Relive a quintet of F1 moments in China that nobody saw coming.
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU
Things just happen at the Chinese Grand Prix. In good weather and bad, in early-season scene-setters or end-of-year title run-ins, F1’s annual stop in Shanghai has rarely failed to throw up something unusual in its 13-year history. From its debut late in the 2004 season to last year’s inter-team controversy at Mercedes, there’s always plenty of talking points at the race held in the world’s most populous country.
How weird can things get in China? Consider some of the races that didn’t make our list of five Shanghai surprises.
2004: In a year where he won 12 of the first 13 races and his fifth straight world title, Michael Schumacher didn’t even finish on the podium in the first Chinese GP, with teammate Rubens Barrichello winning it.
2005: Schumacher bizarrely crashed with the Minardi of Christijan Albers on his reconnaissance lap to the grid, while later in the race proper, the McLaren of Juan Pablo Montoya came off second-best when it clouted a manhole cover that had worked its way loose.
2014: The chequered flag was waved to race-leader Lewis Hamilton as he crossed the line to complete lap 55 – of a 56-lap race. Whoops …
Those three oddities didn’t make our shortlist of Shanghai surprises, but what did?
2007: Hamilton’s gravel rash
Arguably the most famous moment in Chinese GP history. McLaren rookie Hamilton arrived for the penultimate round of the season in Shanghai leading the championship by 12 points over teammate and bitter rival Fernando Alonso, and by 17 points from Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. A third place would secure the crown, and after he dominated the early stages from pole in the wet, the title looked a formality. But as the track dried, Hamilton’s intermediate tyres wore fast, and he slithered off into the tiny gravel trap in the pit lane entry on lap 31, his day done. One of the few gravel traps on a circuit dominated by tarmac run-offs had turned the title race upside down. Raikkonen won the race and the season finale in Brazil a fortnight later, where seventh for Hamilton at Interlagos saw him lose the title to the Finn by a solitary point.
2009: Bulls shine in the gloom
After five years as a fixture at the tail-end of the championship, China’s calendar slot moved from October to April in 2009, and the spring rain duly teemed down on race day. Not that Red Bull cared – Sebastian Vettel scored the team’s first-ever F1 win with a peerless drive, and teammate Mark Webber took the best result of his career in second as the Brawn of Jenson Button was 44 seconds adrift of the winner in third. It was the first of four 1-2 finishes and a second-place finish in the constructors’ championship for a team that would achieve much bigger things in the following four years. But at the time, a Red Bull win was a novelty.
2010: Buemi’s lucky escape
Imagine you’re travelling down the longest straight on the F1 calendar at well over 300km/h, you pick your braking marker, you hit the stop pedal and then … bang. The front wheels of Sebastien Buemi’s Toro Rosso flew off the car as the Swiss driver braked for the hairpin in Friday practice, and he was fortunate to escape injury as his car made a beeline for the barriers. A right front upright failure – on a part that was being used on the car for the first time – was the culprit, allied to the bumpy track in the braking zone. “There’s not much to say about what happened – I braked, the wheels came off and that was it,” shrugged Buemi afterwards.
2012: Mercedes wins!
Remember when Mercedes winning a single Grand Prix was big news? The team that has won (gulp) 34 of the 40 races since F1 embarked on its V6 turbo hybrid era in 2014 hadn’t managed a single podium finish in 2011, but Nico Rosberg put that right in a big way in China the following year when he cantered to a 20-second victory from pole to win the first race for a works Mercedes works team since 1955. Coming after a year where Red Bull had won 12 of the 19 races on the calendar, Rosberg’s win was welcomed as something different – it was the only victory for the team that year. They’ve more than made up for it since …
2015: Pit straight shenanigans
While last year’s Chinese Grand Prix was remembered more for the post-race spat between Mercedes teammates Rosberg and Hamilton, the former accusing the latter of backing him into the clutches of Vettel’s Ferrari in the race, the weekend wasn’t without its unusual moments. During Friday practice, a spectator ran across the start-finish straight from the main grandstand and leapt the wall into the pit lane, waving his ticket and explaining that he wanted to try a car for himself. And then on race day, Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso expired on the start-finish straight with a blown engine in the closing stages; the five marshals dispatched to retrieve it managed to get it inside the pit wall eventually, but only after comically smashing the right front of the car against the wall as the team’s mechanics looked on helplessly, forbidden to touch the car until it was off the race track. By the time Verstappen’s car was removed, the race finished behind the safety car.