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.