(Photo credit: Curt Smith)
Thursday’s Press conference featured two of the big performers from Bahrain as Toro Rosso's Pierre Gasly and Sauber's Marcus Ericsson took to the stage. Making up the trio was Red Bull's Max Verstappen, who needs a big result in Shanghai.
Pierre Gasly was the standout performer from Bahrain with an excellent fourth place finish, equalling Toro Rosso's best result outside Vettel's 2007 win in Monza. When quizzed about the result and the reaction he's had, he replied: "It’s been amazing. First, just personally, y'know? It’s a big investment for a long time, since I was a kid. It’s a lot of work, a lot of preparation and it’s my best result in Formula One – but just to see that all the work I’m doing at the moment is paying off and actually we are going in the right direction, I’m really happy about it. And also the support I got afterwards, after the weekend, I’m just super-impressed. A lot of articles, TV and media writing. It was something impressive but nice, a lot of support from the people. So, it’s been great."
He was also asked how he felt going into this weekend. "This will be my first time in Shanghai, so it will also be a new track for me. We’ll probably take more time to adapt myself but definitely we are more confident but still we need to be careful – because we have no guarantees about the performance – we know it’s tight in the midfield. In Bahrain, the car was just fantastic in terms of balance, in terms of grip – but we know that if we don't get everything right, suddenly if you lose two or three-tenths you can be at the back of the midfield and it changes your weekend completely. So, we need to be quite careful and just make sure we do the right things."
Gasly echoed the thoughts of a lot of the drivers on how tight the midfield fight will be. Which, with the changes being proposed to F1, shows Ross Brawn that the grid is still competitive despite the gap between the front three teams and the rest of the grid.
Next was Marcus Ericsson, who for the first time in 50 races finished in the points. He was obviously jubilant saying: "It was a big relief. I think I’ve had four times P11 since then. So, I was close a lot of times, and had some great races but it’s very difficult when you’re in the worst car on the grid. Some races I had a perfect race – and finished P14 or something like that. It’s frustrating, but, yeah we’re all here to score points. So being back in the points last weekend was a great relief."
Marcus was also questioned on the closing gap between the midfield and whether the deeper partnership with Fiat-Chrysler group, in particular Alfa Romeo has strengthened their chances of moving up the grid. He replied: "I think we have a solid baseline to work from. Like Pierre said, the midfield is close and I feel we are very much in that midfield – but probably in the lower part of that midfield at the moment. But also like Toro Rosso showed last weekend if you make a step you can really move quickly up or down in that midfield group. So, first I’m just very happy that we are part of that group on pure speed. Now we need to work even harder to improve that position – but I know everyone does, both here on track and also in the factory and we have a lot of things planned for the season. We need to keep working hard, keep pushing hard and then we should be able to fight every weekend."
His comments suggest that most of the drivers on the F1 grid will have the chance to show off their talents this season with every car having opportunities to overtake.
Williams may want to take note as their survival in F1 may hinge on an unexpected technical partnership with Renault. If Red Bull move to Honda, Renault may look to reduce engine revenue deficits by using Williams as a second team. This is a model Red Bull and Ferrari are using so it would not be a surprise to see Renault pick up a 'technical partner'.
Lastly came Max Verstappen, who looks like he's already out of the title fight having only scored eight points to Vettel's 50. However, it's early days and the Red Bull package looks capable of challenging for race wins. This was emphasised by Verstappen himself who stated: "It’s always important to score points and that’s always the target, but we are here to finish on the podium or win races – that’s why we’re here. That’s what I will try to do again this weekend. So, for me, there won’t be a change." Asked about whether him and Lewis had spoken since their collision last weekend, he said: "No". This changed soon after as Hamilton sought Max during a fan signing session to shake his hand and superficially mend bridges. This may just be the beginning of some serious tension between the top drivers this season as finer margins decide races and the psychological battles hot up on and off track.
There's lots to talk about as F1 enters Round Three of a season that promises more drama and surprises up and down the field. But who do you think will win this weekend? Let us know your predictions in the comments.