Formula 1 makes its annual visit to the world most populous country this weekend with the Chinese Grand Prix. Just like Bahrain, the Shanghai International Circuit is celebrating the tenth anniversary of its first grand prix, and although a similar ‘celebration’ is not planned, it is likely that those donned in silver will once again be jubilant on Sunday night.
Going on recent form, it just isn’t possible to bet against Mercedes this weekend. The team has won all three races so far this season, claimed two one-two finishes and in Bahrain enjoyed a ‘perfect weekend’ – that is P1 and P2 in every single session. It was simply relentless form. And now we come to the German team’s ‘strong’ circuit where Nico Rosberg won its first race since returning the sport back in 2012. Traditionally, the Silver Arrows have always ran well in Shanghai, so you can expect to see a similarly devastating performance this weekend that will leave all rivals sleepless.
That said, it’s unlikely that many of the Ferrari team have been sleeping too easily this week. On Monday, Stefano Domenicali resigned as team principal and handed the reigns over to the marque’s North American CEO, Matteo Mattiacci. He will work in tandem with Luca di Montezemolo, who will increase his involvement with the F1 team. It was in China last year that Fernando Alonso pulled a win from seemingly nowhere, but a repeat performance this time around might prove more difficult. For the Spaniard, a podium finish would be a welcome result, but teammate Kimi Raikkonen would dearly love to beat him to it. There’s an uncomfortable feeling at Ferrari at the moment, and it will be interesting to see how the team gets on this weekend.
Red Bull’s week also hasn’t gone to plan after the court of appeal rejected the team’s argument against Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification from the Australian Grand Prix. After so much hype and screaming, the team reacted in a rather dignified manner by accepting the decision and moving on. The pace of the RB10 means that Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel should be well in the running for a podium finish this weekend.
The team that finished ‘best of the rest’ in Bahrain was Force India, and Sergio Perez will be banking on a repeat performance after bagging his first podium finish since the 2012 Italian Grand Prix. Nico Hulkenberg was also well in the running, as were the Williams duo of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas. A late safety car period in Bahrain robbed the Martini-livered racers a chance of bigger points, but the actual pace of the FW36 car is certainly impressive.
One team that has impressed over the years in China is McLaren, and the British team will be banking on a better result than the one in Bahrain that saw both Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen pull over and retire. The MP4-29 is certainly on a par with the other Mercedes customer teams, and the straight line speed of the car could work in the British team’s favour. The battle to join Hamilton and Rosberg on the podium is finely poised, it must be said. Force India versus Williams versus Red Bull versus McLaren versus Ferrari. That’s nearly half the field!
It isn’t all sunshine and unicorns for the rest of the drivers, though. Toro Rosso’s dry pace was pretty dismal in Bahrain (despite Martin Brundle calling the car – which, it must be noted, had qualified 14th – “mighty fast” on the grid; duh), whilst Sauber and Lotus continue to toil at the back of the grid. Pastor Maldonado remains insistent that he’s done no wrong in the incident with Gutierrez in Bahrain, which is actually less surprising than one may imagine.
The weather forecast suggests that we’re in for another wet qualifying session in China, which could shake up the grid ahead of a dry race on Sunday. However, to look past Mercedes for another one-two this weekend would be foolish. Instead, it’s a question of “how big is the gap”; let’s hope for the sake of the championship that it’s a bit smaller than last time out.
Images courtesy of Daimler and Scuderia Ferrari.