Paddock Cat reviews The Chinese GP

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The fun started long before the on-track action at the Shanghai International Circuit. To get over jet-lag, the F1 paddock arrived in China early and people were looking for a good time at the start of last week - and a bargain. 

A trip to Nanjing market in downtown Shanghai was on the cards, and it was surprising whom you bumped into.

“Half it, and half it again,” shouted Pastor Maldonado. He was haggling with a stallholder over some watches and clearly loving every moment of the negotiations. He came away armed with goods, as did half of the F1 paddock, and after two hours of haggling, it was easy to understand why Michael Schumacher used to make trips to Nanjing every year.

Over in Jiading, the area that’s home to the SIC, hotels have popped up all over the place since last year’s Chinese Grand Prix. As a result, lots of F1 folk stayed close to the track, instead of in the city. Red Bull and Toro Rosso took over one hotel, which inevitably led to queues in the gym each morning because lots of team members try and stay fit in F1, from the pit crew to the physios and of course the drivers.

On-track, Pirelli’s medium and soft-spec tyres were doing the most work through SIC’s long right-hand corners. The soft compound gave one-lap performance; the medium compound was the better race tyre. Mercedes AMG Petronas found the best pace over one lap, Ferrari the best long-run pace, and it’s long runs that win Grand Prix’s.

Fernando Alonso started third on Sunday afternoon, but grabbed the lead on lap 29 and was never headed thereafter. It was the 31st victory of his career, drawing him level with 1992 World Champion Nigel Mansell on the all-time list of grand prix winners. It was the perfect shot-in-the-arm for his world championship aspirations after he failed to finish in Malaysia last time out.

Pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton had slipped back to third by the chequered flag and Kimi Raikkonen started and finished second. But don’t be mislead into thinking this was a boring race: there were six different leaders (Hamilton, Massa, Hulkenberg, Button, Vettel and Alonso) and nine different lead changes.

The final result couldn’t be issued until long after the race because eight drivers – dubbed “The Shanghai Eight” – had to see the stewards to answer why they’d used DRS in a yellow flag zone during the race. In the end they got away with a slapped wrist and by the time the final result was issued much of the paddock had been packed up, ready for transportation to Bahrain for next weekend’s race, the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Perhaps there’ll be time for some shopping this week.