2015 Chinese Grand Prix: Weekend Preview

Has everyone got over the shock yet? Mercedes arrived in Malaysia as the hot favorites to continue their winning streak, but it was Ferrari who handled the heat best, with Sebastian Vettel returning to the top step of the podium over a year away. The shock result, along with wheel to wheel action throughout the field, made the race a classic. As the circus reconvenes in Shanghi, the question now is whether Ferrari can again spoil the Silver Arrows’ party and further disrupt the march of the 2014 world champions.

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The Facts…

  • The Shanghi International Circuit held its first Grand Prix in 2004; a race won by Ferrari’s Ruberns Barichello.
  • The race will take place over 56 laps.
  • The venue cost $450 million to build and features impressive architecture. It is constructed on old swampland and took 18 months to complete.
  • Micheal Schumacher’s 91st and final race victory came in China in 2006.
  • Lewis Hamilton has won at Shanghi on three separate occasions; 2008, 2011, and 2014. His victory in 2011 came after passing Sebastian Vettel with just six laps remaining.

Rewind 12 Months

One of Lewis Hamilton’s more comfortable victories, the Brit’s job was made easier by Nico Rosberg who, after having made a mistake at the end of Q3, suffered a poor launch and was swallowed up by his rivals. The German did recover to P2, but Hamilton was imperious in front meaning that Rosberg was forced to settle for P2. Elsewhere, Ferrari attracted significant attention across the course of the weekend, as Marco Mattiacci made his first appearance as the new Ferrari Team Principal. It seemed as though he and his dark sunglasses had an immediate effect, as Fernando Alonso bagged Ferrari’s first, (and only) podium of 2014.

Ferrari Challenge

Four times – the number of occasions in which a Ferrari driver has stood on the top step of the podium in Shanghi. Following Sebastian Vettel’s heroics in Malaysia, fans will enter this weekend hopeful that the tradition can be maintained. However, optimists should beware the fact that China is a circuit which naturally suits the Mercedes.

One of the key reasons behind their success in Malaysia was tyre preservation. The SF15-T has undoubtedly gained the trait of being tyre friendly, by keeping tyre temperatures low. On circuits where the surface temperature is significant this will be an advantage, however, this very same strength should theoretically become a weakness on cooler circuits. The surface of the Shanghi International Circuit contains white stones, which reflect the sunlight and therefore, keep the surface temperature low.

Ultimately, if Ferrari can take the fight to Mercedes this time out, then in my opinion, we really should start considering the Ferrari-threat to be a title challenging one.

McLaren Struggles

They may have suffered two retirements, but Malaysia was a promising weekend for McLaren. To their surprise, they were able to race against the likes of Force India, Lotus and Sauber on Sunday, despite their straight line deficiencies. It has somewhat rekindled the faith in the fact that the chassis of the MP4-30 is as special as McLaren claim.

However, all the downforce in the world may not be enough to boost McLaren into the points this weekend, as the flaws of their fledgling powertrain are likely to be amplified by the back straight. “China’s two long straights – each preceded by slow to medium speed corners – will place extra emphasis on the power-unit,” Jenson Button said. “And there is a feeling that the expected cooler weather will make it harder to generate tyre temperature – which could mean that any progress we make doesn’t necessarily translate to a lap time benefit.”

Prediction Corner

Buoyed by scoring an ‘impressive-by-my-standards’ 53 points in Malaysia in Autosport’s GP Predictor, it is now time for me to unveil my predictions ahead of the Chinese GP.

Despite being in red-hot form, I expect Lewis Hamilton to play second-fiddle to his teammate this weekend. Nico Rosberg has a history of headline performances in China, with his first Mercedes podium coming at the venue in 2010, as well as his first victory in 2012 – a truly imperious performance in the W03. However, I still expect Hamilton to comfortably take the second step on the podium, as for the reasons expressed above, I imagine that Ferrari will take a step backwards this weekend. A tight battle between Vettel, Raikkonen, Bottas and Massa could be the result, which would surely make for an entertaining race.

2015 Chinese Grand Prix Predictions

Image Credit: "2014 Chinese Grand Prix - FP3 7 Qualifying"
By Caterham F1 via Flickr [CC-ND-2.0]
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