Ferrari are back and it seems that main man Sebastian Vettel has breathed new life into the race for the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships. His near faultless display in Malaysia will have the Mercedes garage more worried than Daniel Ricciardo after being informed about a Vegemite shortage. The race is truly on as the F1 world heads behind the Bamboo Curtain for the Chinese Grand Prix.
Malaysia has historically been a happy hunting ground for Ferrari. Prior to their victory they had won seven of the fifteen races held at Sepang, but for all the success the team and its former talisman Michael Schumacher had there in the early 2000s, it all fades into insignificance when compared to the result Sebastian Vettel managed to pull out of the hat. Vettel’s victory ended a two-year winless streak for the Prancing Stag as well as ending his personal winning drought. Having qualified in second place the German took advantage of Mercedes’ poor tyre strategy to get himself in front of Hamilton who had taken pole in qualifying. Seb ended up finishing the race some eight and a half seconds in front of the defending World Champion and a further four seconds ahead of third-placed Nico Rosberg. Not to be left out of the action, Kimi Raikkonen added a further twelve points to Ferrari’s points haul with a fantastic drive that saw him climb seven places from his original starting spot on the grid. He was followed across the line by the Williams duo who provided some late excitement with their duel for fifth spot. Valtteri Bottas would eventually claim fifth with teammate Felipe Massa rounding out the Top 6. The Toro Rossos claimed the next two positions with rookie Max Verstappen impressing once again; his seventh place finish means he now holds the record for the youngest ever points scorer in Formula One history. Carlos Sainz Junior started in fifteenth place on the grid due to an unexpected thunderstorm that cut Q2 short before he could set a competitive time. Much like Kimi Raikkonen, who also felt the ramifications of the storm, Sainz Junior cut his way through the field to finish in an impressive eighth place. The Red Bulls rounded out the top ten with Kvyat claiming ninth and Ricciardo tenth. Malaysia hosted a fantastic race weekend that culminated in the upset the majority of F1 fans were praying for. Hopefully China offers up a similar rainless and open Grand Prix.
Shanghai’s stunning metropolitan hub will be the backdrop for this weekend’s race at the Shanghai International Circuit. The Chinese really upped the ante in terms of the way modern racing facilities are designed when they built this venue. Costing some $240m to build, an enormous state of the art main grandstand and accompanying pit complex dominate the course. The track itself is 5.451km long and encompasses a 1.5km straight which allows drivers to really open up the cars. The circuit also features sixteen turns, with slow tricky hairpins amongst them. It is a race that will test both the straight line speeds of the vehicles as well as how they handle through the turns. The early hairpins as well as the extreme temperatures mean tyres will be used up quicker than the goodwill between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. Pirelli have opted to issue the medium and soft compound tyres for this race, as was the case in Malaysia. We could well see the wets come into play although there is only a slight chance of afternoon rain being predicted for race day and none whatsoever for the practice and qualifying sessions. This is East Asia though which means predicting rain showers is pretty much guess work. Last year’s Grand Prix saw a Mercedes one-two; Lewis claimed pole in a rain affected qualifying session and went on to finish the main race in the same position. The podium was rounded out by Fernando Alonso who was still at Ferrari. The track is a bit more suited to Mercedes car setup than Sepang was, but with Sebastian Vettel firing on all cylinders and tension in the Silver Arrows ranks mounting, we may be in for a dramatic and enthralling race day.
To Win Outright
Lewis Hamilton 13/20
Nico Rosberg 11/4
Sebastian Vettel 4/1
Kimi Raikkonen 10/1
Valtteri Bottas 40/1
Felipe Massa 50/1
Daniel Ricciardo 100/1
Daniil Kvyat 150/1
Kimi Raikkonen – Podium Finish (7/4)
With his teammate grabbing all of the headlines, the Finn’s impressive drives seem to have gone unnoticed. A solid start to the season in Australia saw Kimi battling Felipe Massa for fourth place until issues with his car forced him to retire late on in the race. Probably spurred on by his retirement in the inaugural race of the season Raikkonen finished fourth in Malaysia with an understated yet impressive drive. Although he may be past the days of winning World Championships, Raikkonen is still a fantastic “support driver” with a cunning ability to ensure he is amongst the points at the end of most races. It’s been some time since Kimi ended a race in the Top 3 but with the pressure on at Mercedes he may soon be hearing the first notes of Maamme (the Finnish national anthem). 7/4 is great value for a man who’s done it all before.
Max Verstappen – Top 6 Finish (9/4)
I know it’s early days but it looks like this youngster is going to be something special. With engine problems ruining his chance of a top ten finish and a new world record at Albert Park, Verstappen must have entered Malaysia with conflicting emotions. He showed great resolve however and managed to set aside any lingering doubts from Australia to produce an exceptional performance, culminating in a seventh place finish. Max seems to be getting the hang of this whole F1 thing exceptionally quickly, breaking youngest-ever records left, right and centre. Come the conclusion of the Chinese Grand Prix I think he’ll have set another one…as the youngest ever Top 6 finisher.
Nico Hulkenberg – Top 6 Finish (25/1)
This is the third race in a row that I will have backed Nico to finish in the Top 6 and, of course, he and his Force India team have let me down miserably in the previous two. By now you must be thinking I’m a bit mad or get paid by Hulkenberg’s people to continually back him but there is a method to my madness. Last year the Force India man managed to finish seven out of the nineteen races in the Top 6 which is more than a third; he also took sixth place in Shanghai last year. Nico may not have the quickest car out of the mid-table competitors but he does have the know-how and driving skills to pull off a Top 6 finish. The odds are also fantastic on this one.
Lewis Hamilton 13/20
Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team will want to put Sepang behind them as quickly as possible and the Chinese Grand Prix offers up a seemingly ideal opportunity to do just that. The track’s slow corners and hairpins should allow the Silver Arrows to press home their superior cornering speed advantage over the Ferraris. The danger for the reigning world champion is that this track is hard on the brakes and tyres, both of which he had issues with in Sepang. Even with all the talk of revolution being in the air after Sepang, Lewis still possess the quickest car on the track and that means he’ll most likely take qualifying. The main race will be a different story though.
Sebastian Vettel 4/1
I backed him in Australia and Lewis won it, I back Lewis in Sepang and Vettel wins it. Predicting race outcomes ain’t easy. Although I’m a bit frustrated at the timing of his win for selfish reasons, I’m ecstatic due to the spin-off effects his victory has. Firstly, it’s made the season infinitely more exciting and secondly, Ferrari have returned to the big time with a German spearhead which means I’m never short of a comparison. Lastly, it’s a comeback story and everyone enjoys a good old comeback hence the never-ending Rocky franchise. The track may not suit him as much as Sepang but everything seems to be falling into place a lot sooner than expected for Sebastian and Ferrari. Whereas over at Mercedes it seems like the aura of invincibility has worn off and in its place a small cloud of nerves is beginning to move in. It is going to be tight but I think the German will come out on top in Shanghai.