Formula 1: Red Bull concerns grow after Chinese Grand Prix

By Gary AndersonBBC F1 technical analyst
Chinese Grand Prix highlights

Fernando Alonso was pretty chirpy all through the Chinese Grand Prix weekend and he clearly had a good feeling about the Ferrari in Shanghai.

In the race, we found out why.

Ferrari had some new parts on the car in China, including a revised front-wing endplate, which may have helped the car a little bit.

He qualified well in third place and the car looked good as far as tyre management was concerned, and whenever you give Alonso an opportunity he tends to take it. He digs deep to get a result out of it.

The race he drove was exactly what I expected. In fact, I predicted on Saturday that he would win because you know that instead of just looking after the tyres, he drives them to the maximum they can take, without over-driving the car. And that is very important.

Alonso reminds me of Alain Prost in the mid-1980s. If Prost was anywhere near the front of the grid, you kind of knew he was going to win because he had the tools underneath him to do it.

It's the same with Alonso. You can never count him out wherever he is on the grid, but when he's close to the front and the car looks good, you know he is going to be difficult to beat.

At the start, the 'soft' tyres went off that bit quicker on Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes than they did on Alonso's Ferrari. Alonso got into the lead and that gave him the momentum.

Good strategy, good calls from the team. Everything worked for him.

There was a lot of talk about Alonso having been out-qualified by Massa in the previous four races but there are two things about that.

First of all, the first two qualifying sessions in Australia and Malaysia were both affected by rain; secondly, Felipe Massa has always been quick in a good car. But, if the car is not quite there he makes mistakes because he is always driving a little bit out of control.

Massa complained about tyre graining in the race in China. But he'll be a good back-up for Alonso, and he's quick enough to keep him looking at the timesheets and on his toes.

Red Bull off the ball

It was very unusual to see Red Bull taking a cutting tool to the barge boards on Sebastian Vettel's car in the garage during Friday practice.

Red Bull driver Mark Webber gets a lift back to the pits after losing his right-rear wheel
Red Bull driver Mark Webber gets a lift back to the pits after losing his right-rear wheel

That is an indication of a mild panic. They knew the pace was not quite there and they needed to work on it a bit harder to get more downforce out of the car, which is what they were trying to do.

But when you do that, you're working blind. I spoke to Mark Webber a couple of times over the weekend and he said: "The car feels good. It's just not quick enough."

China is quite an unusual circuit. It has a lot of long corners and it is what they call front-end-limited - in that the front tyres wear out quicker than the rears.

On that kind of circuit, the Coanda exhaust systems that all the top teams use to boost rear downforce are not as big an advantage.

It is more of an advantage on a track where the car has more rear-end problems, and the team want to work the rear tyres less by getting more load into them - such as in Bahrain where F1 is racing this coming weekend.

So the teams such as Red Bull that have better Coanda systems will not benefit from them as much. That's why China alters the competitive order.

Red Bull are obviously still immensely strong. But with all the stuff that's going on - including the team orders row in Malaysia and the various problems that hit Webber in China - they do look like a team that is imploding a little.

The problem that led to Webber not having enough fuel in the car in qualifying was exactly the same as the one that hit Vettel in Abu Dhabi last year. A top team should not have those sorts of problems twice. It's easy enough to prevent.

Then his rear wheel fell off in the race. Now, we all make mistakes but somewhere along the line you have to pull that sort of stuff back in again or it gets a bit of momentum going.

So Red Bull really need a nice tidy weekend in Bahrain and a solid result for both cars to get themselves back on the road again.

Still work to do at Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton's pole lap for Mercedes was very impressive, but the team again struggled for race pace.

They seem to be on the wrong side of the balance between getting the tyres to work well over one lap or over a race distance.

Chinese GP: Lewis Hamilton holds off Sebastian Vettel for third

The car is quick in qualifying but it does fall off a bit more in the race - the opposite of the Ferrari.

You have to have a compromise somewhere, and they don't seem to have the compromise biased enough towards longer runs.

If they adjusted it, would they lose out in qualifying? Probably, but it would give them a better average performance.

Hamilton finished on the podium, which is a good result, but he was still struggling with the tyres in the race. And that has been a problem for them for three years now. They need to find a way to make the tyres last a bit better in the race.

Rocket Ricciardo

We always said when we watched the Toro Rosso in testing that it looked like the rear end would give up first - just as on the Ferrari, actually. So it's not a huge surprise that they would have a good result in China given the nature of the track, which helps the car.

Daniel Ricciardo took it with open arms and did a very good job, qualifying and finishing seventh.

The big tyre debate

There is a bit of navel-gazing in F1 at the moment about whether the Pirelli tyres are preventing proper racing because the drivers have to drive within themselves to manage their performance.

But at the end of the day, the fastest three drivers in qualifying were on the podium, albeit in a different order.

There are ways you could tweak the tyre rules to ensure people run in qualifying, which some did not in China and which definitely harms the show.

But in terms of the tyres themselves, I think they make teams think harder. Some make it work and some don't. There's nothing wrong with that.

You have to drive the car within its limits and the tyres are part of the car.

If Pirelli had gone to China with the medium tyre and the hard rather than the medium and soft, the most critical tyre would have done 25 laps. So it would have been a one-stop race. Is that what people want?

I ran three teams during the tyre-war era of the late 1990s and early 2000s, which some are saying was a time when drivers could push right to the limit all the time. But that's a fallacy. They could never go 100% all the time.

That was the era of refuelling, when the cars were never as heavy as they are in the first half of the race now, so they always looked after the tyres better.

The fastest way was a multi-stop race abusing the tyres. But if there was a one-stop race - such as was often case at Monza - you could not abuse the tyres, they would blister and fall off the rims.

F1 has never been any different in the 40 years I have known it. The only difference is the tyre-management aspect is more visible now and the complaints have developed a bit of momentum.

Whether F1 needs the DRS overtaking aid as well as the current tyres is a different issue - I would like to get rid of it and make the drivers fight more to overtake.

But F1 is a sport and, for the show, what we have now is very good.

And I guarantee that if we still had the Bridgestone tyres that were last used in 2010 and had become so good that the teams rarely needed to consider them, the viewing figures would be half what they are now.

Top Stories