China very possibly left fans with more questions than answers, as a maiden Formula One victory for Nico Rosberg left many surprised. Doubts had been cast toward Mercedes ever since the famous name returned to the sport for 2010, but it has finally paid dividends with an impressive victory. Much like his team, Rosberg often was enshrouded among questions of when success would come at the highest level, and while those have been answered, it now leaves many wondering how this season will play itself out.
Nearly 57 years had passed since Mercedes' last F1 win at Monza in 1955. It came at the hands of Juan Manuel Fangio, and at that time Formula One had not yet hosted even 50 points-paying events.
Rosberg delivered a dominant performance right from the start and ended up winning by just over 20 seconds, the fourth-largest margin of victory by a first-time winner since 1995. Two of the three drivers ahead of him on that list, Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button, have since gone on to win championships. A title this season may seem unlikely, but Rosberg's father, Keke, won his lone championship in 1982, the very same season he earned his first F1 victory.
Rosberg even surprised himself a bit with his performance, as he explained to reporters after the race, "I'm very happy, very excited. It's been a long time coming for me and for the team as well over the past two years and a bit. Now, it's finally here. It's just amazing, and it's just nice to see how quickly we are now progressing. I didn't expect to be that fast today."
After a blistering pole lap, the underlying concern was that Mercedes would struggle to maintain pace during the grand prix, but that simply was not the case. The tires held remarkably well, and Rosberg was able to utilize a two-stop strategy.
Winning from pole has become a rarity of sorts recently, as Rosberg became the first man on pole to win since Sebastian Vettel in India last season. In between, there had been four straight events in which a driver claimed victory having started outside first.
Behind Rosberg, a sea of cars competed for the points-paying positions and the action rarely let up. The varying strategies provided for a very entertaining battle, and it now appears as if no single team has a significant, consistent advantage over the competition. The strongest team now appears to be McLaren, and Button and Lewis Hamilton did a remarkable job to earn podium spots in Shanghai. By virtue of three third-place finishes to start the season, Hamilton is now the championship leader.
But many other teams seem to be threatening in 2012, and the year is much more balanced throughout compared to last season. After all, just one race ago nine constructors managed to score points.
Overall, the on-track product in China continued to thrill, and for the second straight year in Shanghai, only one car suffered from a retirement.
The heat of Bahrain may mean the attrition rate is considerably higher, but that is certainly not the primary concern of teams as they prepare for the fourth event of the season. Despite continued protests and upheaval, Formula One will compete in Bahrain after canceling last year's event, and safety will no doubt be a primary concern for all attending.
In the last visit there, the layout was revised, with an additional group of slow turns added following Turn 4. It lengthened the lap by nearly a full kilometer, but the alteration was not generally well received, and the track will revert to its former layout this year.
The track has witnessed two hat tricks (win, pole and fastest lap) in its limited time (Michael Schumacher in 2004 and Felipe Massa in 2007) and is one of six grands prix to host multiple hat tricks since the 2004 season.