Sebastian Vettel has quipped that there seems to be some sort of attraction to the Red Bull Racing pit 'box after – for the second time in as many years – a rival team's driver decided to stop there, in this case Jenson Button in today's Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.
Button and Vettel were lying first and second respectively when both came in to make their first pit-stops on lap 14 – but to the astonishment of observers, the McLaren-Mercedes star drove straight into the Red Bull 'box before swiftly realising his error.
The mistake was sufficient to cost Button the lead, and Vettel would retain the advantage until the closing stages of the grand prix when – having made only two pit visits to Lewis Hamilton's more aggressive three-stop strategy – the defending F1 World Champion found himself on a fast-wearing final set of tyres as the sister McLaren closed in.
With five laps to go and defenceless in his efforts to preserve his position, Vettel conceded the lead, but still, he mused, the runner-up laurels represented 'a strong result' to add to his brace of victories in Australia and Malaysia already this season – and returning to Europe for the Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul in three weeks' time, the German has a 21-point buffer over his nearest pursuer in the title standings.
“My start was not the best,” the 23-year-old acknowledged, having lost out to both McLarens at the 'off'. “For some reason, it seems the left-hand side of the grid is worse here than the right-hand side. It wasn't brilliant, and I lost positions to Jenson and Lewis. After that, it was about being patient. I think we treated the tyres better in the first stint; we could have stayed out, but there wasn't reason to at that time, so I came into the 'box and came out first.
“It was a surprise that Jenson came into my garage in front of me – I hoped he would carry on. We had something similar two years ago with a Toro Rosso – I don't know what attracts people to stop in our garage! Fortunately, it had no effect and the guys kept their heads. We came out in the lead, and tried hard to stay on two stops.
“The middle stint should really have been a little longer, and at the end of the race I found myself out on the hard tyre and could see Lewis coming closer-and-closer. I tried to defend as best I could without losing too much time to the guys behind, but he found his way past. It was a difficult race and we had a couple of mistakes, but we still finished second and third, which is a strong result.
“Congratulations to Lewis and McLaren; they did a good job and it just shows that in one race, if you try something a bit different and make a small mistake, there is someone to beat you. It was a good race for us and we can learn a lot from today. Mark [Webber – team-mate] had a good race and had good pace. With two stops, you have to be patient and look after your tyres, but it didn't work today.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner reasoned that with Vettel falling behind the two McLarens early on, the plan was to endeavour to get back ahead of Button and Hamilton by trying something different on the strategy front – but the race just went on a handful of laps too long, he confessed.
“After losing out a little bit at the start by dropping behind both McLarens, we elected for Sebastian to go onto a two-stop strategy,” the Englishman explained. “It nearly paid off for us and we got within four laps of making it work but, ultimately, he just didn't have enough grip to defend it. Second is still a fantastic result, though, and means a lot of points, which are well-deserved. We had one scare when Jenson stopped in our pit 'box at the first stop, but overall it is a very strong team result.”
“Somehow today, I feel like the job is not finished even though it is a really good result for the team,” added Cyril Dumont, from RBR's engine partner Renault. “To finish second is a good result, and the season is still very long – which is good. We now go to Europe leading the championship.”