Red Bull Racing duo Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber have both agreed that the decision to begin last weekend's Chinese Grand Prix – a race in which they delivered the Milton Keynes-based squad its breakthrough victory in Formula 1 with a resounding one-two – was absolutely the right one to take, with conditions 'right on the limit for safety'.
Though running for the first eight laps behind the safety car in Shanghai effectively penalised the pair – who had qualified first and third, but on considerably lighter fuel loads than their Brawn GP rivals Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button behind – due to the fact that they would consequently have fewer laps in which to try and make a break, they remained adamant that such a move was the only one viable in the circumstances.
Whilst they both survived to take to the top two steps of the podium on an historic day for Red Bull, Vettel admitted to having had 'a lot of moments' along the way [see separate story – click here
], with most notably his rookie replacement at Scuderia Toro Rosso, Sébastien Buemi, running into the back of him when the safety car appeared for a second time 19 laps in to clear away the debris from the spectacular Jarno Trulli/Robert Kubica coming-together. The young Swiss ace admitted afterwards to having been simply unsighted in the spray, but fortunately the race leader was able to motor on untroubled, if understandably 'surprised' and a touch unnerved.
“It was the right decision to start under the safety car,” mused the German, already the top flight's youngest-ever grand prix-winner. “We could have started the race in the normal way, but I think especially for the guys at the back it's much more comfortable [with the safety car] because you have no idea where you're going.
“There was a lot of water on the lap to the grid. I was surprised at how much standing water there was in places, and when it started to rain more I think everyone was struggling with aquaplaning – it was a very difficult race. I was surprised that it (the rain) kept going continuously. Sometimes you were just catching the car and just keeping it on the circuit – every lap the car was very light, going sideways and you were hoping, 'yeah, everything is okay,' and the next lap it was the same again, so every lap you had the same kind of scenario.
“I think I had the best conditions because I had no car running in front of me more-or-less for the whole race, but still it was really difficult with the aquaplaning, especially in the last corner where basically you had no control, so you just tried not to touch the car there, not to downshift, not to brake too much – every lap you had to be cautious. The tyres basically had a peak at the beginning, and then it was difficult to keep them alive; towards the end of the stint it was always getting more difficult to get rid of all of the standing water
“Obviously it is impossible to see anything in the mirrors as there is a lot of spray, [and] there was no chance to see the car in front of you either. We all have a flashing red light, but you don't see anything when you follow each other. [When I was behind Button], sometimes I knew I was behind him as I could see the spray, but I did not exactly know where he was, so it was extremely difficult first of all to get close and then stay close and even pass.
“At the end it was close sometimes to keep the car on the track, especially entering turn one. Sometimes there was kind of a river running down the track and you just lost the car on snap oversteer. You caught it and you were hoping for the car and the tyres to stick again. It was extremely challenging but also on the edge, so if it had just started to rain heavier at some point, then in some places it would have been impossible and the person who got there first possibly would have lost the car.”
Those sentiments were corroborated by team-mate Webber, for whom the runner-up laurels marked his own personal best result in 124 grand prix starts. The plain-speaking Aussie – a leading member of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association (GPDA), which meets regularly to discuss the sport's safety – agreed that the conditions had been 'right on the edge and we cannot take much more than that'.