Jenson Button got the tyres right in the rain again and turned his third-row start at today’s Chinese Grand Prix into his second win of the season, ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
But the one-two finish will have made the team no friends in the pitlane as both drivers stretched the rules to their maximum on their way to their rain-soaked victory.
Hamilton and polesitter Sebastian Vettel were both reprimanded by stewards after the race for a red-blooded tussle that started as they entered the pits and continued along its whole length, while there was more drama following the race’s second safety car period.
First Button, leading at the restart, backed the field up so abruptly that many drivers were forced to brake almost to a halt then, as everyone built up speed again, Hamilton side-swiped Mark Webber off the circuit – apparently gaining a place before legally allowed to.
Red Bull started the race with a front-row lock-out but Vettel lost the lead immediately, Webber passing from beside him on the grid and Fernando Alonso sweeping by from third. But the Ferrari driver had clearly jumped the start and was forced to serve a drive-through penalty leaving Webber in the lead.
An immediate safety car period was triggered by Vitantonio Liuzzi spinning in the treacherous conditions, also removing Sebastien Buemi and Kamui Kobayashi from the race.
As drizzle turned into rain most of the field dived into the pits for new tyres. Those drivers who stayed out – including new race leader Nico Rosberg, Button and both Renault drivers – won themselves a race-long advantage that got some of them onto the podium or into the higher reaches of the points.
Within a few laps, the cars that had changed tyres were pitting again to switch back again – and the biggest losers were the Red Bulls, whose hopes never recovered.
By contrast, Michael Schumacher was the first to pit each time and emerged best-placed of the tyre-changers. But the seven-time world champion, whose trademark was his mastery of wet-weather races, could not maintain the pace of his team-mate Rosberg and dropped back.
Instead, it was Hamilton and the recovering Red Bulls who set off in pursuit of Vitaly Petrov, finally picking him off after the second safety car period which was triggered by Jaime Alguersuari losing his front wing as he entered the pits.
By then, Button was past Rosberg who ran wide as his tyres degraded and the rain intensified. The leaders dived into the pits yet again for new tyres with Button emerging ahead of Hamilton but Rosberg behind him and the podium places were effectively settled.
Alonso recovered from a total of five stops, including his drive-through, to finish fourth while Kubica managed to broker an eventful race into valuable championship points for his Renault squad by finishing fifth.
The remaining points-paying places went to Vettel, a fast-finishing Petrov who took Webber at the last, and Massa who shouldered his way past Schumacher to settle ninth and tenth.
Following the Chinese Grand Prix Button leads the drivers’ championship with Rosberg in second and Hamilton and Alonso tied for third.
Chinese Grand Prix results
- Jenson Button, McLaren: 1:46:42.163
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: +00:01.530
- Nico Rosberg, Mercedes GP: +00:09.484
- Fernando Alonso, Ferrari: +00:11.869
- Robert Kubica, Renault: +00:22.213
- Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull: +00:33.310
- Vitaly Petrov, Renault: +00:47.600
- Mark Webber, Red Bull: +00:52.172
- Felipe Massa, Ferrari: +00:57.796
- Michael Schumacher, Mercedes GP: +01:01.749
- Adrian Sutil, Force India: +01:02.874
- Rubens Barrichello, Williams: +01:03.665
- Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso: +01:11.416
- Heikki Kovalainen, Lotus: lapped
- Nico Hulkenberg, Williams: lapped
- Bruno Senna, Hispania: lapped
- Karun Chandhok, Hispania: lapped
- Jarno Trulli, Lotus: 26 laps
- Lucas di Grassi, Virgin: 8 laps
- Pedro de la Rosa, BMW: 7 laps
- Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso: 1 lap
- Kamui Kobayashi, BMW: 1 lap
- Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India: 1 lap
- Timo Glock, Virgin: 1 lap