Race-day update: Buemi, Sauber, Mercedes, and Vettel ‘crisis’

Sun, 15 April 2012, 06:35

Apr.15 (GMM) Sebastien Buemi has allowed himself only a modest dig at Toro Rosso’s new drivers, after Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo slumped to 16th and 17th places in qualifying for the Chinese grand prix.

The deposed Swiss Buemi, who is now the senior team Red Bull’s reserve driver, told Blick newspaper: “Last year Alguersuari and I were in Q3 …”

He said no more on that topic, but he did pick a likely winner for Sunday: “Hamilton,” said Buemi.

Indeed, McLaren’s 2008 world champion has been quick all weekend in China, but in qualifying was sandwiched by the two ‘double-DRS’-assisted Mercedes.

And for the race, Hamilton moves back five places – to seventh – due to taking a five-position penalty for Saturday morning’s unscheduled gearbox change.

Nonetheless, Buemi thinks the 2011 Shanghai winner can soar back to the top step of the podium on Sunday. He also thinks the Saubers will take “a lot of points” if “they don’t crash”.

Kimi Raikkonen, a solid fourth on the grid, agrees: “That was a great performance by my old team (Sauber).”

With owner Peter Sauber back in Switzerland this weekend, Sauber’s acting team principal Monisha Kaltenborn said she is not worried Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez will throw away the chance of solid points by crashing.

“No, I have full confidence in them,” she insisted.

“They know what is at stake for a team like Sauber — we need every single championship point.”

Lotus team owner Gerard Lopez, meanwhile, admitted to hoping Romain Grosjean simply “survives a first lap, finally” in 2012.

The two Mercedes, to both start from the front row of the grid, should last at the front for longer than a lap, but the W03 is still likely to suffer the tyre-eating problems of the first two races.

“Yes, our car is strong here,” said Michael Schumacher, “but we thought that in Australia and Malaysia too.”

The German team’s Norbert Haug, however, wasn’t thinking negative thoughts on Saturday, having performed an awkward ‘jig’ in the garage following Nico Rosberg’s maiden pole.

It was the first for a Mercedes works team since the 50s.

“Who would have bet (beforehand) that Rosberg would be first and the world champion (Sebastian Vettel) eleventh?” he beamed to Bild newspaper.

Indeed, triple world champion and plain-talking analyst Niki Lauda said the formerly dominant Red Bull could now be described as being in “crisis”.

“The worst thing is that Vettel didn’t even notice from inside the car that he was not fast. That is a serious problem,” said the Austrian legend.

Worse still for the former pole-master Vettel, his qualifying record against Mark Webber so far in 2012 is zero per cent, which according to the Kolner Express newspaper is “embarrassing” for the double world champion.

Vettel was also forced to play down suggestions his cheery disposition of 2011 has been replaced by a blunt temper this year, following his widely reported ‘middle finger’ salutes to Narain Karthikeyan in Malaysia.

And in China, he was seen gesticulating from the cockpit to Lotus’ Romain Grosjean.

“He just was in my way for a bit and I waved my hand,” the German insisted, “there was no finger — I know you (reporters) get excited about it!”

Vettel’s Renault Sport engineer, Cyril Dumont, found at least one bright side to look on.

“It is important,” he told RMC Sport, “for the public to see that in F1 it’s not so easy to win.”

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