentality – a desperate, do or die mentality.”
Lap 6: Hamilton looked to be past Petrov and eyeing Liuzzi but the Russian hangs on to the place. Trying to get an order but it’s problematic since what’s scrolling past contradicts what’s visible on screen. Best stab is Vet, Web, Ros, Kub, Sut, Msc, Liu, Hul, Ham, Pet, Kob, Alg, Bue, Mas, Alo, But, Bar, DiG, Kov, Tru and the two Hispanias.
Lap 5: Ferraris and Button are stuck behind a Toro Rosso in 14th, 15th and 16th – looks like young J-Alg will have the widest car on the grid this season. Top four are Vettel, Webber, Rosberg and Kubica.
Lap 4: Yellow flags are out but not clear why. Hamilton up to 10th and Button in 16th. Looks like the flag is down to Glock stopping at Turn 9 and being winched off the track by a crane. Another day on which the Virgin fuel tank probably won’t be tested to capacity. It turns out he tangled with Trulli and spun. Trulli still running and yellow flag in.
Lap 3: Hamilton takes Alguersuari and Vettel sets a fastest lap – but Schumi is flying and has just set a fastest first sector for this lap.
Lap 2: “Sebastian Vettel out in front” says Jonathan Legard. Hamilton gets past Buemi’s Toro Rosso and Massa lines him up. Alonso also climbing through the field now. Massa makes a bit of a mess of the overtake and Alonso takes advantage to come up on Massa’s tail and start threatening him. Button is the loser in this.
Lap 1: They’re off, and Webber retains the lead. Vettel comes up next to him and gets past. Webber tries to get the place back and can’t. The pair are duelling quite violently and could end Red Bull’s race right now if they aren’t careful. Hamilton and Massa up to 13th and 14th already, Button in 15th, Alonso in 19th, Barrichello looks to have stalled on the grid and is at the back. Schumi up to sixth while Hulkenberg drops to eighth.
Parade lap: Everyone who is not de la Rosa is away safely. Cars performing dramatic tyre-warming (or is it car-cooling) manoeuvres. Mark Webber on pole told his engine is too hot but we doubt he’s the only one.
We hear that the chances of rain look to be receding. Tyre choice is a bit freer because qualifying took place on wets. And still we await the spectacle of 24 cars lining up on the grid, as the sight of Pedro de la Rosa being interviewed in the pitlane reminds us. Softer tyre seems to be most popular although some, not least Alonso, are going the opposite way.
James Allen reports on Twitter that De la Rosa has stopped on his way to the grid. Yup. it’s a bust and another bad weekend for Sauber. DC says: “That guy’s drunk about six litres of fluid and he won’t get the chance to sweat it out now.” Eddie Jordan’s secret is revealed…
Much humour at the behaviour of Red Bull who have sent a gang of mechanics wearing sunglasses to stand all round Vettel’s car with their arms folded much as if they were guarding the entrance to a nightclub from non-VIP interlopers. We know Brundle can be pushy, but that’s a bit strong. When asked for the inside line, DC says: “They are getting some camera time. They’re good-looking boys and they want to get some of the action.” Johnny Herbert is among the stewards this weekend – he says he’s expecting good behaviour all round.
Virgin say they are expecting rain, which probably means unsullied sunshine for the next three hours. Timo Glock says his strategy will be to keep the others behind him, which sounds good to us. Bernie is finally spotted by a TV camera! He’s been so absent up to now that we thought he might be dead. He seems to be quite a cheerful little svengali this morning.
Grid walk: It’s 49 degrees Celsius on the grid and today all the action is at the back. Brundle seizes a passing Bruno Senna and points out that he shouldn’t be troubled by the Ferraris for long, which we are sure is appreciated. Brundle approaches a McLaren and starts giving TV viewers a guided tour of the back end that was covered up when the car was released. There is still a notable absence of drivers on the grid, which makes this whole exercise a bit pointless – they are presumably still boycotting the grid in protest about Bernie Ecclestone banishing their personal trainers. John Button is located in his lucky shirt and, when asked what he is doing, says: “Spying on the Ferraris”. Brundle spots his son, initially mistaking him for Hamilton, which is not all that easy to do, and is told: “It’s not about winning this weekend, it’s about picking up as many points as we can.” Button is still not too happy with the handling of his car.
Timo Glock is pictured snug in the Virgin motorhome demonstrating to Lee McKenzie the facilities that drivers enjoy – in this case an inflatable paddling pool left by his mechanics under the aegis of a joke about ‘Timo’s spa’. All the money is clearly going into sorting out the fuel tank…
Schumi, being interviewed, says Merc have noticed the car is very sensitive to running behind other cars and this gives him trouble overtaking. That doesn’t sound like the normal Brawn aerodynamic genius at work, but of course Merc were one of the teams that had their diffuser ruled out of play. Schumi says that it is not strange at all that Rosberg is outperforming him, since he is still warming back up after his sabbatical whereas his competitive young compatriot is coming straight off a relatively successful season with Williams. Which is a good point. He says: “I am not a magician” – but he used to be, didn’t he?
Pre-race: It’s car-porn time as Martin Brundle checks out the role of the safety car, a very sexy gull-wing Merc. Yes, yes, yes, it’s educational – but, phwoar!
Martin Whitmarsh promises that after McLaren’s qualifying disaster the team will invest in some seaweed as a more trustworthy alternative to a weather radar. He deals cheerfully with being called a muppet by Eddie Jordan, who clearly has no sense of irony.
Jordan also acknowledges the horror of his sweat-stained shirt from qualifying, claiming it was the tension of Ferrari’s failure that led to his wardrobe emergency.
Podium: Button seems calmer on the podium this year – less raw excitement, more reflective happiness. The Aussie politician handing him his trophy gets roundly booed.
Post-race: Alguersuari, De La Rosa, Kovalainen and Chandhok (five laps down but, heck, he finished) were the only non-points finishers. There’s going to be quite an interesting post-mortem at McLaren about pit and tyre strategy. Good day: Button, Kubica, Chandhok. Bad day: Hamilton, Schumacher, Red Bull.
Lap 58: Button takes the win and the man waving the yellow flag is John Travolta! Next are Kubica, Massa, Alonso and Rosberg. Hamilton hung on for sixth and a few consolation points. Liuzzi in seventh and Barrichello in eighth. Jenson ecstatic and we get our standard happy images of his dad from last season. Webber ninth and Schumi 10th.
Lap 57: So much for a McLaren one-two. But at least Button is going to take a lovely smooth untroubled win. So much for Button being disadvantaged at McLaren. Struck afresh by the differences in style between the two drivers now they are in the same equipment. Button has just lapped Chandhok so Hispania will score a finish. Meanwhile, Schumi and J-Alg have passed De La Rosa’s Sauber, probably for points.
Lap 56: Rosberg up behind Webber but we don’t fancy his chances. Hamilton right up behind Alonso but no track available for the overtake. Alonso locks a brake, Hamilton tries to get through and they are side by side. Webber is suddenly in the mix and the Red Bull and McLaren have collided and ended up in the gravel. Both are still running but have massively lost position. Webber in the pits for a new nose. Hamilton seems to have kept going.
Lap 55: Schumi has FINALLY had a crack at Alguersuari. They bang wheels but Alguersuari couldn’t hold Schumacher off – despite having a bloody good go. Apparently Hamilton has already managed to wear out his tyres. He’s on the radio whingeing about the fact he was brought in – but, the way he drives, he’d have been in the gravel with no grip several laps ago.
Lap 54: Thinking that it’s probably going to be “as you were” until the end now.
Lap 53: “Michael Schumacher’s race has been ruined by Jaime Alguersuari.” Ummm… the option to overtake has been open, no?
Lap 52: Hamilton keeps dodging out but can’t risk losing a place to Webber. Jense continues untroubled at the front.
Lap 51: Jenson is setting a succession of personal best laps at the front. Hamilton now in the dirty air of Alonso and not making an impression yet. Hamilton shoots out to have a look but nothing doing and Webber is right up with him. There’s less than a second between the three.
Lap 50: Massa’s car gives an appalling twitch, but he recovers it. Hamilton right up behind Alonso and picking his moment.
Lap 48: Schumacher is in 12th place and the last car not to be lapped, 72 seconds down on Jenson Button. (Bwah ha ha ha!) Hamilton is now within sight of the Kubica-Ferrari complex. And Button drives past the pitlane entrance again.
Lap 47: Alonso’s car is clearly a terrible handful as he wrestles it through the corners. Hamilton has taken two and a half seconds out of the leaders last lap – and more than six seconds in the last few laps. But he’s running out of time to do anything with it. Kovy told to tune down his engine and get his Lotus home. Of the newbies one Lotus and one Hispania (Chandhok) still running.
Lap 46: Rob Smedley telling Massa that he needs to get past Kubica in the next couple of laps. But Kubica has just put in his fastest lap of the race. Reportedly a very tense atmosphere in the Ferrari garage.
Lap 45: Ferraris about 10 seconds ahead of Hamilton. Alonso getting badly out of shape. He can drive to the end – but can he race to the end? A bit of excitement for the final laps. Glock retires for Virgin.
Lap 44: James Allen says of Button: “If he pits now he will lose.” Hamilton told he will catch Ferraris. He’s astonished to hear that they shouldn’t have to pit – but their tyres are very, very old. Can Hamilton capitalise on his fresher rubber at all?
Lap 43: 15 laps to go. Lotus boss Tony Fernandes says on Twitter: “Jarno had hydraulic issue. Same issue other Cosworth new teams are having.”
Lap 42: Hamilton is a lot faster than Button. Button could get pace from a tyre change but would lose track position. His famously smooth driving style might just mean he doesn’t need to stop.
Lap 41: Christian Horner on the pitwall is pictured giving Sebastian Vettel a reassuring little cuddle. Support is a great thing – but we reckon he’d prefer a reliable car. Ferraris moving up on Kubica but that’s a very wide Renault, as we have seen. Button past the pit entrance again.
Lap 40: Button has a lead of more than 30 seconds. We would say he’s home and dry, but look what happened when we said that about Vettel. One thing that could stop him is tyres, but he definitely has a pitstop in hand. Hamilton in effect much faster but has three persistent buggers in front of him.
Lap 39: Webber and Hamilton trading fastest laps. They are 20 seconds behind the Ferraris, however. Vettel, interviewed in the pits, is still talking about brake failure.
Lap 38: Hamilton sets the fastest lap of the race.
Lap 37: A fight between Hamilton and Webber slows both and backs them up to Rosberg. Hamilton ran wide, lost a place and then regained it. Order is But, Kub, Mas, Alo, Ham, Web, Ros, Liu, DLR, Bar, Alg, Msc, Kov, Glo, Cha.
Lap 36: Order is Button, Kubica, Massa, Alonso, Hamilton, Webber, Rosberg. Alonso is trying to find out why other drivers are pitting.
Lap 35: Hamilton rejoins ahead of Webber. He’s moved from being the hunter to being the hunted and Webber has a grudge thanks to that earlier contact. Ted Kravitz is pointing out that if Vettel did have a brake failure it would be the second this season, after a similar problem in Bahrain practice. Button has an 11-second lead.
Lap 34: Now Rosberg in for new tyres. He rejoins in the middle of a crowd – Webber lapping Chandhok. They run side by side for a while, but Webber hangs on to the advantage. We get official confirmation from Martin Brundle that the driver known as Britney is in fact Rosberg (did we ever doubt it) and that Webber is responsible for the nickname. Hamilton pits for tyres.
Lap 33: Webber was in for tyre wear. Hamilton still behind Kubica despite about three attempts a lap to overtake. Never had a Renault seemed so wide. Vettel shown walking back to the garage with his helmet on and his head down, poor lad. He seems to have said on the radio that he had a brake failure.
Lap 32: Hamilton is having a look at Kubica every lap but still hasn’t got past. Button has put in a personal best at the front. Hamilton runs wide thanks to his overtaking efforts and ends up with Rosberg right on his tail. Vettel is not running – he never recovered from his spin. Order is But, Kub, Ham, Ros, Web, Mas, Alo, Liu, DLR, Bar, Alg, Msc, Kov, Glo, Cha. Evberyone else has retired and Webber is pitting.
Lap 31: Jense a bit tense about his tyres – he’s fretting on the radio to McLaren. Schumi runs very wide on his new tyres. Hamilton haunting the back of Kubica but not past him yet. This is a 58-lap race, to give you an idea of how much is left.
Lap 30: Track looks pretty dry over most of the circuit but eyes are open for rain. Schumacher has pitted for a softer tyre – he’s actually in the position of being a canary in the mine for Rosberg. Never thought we’d see the day…
Lap 29: Massa and Alonso have a bit of a close call as they go past back-marker Kovalainen. Di Grassi pictured in his garage. Another one bites the dust… Hamilton has another look at Kubica on the straight as the lap ends but can’t do anything this time.
Lap 28: Webber is past Massa and is now catching Rosberg. Hamilton threatening Kubica and he is much, much faster. Yellow flag in. A possibility that Hamilton overtook under a yellow flag during all that but commentators not convinced it will stick. Will the two McLarens start fighting for the lead if Hamilton gets past the Renault?
Lap 27: Button now leading from Kubica with Hamilton in third. Could this possibly be a one-two for McLaren? Probably not if it rains again. Order behind them is Ros, Mas, Web, Alo.
Lap 26: Top three of Vettel, Button and Kubica is pretty stable but behind them things are very aggressive. Kubica still within sight of Rosberg. Vettel’s lead over Button is 4.5 seconds and those two *should* be safely on the top two steps of the podium unless something goes very wrong. Famous last words. Hamilton and Rosberg duelling hard. Hang on – yellow flag. Vettel off! Button is leading after the German completely lost the car and threw away the lead for the second race running. What did we say that about podiums for?
Lap 25: Rob Smedley is giving Massa a tutorial on braking points. The Brazilian seems completely out of sorts this weekend and struggling for grip. Hamilton is now eyeing up Rosberg and it is possible the rain is starting again.
Lap 24: Hamilton, putting in very fast times, is on the back of Rosberg. Schumacher’s charge, in contrast, seems to have been arrested for some time behind J-Alg’s STR – although he is past now. Webber trying desperately to get past Massa and swerving around in a fashion that suggests he might not finish this race unless he gets his temper back. Expect some full and frank exchanges of views afterwards.
Lap 23: Hamilton’s had two clashes of wheels and wings now – one with Webber and one with Massa. Let’s just hope that doesn’t come back to haunt him.
Lap 22: Blimey – Hamilton tries to pass Massa and makes it stick. Massa tries to retake and fails. Alonso gets right up with them, has to brake sharply and loses a place to Webber as a result.
Lap 21: Vettel’s lead is 4.6 seconds. Mike Gascoyne reports on Twitter that Lotus’ race pace is better than qualifying, saying Kovalainen is lapping 3 seconds slower than the leader. Order at the front is Vet, But, Kub, Ros, Mas, Ham, Alo, Web, Bar.
Lap 20: Vettel, Rosberg and Massa have all just set personal best laps. Rosberg is being told to beware the battle behind him and get a move on.
Lap 19: Hamilton currently stuck between Alonso and Massa. About three seconds separate them.
Lap 18: Webber has just set a fastest lap. He’s two and a half seconds behind Alonso and thus presumably in clear air – but he is really flying. Hamilton now having a look at Massa.
Lap 17 Senna appears not to be running – he’s standing in the pit lane – but we don’t actually remember losing him. Schumacher currently staring in some frustration at the rear end of little J-Alg. Brundle says he doesn’t think Alguersuari ever imagined this would happen. Apparently he is precisely half Schumi’s age.
Lap 16: Lucas di Grassi is lapped by the leaders. Vettel has opened up a lead of more than 3 seconds. Both Webber and Hamilton pass Massa in a thrilling overtake and then Hamilton has a go at Webber. They touch wheels and Webber goes off. He recovers but has lost places. We said that wouldn’t end well. Alonso is catching Hamilton and Massa. He’s now seventh with Webber behind him in eighth. Chandhok for Hispania is off but keeps running.
Lap 15: Massa beginning to hold up Webber and Hamilton while Vettel, Button, Kubica and Rosberg drive up the road in front of them.
Lap 14: The two leading cars are starting to increase their distance to the others. Sutil out of his Force India car. Alonso having a look at Barrichello and flies straight past for eighth.
Lap 13: Alonso has made his way into the top 10, behind Pedro DLR. Schumi in 13th. Sutil’s had to pit with an engine problem which probably won’t be curable. Alonso takes his former McLaren colleague and is now in ninth.
Lap 12: Hamilton being told to attack Webber while his tyres are cold. Massa was held up in the pitlane, as was Hamilton. This Hamilton/Webber battle could end badly – both have very sharp elbows. Button is a second off Vettel with Kubica about 1.7 seconds behind him. Vettel responded with a fastest lap.
Lap 11: Webber rejoins in fifth as a result of staying out too long. He’s lost another place by running wide onto the grass. He’s now in a Brazilian sandwich composed of Massa in front and Rubinho behind. Order is Vettel, Button, Kubica, Rosberg, Massa, Webber. Hamilton passes Barrichello and starts to look at Webber.
Lap 10: Vettel has pitted, Webber hasn’t, which could cost him very dear as he has stayed out too long on inters. Button is leaving the rest of the field standing in terms of his lap times with those tyres up to temperature. Camera suddenly shows Petrov embedded in the gravel trap, seemingly with no hope of extracting himself. Brundle reckons Button would be leading this race if he hadn’t gone off. Webber pits.
Lap 9: Red Bulls were comfortably in the lead before this lemming-like dive into the pits. Button is chasing down Renault’s Robert Kubica and cruises past.
Lap 8: Vettel and Webber leading from Massa. Alonso and Schumi up to 13th and 14th. Alonso takes Liuzzi and Button now fastest man, if adrift of the leaders. Sutil could have a problem as cars are cruising past him. And suddenly practically the whole field is heading into the pits, having clocked Button’s pace.
Lap 7: Hamilton looking at Rosberg. Button is pitting for new tyres. A late call that confuses the garage. Clearly a response to being overtaken by Hamilton but it results in him taking a long excursion in the gravel.
Lap 6: There seems to be a yellow flag but no explanation of why. Hamilton has dashed past Button for sixth. Both Kubica and Rosberg have had a crack at the slow-running Massa and for a moment the cars were three wide. But Massa holds the place.
Lap 5: Kubica has another go but can’t make it stick. Webber is backing up Kubica, Rosberg and the McLarens behind them. Kubica really likes his chances of getting past and Hamilton looks to be the faster of the McLarens. Alonso has got himself past the Virgins, Schumi hitching a tow. Hold up, someone’s interrupted the narrative – Glock re-takes.
Lap 4: Trulli pictured in the garage looking like a puppy that has been kicked. Mike Gascoyne is saying that teams would be unwise to come off inters yet, based on feedback from Kovy. Safety car in, Vettel up the road very quickly. Kubica trying to overtake Webber, battle of the Renault engines, he gets past but Webber re-takes.
Lap 3: Rain has eased off a bit but more is predicted later in the race. Order is Vet, Mas, Web, Kub, Ros, But, Ham, Sut, Bar, Pet (he’s gained eight places), DLR, Liu, Alg, Sen, Kov, Cha, Glo, Alo, DiG, Msc. All quiet behind the safety car. Retirements are Tru, Hul, Kob, Bue. Safety car in this lap.
Lap 2: Replay of start shows Button nudging Alonso into Schumi. There’s a joke about world champion dodgems to be made here. The press conference after this should be fun. Button held his line, Alonso was ambitious and Brundle calls it “zero per cent Button’s fault”. Replay of a hideous shunt between Kobayashi and Hulkenberg, hope they’re both OK.
Lap 1: Webber makes a heroic bid from the front but is undercut by Massa. Alonso spins and is pointing in the wrong direction. No-one hits him but he’s now at the back. Hamilton has got up behind Button and would have done better if it weren’t for the spinning Ferrari. Hulkenberg and Buemi are both off and Schumi’s car has a wing trailing shedding sparks like an angle grinder. The team is pleading with him to come in and get it changed. He pits. Safety car.
Parade lap: Everyone left on the grid is away properly – Virgins in the pitlane (that’ll be a first! Ha ha!) and Trulli in the garage. Tyres of choice are reportedly intermediates.
Coulthard is pointing out that there are a number of people on this grid who have never driven a Formula One car in anger in the wet… (not convinced about the testing argument… most of them sat that out in the garages)
Presumably we’re very late to the party making jokes about the fuel tanks on Branson’s airliners.
Nick Wirth – the man who can give Jake Humphreys a crick in his neck. He’s so tall that you feel he could give even Brits on Pole’s much-loved Justin “Flying Giraffe” Wilson (now enjoying a fine career in IndyCar) a run for his money.
“What’s happened to the Virgins?” It’s the gift that keeps on giving…
Eddie Jordan is talking with some authority about the chances afforded to small teams by less-than-ideal conditions. Meanwhile, in other news, Jarno Trulli – on the telly yesterday talking about what a horrible weekend he and Lotus were having – has been wheeled into the garage with suspected hydaulics problems, probably terminal. (His car’s hydraulics dying, that is, not Trulli himself, obviously.) Wise heads tipping Michael Schumacher to prosper in these conditions. At this moment it’s starting to rain quite hard. “It’s properly chucking it down” says Ted Kravitz, who’s sneaking a peak at someone’s weather predictions. If this goes on the switch to wet tyres will start.
Nico Rosberg is sitting by the pit wall looking fabulous – the possibility of rain is discussed, but the discussion is cut short as our correspondents dash to the back of the grid for some ambulance-chasing purpose involving a Lotus. We’ve got the worst possible rain situation from the teams’ and drivers’ point of view – it’s spitting now but it’s very late for making tactical changes. And it’s not clear which way things are going. Well, that should make things a bit more interesting than last time…
Gridwalk: the BBC team is having to adapt because, once again, the drivers are boycotting the grid in their dispute over whether they can take their physios on with them. Brundle nails his colours to the mask by calling them ‘babysitters’ but DC – more recently at the sharp-end – has more sympathy.
Pre-race fashion notes: Eddie Jordan’s tight white jeans and grandma’s-curtains shirt with the cuffs turned back are NOT what we pay our licence fee for at this time in the morning.
Pre-race: Morning morning morning – are we mad, or what? Hope you didn’t all get fooled by the clocks change. Over in Australia, both Lotus’ Mike Gascoyne and Williams’ Claire Williams say the weather forecast predicts light rain at the start of the race, getting stronger as it progresses. Meanwhile, Virgin says they’re starting both cars from the pitlane as they have changed the fuel collectors in order to optimize fuel pickup.
Drivers standings after Bahrain
- Fernando Alonso, Ferrari: 25
- Felipe Massa, Ferrari: 18
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: 15
- Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull: 12
- Nico Rosberg, Mercedes: 10
- Michael Schumacher, Mercedes: 8
- Jenson Button, McLaren: 6
- Mark Webber, Red Bull: 4
- Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India: 2
- Rubens Barrichello, Williams: 1
- Ferrari: 43
- McLaren: 21
- Mercedes: 18
- Red Bull: 16
- Force India: 2
- Williams: 1
Lap 49: McLaren set to take 21 points away from this race – compared to Ferrari’s 43. Alonso is cruising easily home to join the select group of drivers who have won for Ferrari on their first appearance, followed by Massa, Hamilton, Vettel, Rosberg, Schumacher, Button, Webber, Liuzzi and Barrichello in the last points-paying place. Behind them the field is extremely thin thanks to, what is it, seven retirements?
Lap 48: Yellow flag for a beached Toro Rosso – that of Sebastien Buemi. Another non-finisher and still Vettel is in front of Rosberg.
Lap 47: Rosberg approaches Vettel, falls back, Vettel retains his place. Otherwise, nothing much happens.