Krakow’s Robert Kubica, racing in a special memorial helmet this morning, recovered from early trouble to finish fifth in the soggy Grand Prix of China, thanks in large part to a canny strategy on the part of the Renault team. The finish gave Kubica 10 points in the drivers’ classification, falling to seventh overall, and Renault’s number two driver, 25-year-old Vitali Pietrov, earned his first points ever in Formula 1 racing.
The race was a wild one, including a false start by Fernando Alonso, a three-car collision, and tire issues for many teams as they struggled to cope with the intermittently heavy rain. Britain’s McLaren teammates took the first and second spots after team members scrambled to reach the event ahead of airport closures due to the volcanic ash cloud over Europe.
The issues with overtaking that had led to concerns over whether F1 was to be unwatchably dull were nowhere to be seen in China today, as tire strategy came into play in the capricious weather. Kubica committed his first significant driving error at the very start of the race, falling from his number eight starting position to eleventh, but as cars flocked to the pits early to change to intermediate to handle the tires during a safety car lap, Renault chose to keep Kubica and Pietrov on the course. When the tire change by the leaders turned out to hamper their performance rather than improve it, they returned to the pits to change back to slicks, vaulting Kubica to third and Pietrov to fourth.
While Kubica was ultimately to concede another two places, over the closing laps of the race both he and Pietrov founds themselves locked in battle to hold their positions against top drivers: Kubica succeeded in holding off red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, while rookie Pietrov rebounded from difficulties to overtake seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher and move back up to earn six points for his seventh-place finish.
The race’s top two finishers, McLaren’s Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton gave the UK its best day of the series, but only after team members ran their own race against the Icelandic ash cloud. Rushing to fly parts to the Shanghai venue from their headquarters in England, McLaren workers travelled by car to Paris to board a flight just before the airspace over France was closed.
The next F1 racing weekend will be 7-9 May in Spain, followed by the legendary Grand Prix de Monaco on 13-16 May.