If you had your doubts about the 2011 Formula One season’s entertainment value, they were addressed going into turn one of this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix. In qualifying, it was once again the Red Bull Racing / Sebastian Vettel show, but when the red lights went out, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton showed why they’ve both won world championships. The McLaren Mercedes teammates out-dueled the Red Bull Renault of Sebastian Vettel into turn one, primarily because Vettel was too focused on defending his position to properly attack the first corner.
At various times throughout Sunday’s race, the lead changed from Button to Hamilton to Vettel to Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg, making for the first truly entertaining race of the 2011 season. In the end, it came down to pit strategy and tire management; on fresher tires, with five laps remaining, Hamilton passed Vettel for the lead and held on for the victory. Vettel finished second, followed by his Red-Bull Renault teammate Mark Webber in third. Webber drove a remarkable race after an embarrassingly bad qualifying session left him starting from 18th on the grid.
It was another disappointing race weekend for Ferrari, with Felipe Massa finishing in fifth position and Fernando Alonso finishing in seventh. Renault also had a less-than-satisfying finish, especially after good results in the opening races; Vitaly Petrov managed only a ninth place finish, while teammate Nick Heidfeld could do no better than twelfth. The Mercedes team showed substantial progress for the first time this season, with Nico Rosberg finishing fifth and teammate Michael Schumacher finishing eighth. If the rest of the season offers the quality of racing that we saw in China, I’d say that it may be the most entertaining F1 season in years.