David Coulthard column: Fernando Alonso shows his class in China

By David CoulthardBBC F1 co-commentator
Chinese Grand Prix highlights

Fernando Alonso looked very impressive on his way to victory for Ferrari in the Chinese Grand Prix. It was one of the more dominant wins there has been for a while.

It seemed to confirm what we already knew - that a lot of Ferrari's difficulties in recent years have been caused by their struggles in qualifying, from which they have to play catch-up in the race.

But whenever they get a good qualifying position they are normally pretty good on race pace and strategy and so on.

Alonso is pure class and it was a copybook race from him.

Tyres were one of the big topics of the weekend one way or another, more of which in a moment, and Ferrari seemed to get more of a pace boost from the soft 'option' tyre than other people did.

That allowed Ferrari to qualify well and from there they were able to exploit their always-fast starts, their good tyre management and strong race pace.

One of the stand-out performances was from Kimi Raikkonen in qualifying - his lap to go second on the grid came out of nowhere and, had it not been for that, he might not have been able to get on to the podium.

Raikkonen has completely eclipsed Lotus team-mate Romain Grosjean this season. At this rate, Grosjean will have to crash again to remind us he's out there on the track.

Red Bull had a slightly below-par weekend by their high standards and Sebastian Vettel was trailing Mark Webber through most of the sessions, trying to find a balance and get comfortable with the car.

Their one-lap pace did not come together, which is why they plumped for a different strategy from Ferrari, Lotus and Mercedes and started the race on the 'prime' tyre.

It is worth remembering that a lot of the time when Vettel has won, he has not won by a massive amount. He has won by qualifying on pole and made a gap at the start.

It just shows how critical it is to be leading at the first pit stops, because you have sight of what the opposition are doing, and you can focus on what you want to do.

Lewis Hamilton produced a great lap to stick the Mercedes on pole.

There is an interesting intra-team battle developing at Mercedes between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, which is closer than it looks from the three-nil score to Hamilton in qualifying so far.

I was at an event with Nico in Hong Kong before the race and he was very confident, relaxed and open.

I think Hamilton is still struggling to understand the car in the races, or perhaps how it is working on the tyres.

Chinese GP: Fernando Alonso - Ferrari made step forward

He hung on in there in Malaysia and did so again in China. But he is doing enough to keep himself in the hunt and I don't think it will be long before he takes his first win for Mercedes.

Right now, though, it looks like he is not able to maintain his attacking style in the races.

That's different from Raikkonen and Alonso, who look like they're hustling even when having to manage the tyres.

Elsewhere, there was another strong performance from Paul di Resta in the Force India and especially from Nico Hulkenberg in the Sauber, who continues to look good.

Daniel Ricciardo impressed in the Toro Rosso with seventh on the grid and again in the race, which will have done him no harm as he tries to prove he can follow in the footsteps of his countryman Webber at Red Bull. It was a very solid weekend for him.

I like Ricciardo's approach. He's a very open guy, which is an appealing characteristic, but he's very dedicated physically and if he can keep up those performances it will be easy for him to slot into the main team one day.

Finally, at McLaren, Sergio Perez has so far not shown the form at Sauber last year that won him that drive. Jenson Button is uninterrupted number one at the moment, which was certainly not the case when he was partnered with Hamilton.


There has been a bit of discussion about the way Formula 1 is at the moment, about whether the fast-wearing Pirelli tyres stop the racing being 'real' and force the drivers to drive within themselves.

It's difficult for me to be absolute about that as I am not driving the cars so I can't be sure how sensitive they are to peak temperature and wheelspin.

But what I can say is that throughout my years in F1 - which included an era when Goodyear was the sole supplier, then tyre wars involving them, Bridgestone and Michelin, with grooved tyres and so on - there were a number of times when tyres were very challenging.

When the grooved tyres first came in, everyone thought F1 had gone mad. They did not last very long, you had to manage the fact the tyres were tearing, then you cleaned them up.

There were a number of technical challenges, but the faster cars, more efficient teams and the drivers who understood it best got more out of it than the others.

I respect all the drivers, but especially the ones I have raced against as we have had a shared experience.

Clearly, there is something different in this particular formula in terms of how you use the tyre relative to the ones that have gone before.

But, for example, they talk about not being able to spin up the rear tyre because you get a peak of surface temperature that changes the compound and you fall off the edge of the 'cliff'.

Well, when you're driving in the rain, if you spin the rear tyres, it tears the edges of the compound, overheats the surface and you go slower. So you drive to a limit that is just below the ultimate slip angle the tyres can generate. Just as you drive differently in a grand prix compared to a single lap in qualifying.

I'm reluctant to end up being the guy who says: "Shut up and get on with it." But it's difficult for me to understand why tyres are supposed to be a more fundamental part of the overall success of a team than they were before.

Perhaps their performance is more complex, but it is just a parameter the teams have to manage.

Certainly Alonso looked like he was going to win the race no matter what the grid had been and what the tyres were going to be.


The next race is this weekend in Bahrain and that is a different race track to Shanghai, even if it was designed by the same man, Hermann Tilke.

The corners are shorter there and that takes the pressure off the front tyres, that take a beating in China, and puts it back on the rears.

There are a lot of demands on braking and traction there and I expect the field to be mixed up again. Like anyone, I can't predict who will be competitive and who won't.

I expect form to fluctuate. But it will do so between the four teams that are clearly in a class of their own at the moment - Red Bull, Ferrari, Lotus and Mercedes.