So I was on my way to be when I realized I should probably get this in writing before most of the world wakes up and starts their own armchair punditing on the results of the Chinese GP qualifying session. We’ll have more discussion about the ins and outs of quali on the podcast (to be recorded immediately following the GP), but one of the biggest surprises was Kamui Kobayashi. Kamui got the Sauber up to P4 on merit, inheriting P3 due to Hamilton’s five place drop.
In the immediate aftermath, I’ve seen many people dismissing Kamui, saying there’s no way he will be competitive in the race. To which I say, bullshit. Sure, a few years ago they were a back of the grid team. But since then they have made relentless charges forward. In 2011 they were limited by a severely underdeveloped blown floor, and stopped all development of their off-throttle blowing leading up to the FIA’s rather flaccid attempt at a ban for the Silverstone GP. Now, with EBD systems banned, we’re starting to see the pecking order change.
The Sauber of 2012 is not the Sauber of 2009, or 2010 for that matter. They are better funded thanks to Perez’s money, and have a massive new sponsor on the way. Perez’s shock podium in Malaysia has turned some heads, and chances are more money will follow for the team. And, while money can’t buy speed, I think cash has been Sauber’s one limiting factor over the past few seasons. They have the dedication, the history, the team, and the drivers to go places, but just never had the funds to get there. With that changing, I expect a year or two from now Sauber will be a sharp end team.
Kamui’s second row quali lap shows Sauber have caught up in an area they’ve been lacking in, namely, one lap pace. We know they are easy on the tires, and Malaysia showed even when the car is pushed hard the tire deg does not spike dramatically. Kobayashi just showed hours ago that the car can be competitive in the dry as well as in the wet, and studying the competition leads me to believe he can pull off a win here.
The tire issues with the Mercedes are going to be an issue, with Ross Brawn admitting it will take more than “a few weeks” to solve. Australia showed Kimi and Kamui are both capable of taking positions off of one another, and the two cars seen very close on pace. Button seemed shaky, both in and out of the car, and I think he will have a pretty anonymous race. Alonso will be slow, Grosjean will find a wall, and that’s all that matters.
The only person I can see spoiling Kobayashi’s chance at victory is Hamilton. McLaren clearly have the race pace to go to the top, but I’m not sure weather will play to their strength. Friday and Saturday were cooler than predicted, and I suspect Sunday will follow suit. If so, this favors the Sauber, as it seems cooler conditions give them just that little bit extra. Also, weather aside, we also have to consider this is Kobayashi we’re talking about. He is very aggressive, and will not go down without a fight. While the Sauber is light on the tires even in battle, Hamilton is known to chew through the compound. This, again, favors the Sauber.
So I think the stage is set for another surprise from the Swiss team. Funny that I was mocked for my “Kamui for P3 in quali” predictions last season, only for it to pan out in 2012. So to those people, I say 😛
Chinese Grand Prix Revised Predictions: