The Chinese Grand Prix Preview (10-12 April 2015)

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The Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai returns for its twelfth consecutive year this weekend and has an extra element of spice after the unexpected result in Malaysia. The challenging, but exhilarating track is usually full of excitement and will surely serve up a feast of entertainment, dishing out the latest thrills in a season that has so far been anything but predictable.

The headlines from Malaysia

Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel return to winning ways in what already looks like an inspired partnership! Post-race, the German driver swapped his usual placid demeanour for child-like joy, clearly expressing his delight over the team radio, then bouncing and skipping onto the podium to receive his winner’s trophy. Ferrari ended their 33-race winless streak by taking the chequered flag in Malaysia and Vettel got his first win since the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2013, taking his overall tally of race wins up to 40, one behind Ayrton Senna.

Mercedes winning streak comes to an end after eight consecutive victories. The last time another constructor stood top of the podium was way back in August 2014 when Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton collided, gifting a race victory to Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo at Spa. Lewis Hamilton started on pole position with his German team mate lying in wait in third and most predicted it would only be a matter of time before Vettel was passed. However, a mixture of pure race pace and strategic nous from Ferrari, mixed with poor tyre degradation and possibly some arrogance from Mercedes meant that Vettel won in Malaysia fair and square.

Max Verstappen becomes the youngest points scorer in Formula 1 history. Verstappen had become the youngest World Championship Grand Prix driver in the history of the sport, having made his début aged 17 years and 166 days in Melbourne, but topped that in his second race by scoring six points in this 7th placed finish. Ironically, Max Verstappen, son of former F1 driver Jos Verstappen, smashed the previous record of 19 years and 349 days, previously held by Sebastian Vettel after his eighth place finish at the U.S Grand Prix in 2007.

Both Toro Rosso drivers beat their senior Red Bull partners. Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr (who also has a famous father in 2x World Rally Champion, Carlos Sainz) drove seamlessly to finish the race in seventh and eight respectively, ahead of Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo. The Red Bull pair have had an unexpectedly bad start to a season that promised so much after three race victories in 2014, but it appears that their Renault power unit is severely restricting their performance. Certainly Christian Horner seems to think so.

Mercedes finally have a title contender in Ferrari. With Lewis Hamilton unable to close the 14 second gap on Vettel after the critical last pit stop and with Kimi Raikkonen finishing in fourth despite having an early puncture, it looks like Ferrari could actually push Mercedes for both titles this term. Sebastian Vettel has already overtaken Nico Rosberg in the Driver’s Championship and is now only three points behind defending champion Lewis Hamilton.

It’s all about timing.

Fernando Alonso must be in pieces. Despite the McLaren car performing substantially better in Malaysia than it did in Australia, it is still the worst start to a season McLaren have ever had. They have failed to register a single point from four attempts so far and were the only team to finish in Melbourne outside of the top ten, languishing behind the likes of Sauber, Toro Rosso and Force India- teams that McLaren would say they are innately and historically better than.

Not only that, but Alonso has suffered personally over these last few months. He has been forced to return to McLaren with his tail between his legs after five fruitless seasons at Ferrari, desperate this time to be in a car that can just give him a shot at the title. He confidently thinks he can do the rest. On top of that, an uncharacteristic mistake in pre-season meant he spent three days in a hospital in Barcelona with concussion and subsequently missed the season opener in Melbourne.

But what will really make his blood boil is seeing his long-term nemesis, Sebastian Vettel, win in the car that he was sitting in just a few months ago. Alonso was not forced out of Ferrari at the end of 2014, in fact he still had two years left to run on his contract, but after a tumultuous 2014 at Ferrari, he decided to cut his losses.

In his eyes, two podium finishes for himself and no Ferrari race win in the whole season (for the first time since 1993) showed him he had no chance of winning a coveted third World Championship with the most successful manufacturer in the sport’s history. Now, the man he finished second too in three campaigns at Ferrari is winning races again in the car he could so easily have been driving himself this season.

The Chinese Grand Prix

The Chinese Grand Prix is currently held at the Shanghai International Circuit; it’s 56 laps of high speed straights and tight cornering combinations. The course has a large swing from acceleration to deceleration which often provides fantastic overtaking opportunities for those with a straight line speed advantage, or those who are deadly under braking.

Interestingly, the 5.4 kilometre racing track is shaped like the Chinese character ‘shang’, which stands for ‘high’ or ‘above’ and the main grandstand that seats 29,000 spectators provides a spectacular view of almost 80 percent of the circuit.

The 2015 race will be its 12th on the calendar and a certain Lewis Hamilton has the most race wins overall with three (2008, 2011, 2014), so the omens look good for the 2014 World Champion. Having said that, Ferrari have taken the most wins for a constructer here (four) and Kimi Raikkonen (2006), Sebastian Vettel (2009), Jenson Button (2010) and Nico Rosberg (2012) have all won round this circuit as well.

Fernando Alonso also has fond memories of this track, being the only other multiple race winner here since its inception. He claimed victory and the Constructor’s Championship for Renault here back in 2005, when it was the last race of the season and he also won in 2013, claiming his 31st grand prix victory on his 200th race start.

The Shanghai track is also steeped in racing history as seven-time World Champion, Michael Schumacher won his last ever race here. That win was probably Schumacher’s least impressive in his whole career as only six drivers wearing Bridgestone tyres started the race, after all the other drivers racing on the alternative Michelin tyres dropped out after the formation lap due to a safety risk. Nevertheless a win is a win and Shanghai 2006 contributed the last of Schumacher’s 91 race wins.

Predictions

Mercedes have said that they will be introducing a range of new aerodynamic developments in the Chinese Grand Prix in response to being beaten by Ferrari in Malaysia. Mercedes went into Malaysia thinking they were untouchable, but Ferrari have undone the German manufacturer with some clever strategy and a car that has a good all round package. Mercedes were caught off guard last time out and they are under pressure now to re-assert themselves over the rest of the grid. Expect to see a costly error from one of their driver’s in qualifying as the pressure mounts, but the other to go on and win the race by a distance on Sunday.

Ferrari have shown already that they are at the front of the chasing pack, so they should be there or there abouts again on Sunday. Kimi Raikkonen cannot continue to be unlucky in each race, so maybe he will make it onto the podium this time round, possibly alongside his team mate too.

The others really don’t stand a chance at the moment if we’re talking about race wins, but expect more solid form from the Williams boys, whereas Red Bull could be raced out of the Top 10 this weekend if they do not make some serious improvements. Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso will all get a sniff at some points and McLaren will get their first point of the season with a 10th placed finish after a late retirement from one of their competitors!

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