We preview Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix which is taking place at the Shanghai International Circuit.
The status quo was finally broken with Sebastian Vettel ending Mercedes’ run of dominance at Albert Park. The result would have warmed partisan fans hearts, as well as those of a Ferrari persuasion, as it indicates that this year’s Drivers’ Championship will be the most hotly contested in quite some time.
Anyway, enough with the obvious statements, let’s take a look at how things are shaping for the Chinese Grand Prix.
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Chinese Grand Prix | Sunday 9 April | Shanghai International Circuit | 06:30
Could we have asked for a better start to the season than the one that was delivered to us in Australia? Maybe a McLaren one-two would have been a bit more intriguing but we’ll take what we can get. In all seriousness, though, Vettel’s victory ‘down under’ was just the breath of fresh air Formula 1 needed.
While there was an absurd amount of hype around the new Ferrari SF-70 H - mainly due to the preseason testing times set by the ‘Prancing Stag’- I had my doubts that the team would actually live up to the lofty expectations. How wrong I was as Sebastian Vettel delivered a wonderful drive to take the race honours.
While Vettel got the best out of his new car, rival Lewis Hamilton, who was forced to settle for second place, seemingly struggled to get the best out of the new Silver Arrow. And while Hamilton’s inability to claim a race win was mainly down to a brilliant pit strategy by Ferrari, the Mercedes team will be slightly worried by Vettel’s ability to maintain a comfortable gap between himself and Hamilton.
The final podium spot was taken by Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, who got life behind the wheel of a Mercedes off to a solid start. Bottas’ countryman, Kimi Raikkonen, managed to claim fourth while young gun – I still can’t believe he’s been racing for two years - Max Verstappen brought his car home in fifth. Verstappen’s teammate and local hero, Daniel Ricciardo, had a bit of a ‘mare with technical issues hampering his race weekend, with the grinning Aussie eventually forced to retire.
While Ricciardo struggled, his former teammate Danil Kyvat (9th) had a reasonable outing with fellow Toro Rosso man, Carlos Sainz (8th) also finishing in the top 10. Force India also managed to bag a double points haul with Sergio Perez finishing seventh and Esteban Ocon claiming tenth. While Williams managed a sixth-place finish courtesy of Felipe Massa.
To Win Outright
Lewis Hamilton 5/4 | Sebastian Vettel 15/10 | Valterri Bottas 13/2 | KimiRaikkonenn 8/1 | Max Verstappen 18/1 | Daniel Ricciardo 22/1 | Felipe Massa 250/1 | Carlos Sainz 400/1
The architectural wonder that is the Shanghai International circuit will play host to one of the most intriguing races in recent history. The track could prove a real acid test for the new Mercedes W08 with the slow hairpin turns sure to test the brake-by-wire systems on the two Silver Arrows. That’s not to say that the entirety of the circuit is on the slow side. Far from it in fact, as the 1.5 kilometre straight – situated between turns 13 and 14 - allows drivers to really have a go before heading into the hairpin between turns 14 and 15, where sharp braking is a necessity if you want to avoid running off track.
Drivers will face 16 turns in total this weekend, with the trickiest of the bunch being the sequence between turns one to four, which have claimed their fair share of victims since the course first hosted a race back in 2004.
As we are in South East Asia, the extremely humid conditions need to be noted due to their effect on tyre wear. Pirelli has opted to try and negate tyre degradation by issuing the medium white-walled compounds alongside the Supersofts and Softs. The idea behind this is that the harder tyres won’t take as heavy a beating as the two others. Whether this rings true is up for debate as the Shanghai International Circuit takes no prisoners when it comes to tyres, regardless of the compound.
The weather forecast for the race weekend is not looking great with rain expected from Friday through to Sunday. This could play into the hands of some of the weaker teams who may well take advantage of a few retirements at the top end of the field.
Last year’s podium consisted of Nico Rosberg (1st), Sebastian Vettel (2nd) and Danil Kyvat (3rd) with Lewis Hamilton finishing in seventh after starting at the tail of the grid.
Podium Finish – Valterri Bottas – No 9/10
I think we’re going to see a Mercedes fail to finish the race this weekend. And while Hamilton is more than capable of nursing a car home, Bottas’ is less cautious and could be the one who fails to bring his car across the line should braking issues occur. Even if Bottas does manage to finish the race, I have a feeling he won’t be on the podium.
To Win Race: Sebastian Vettel 15/10
Seb certainly delivered the goods last week and it would take a foolish man to bet against him at a track where he’s had success in the past. While I think the Ferrari main man will put in a solid drive this weekend, my main reason for tipping him is Mercedes' braking issues. It seemed like Lewis Hamilton was nursing his car in Australia, not wanting to push it to its limit in fear of retirement. The Chinese Grand Prix takes a massive toll on both the tyres as well as the breaking systems.
Vettel delivered last week at a decent price and my money is on him repeating the trick and making it back-to-back race wins.
Fastest Qualifier: Lewis Hamilton 83/100
It paid dividends last week and I’m a big believer in the old adage of “If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it”. This is another track where Lewis has dominated qualifying. The Brit’ has claimed pole in three out of the last four race weekends in China and comes into this one off the back of a pole in Australia. Hamilton to take the qualifying honours is about as sure fire a bet you will find this weekend.