Back at the scene of its breakthrough F1 victory, there would be no repeat performance for Red Bull Racing in the 2010 Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai this weekend - as strategic errors, an unruly re-start and a lack of pace in the changeable conditions saw Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber get 'blown away' to sixth and eighth-place finishes respectively, having both begun the race from the front row of the grid.

When the lights went out, although Fernando Alonso got the jump on the RBR pair to lead into the first corner, in the knowledge that the Spaniard was going to receive a penalty for his over-eagerness, all appeared well in the energy drinks-backed camp. Webber similarly got the drop on Vettel to lie in a net first place with the young German tracking him closely in second, but then it all began to unravel.

On lap two, both Webber and Vettel pitted to change over to intermediate tyres, and a delay for the former similarly impacted on the latter, dropping the Heppenheim native down the order. With the track not yet truly ready for inters, however, both men swiftly found they had made the wrong move - in fairness, along with the vast majority of the field.

Three and four laps later respectively, they were back in again to return to slicks, and from then on for much of the middle part of the race, they would duel energetically with Lewis Hamilton in the McLaren-Mercedes, with Vettel controversially running side-by-side with the former world champion both on the entry to the pits and in the pit-lane itself as neither was willing to yield any ground at all.

Hamilton got the verdict in the end, however, when the 2009 world championship runner-up went the wrong way in attempting to pass Force India's Adrian Sutil and ceded the place - and from thereon in, neither he nor Webber had the necessary pace to make any great impression. The second and third-fastest lap times behind only Hamilton and quicker than race-winner Jenson Button went to show what might have been had the race only remained dry - what might have been, but what ultimately wasn't.

"It was a difficult race," acknowledged Vettel, who has slipped from just two points shy of the championship lead to 15 adrift as a result. "On nearly every second-lap there was a car to pass or I got passed. I lost quite a bit of time with the first pit-stop, but we fought our way back and ended the race in sixth. We started from pole, with a one-two actually, but we didn't finish there. I think today it was very chaotic and to take sixth can be quite important.

"Obviously our main competitors finished ahead, so that's not nice. We struggled quite a lot in some of the conditions with the car; it was okay when we were in clean air - our pace was decent - but it's very on-and-off in these conditions. It's a lot just to maintain your track position.

"I had battle with Lewis in the pit-lane. At the stop I was ahead; I don't know why he pulled to the left and was keen to touch me. I hoped I didn't get a puncture from that - I don't really understand why he did it as I was a bit ahead of him and had the advantage anyway."

"It was a difficult race for us and we got a bit blown away," added Webber in characteristically forthright fashion. "We weren't quick enough - simple as that. There were very changeable conditions during the race; I know it's the same for everyone, but the cars are very sensitive when it's not going one way or the other - so an interesting grand prix.

"We know where we lose out in these difficult conditions and we will improve it. I went for another set of intermediates towards the end of the race to try and make up some places. I thought it might work and it did, but then we weren't quick at the end."

Having battled right back into contention with its resounding and unchallenged one-two finish in Malaysia a fortnight ago, Red Bull has ceded vital ground again as a result of its Shanghai (unpleasant) surprise, and now lies 36 markers off the lead in the constructors' standings. The Milton Keynes-based squad's team principal Christian Horner admitted that it was an opportunity missed - but then starting from the very front in such a 'chaotic race', the Englishman pointed out that Vettel and Webber always had far more to lose than to gain.

"Both drivers elected to stop early on when the rain came," recounted the 36-year-old, a former racer himself. "Unfortunately, Mark hit the front jack and damaged his front wing, which ultimately cost both drivers a bit of time. Then, a few laps later as the circuit dried, they ended up coming back in for slicks. Seb got out ahead of Lewis and then they rapidly caught Sutil but, as Seb was passing Sutil, Hamilton got back past him. He lost quite a lot of time at that stage during the race.

"After the restart, Mark got pushed wide a lost quite a few positions. We took a gamble and opted to put him onto another set of intermediates early. By doing that, he was able to leapfrog the cars ahead of him. Unfortunately, the tyres were very worn by the end of the race, but it elevated him from twelfth at the time to eighth.

"Sixth and eighth isn't the result that we were looking for from first and second, but it is such a lottery in chaotic conditions and they are still valuable points. It's not often you get a race like that and when you're first and second you've got everything to lose, rather than everything to gain. Things went right for McLaren today, with Lewis on an identical strategy to our guys - so well done to them, and we'll fight back at the next race."

"I hope people enjoyed the show," added Fabrice Lom, principal track support engineer for engine-supplier Renault. "I'm sure it was a very good race to watch from the outside, but for us it was bad. We recovered a small amount of points, but it was much less than we expected to get here. The good thing is that the engine behaved correctly in these difficult situations, which is always good. We now just have to focus on the next race; we have three weeks to find more pace and be stronger."


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