For a while, an ever-changing 2011 Chinese Grand Prix suggested that it might throw up a surprise winner in the shape of Nico Rosberg's Mercedes, but the German was to have his hopes dashed as fuel consumption worries set in.
A good start saw Rosberg battling wheel-to-wheel with poleman Sebastian Vettel for third place before slipping into fourth place, but an early stop for fresh tyres saw the Mercedes driver ideally placed to assume the lead when those ahead of him made their scheduled pit calls. The decision to stop of lap twelve, however, ensured that Rosberg would have to make three stops to get through the race and, despite leading for a combined 14 laps, that eventually moved him out of contention for top spot,
A podium position still appeared to be on the cards, however, until the call came from pit-wall asking him to lift off ahead of schedule as the WO2's fuel consumption was 'critical'. Although he managed to get the situation back in check, Rosberg's caution meant that he was easy prey for cars able to run unhindered behind him, and he eventually dropped to fifth after being caught by a charging Mark Webber three laps from home.
"Naturally, I'm disappointed with the race today, as we know that we didn't make the most of our opportunity out there," he sighed, "We've made a big step with the car this weekend, which is really nice to see, and we will have better races in future.
"Leading the race for such a long time was a great feeling, but we had issues with the fuel consumption which made it really difficult to fight for position. We could have had a podium finish - or maybe more - today, but we will learn from this together as a team and make sure that we get the results next time."
With upgrades expected at both the opening two European rounds in Turkey and Spain, Mercedes is set to move closer to the teams ahead of it, which will comes as some encouragement to Michael Schumacher, who enjoyed another combative race, notably in duels with Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso, before crossing the line eighth overall. Like Rosberg, the veteran followed a three-stop strategy, and also struggled slightly with fuel consumption issues, before running the final leg on the harder Pirelli tyre as he hounded Alonso to the chequered flag.
"That was a lot of racing in one grand prix - and very exciting!" he grinned, "I had a lot of fun this afternoon and I'm so pleased to see the hard work of our guys paid off this weekend. We have made a big step forward with our car and it worked very well. We are heading towards the first race in Europe now and will bring some upgrades to Istanbul which should help us to improve even more. It is good to leave Asia with a positive feeling."
"We had a very encouraging race today from the point of view of our overall pace and performance," technical director Ross Brawn confirmed, "Nico and Michael did a fantastic job in making use of what they had, and our strategy and pit-stops were very good. It's disappointing that we had to start looking at fuel saving with Nico, which ultimately cost him at least a podium finish.
"We need to look into why we suffered so much higher fuel consumption in the race than we had experienced in practice, even allowing for the changes in conditions and grip. There was clearly a problem and it's very frustrating for Nico and the team. However we can take away positives from this weekend in knowing that, if we do a decent job, we can be competitive."