F1 2018: Chinese Grand Prix preview
After a stunning second race in Bahrain last week, Ben Pascuzzi looks ahead to the Chinese Grand Prix as F1 goes back-to-back for the first time this season.
(Photo credit: Emily Walker)
The Bahrain Grand Prix was an enthralling race from start to finish that set the tone for a season of drama. What can we expect from the follow up event in China?
Ferrari & Mercedes
The threat to Mercedes’ four-year reign is finally here, with Ferrari confirming their improvement over the testing season by claiming the first two races of the campaign.
Mercedes, and Hamilton in particular, were unlucky in Melbourne as Vettel and Ferrari reaped the rewards of the Virtual Safety Car deployment. However, in the recent Bahrain GP, Ferrari were quicker overall, sending a message to the rest of the pack they are championship contenders again.
Ferrari went one-two in qualifying last Saturday, and although Raikkonen wasn’t able to finish the race, Vettel still came away with the win, despite having degrading tyres and a far-quicker Bottas on his tail.
The win all but confirmed Ferrari competitiveness, so the question now is: how will Mercedes respond in China? The Chinese GP has been a happy hunting ground for the Mercedes team of late, winning five out of the last six races, including the past four in a row. However, the Silver Arrows have been underwhelming so far this term, and there’s a feeling that if they cannot get a win in China, then Ferrari will be favourites to take both the driver’s and constructors’ championships.
Expect a Vettel/Hamilton showdown for the ages that could go down to the final laps of this race.
In seasons past, the midfield battle has always been between a handful of teams including Force India and Williams. This year, however, those two have fallen behind while others such as Haas, McLaren and Renault have shown they have the pace to compete. Meanwhile, in Bahrain, both Toro Rosso and Sauber finished in the points for the first time this season, further emphasising how wide open the midfield race is.
Renault and McLaren were expected to make improvements this season, but the huge jump in the form of Haas, Toro Rosso and Sauber, who all seem more competitive than last year, sets up an intriguing midfield tussle. It still may be a two or three-horse race at the top, but the midfield battle is the closest it has been in a while.
McLaren and Haas should still be the ‘frontrunners’ of the midfield group, but after Pierre Gasly’s fourth and Marcus Ericsson’s ninth in Bahrain, don’t rule out more surprises from Toro Rosso and Sauber in China.
The heat is on Red Bull after both drivers failed to complete more than five laps of the Bahrain GP last weekend. Daniel Ricciardo retired with an electrical issue, whilst Max Verstappen sustained too much damage following a second lap collision with Lewis Hamilton.
Word in the paddock had suggested Red Bull had the quickest car on race day, so to have two drivers fail to finish when they were expected to do well just makes the matter worse.
They’ll be grateful for the quick turnaround this week as they head to Shanghai looking to for something similar to last season’s 3-4 finish. Rumours surrounding Ricciardo’s imminent move away from the team will keep gaining traction should the Aussie continue to suffer reliability issues. He will be more fired up than most this weekend.
Verstappen has had his racing style put on notice, with many arguing his move on Hamilton in Bahrain was both too aggressive and too soon. But it is doubtful the Dutchman will alter his approach, so expect yet another strong start from him.
Red Bull has the pace to be competitive in China, but whether their cars can go the distance remains to be seen.
Who wins the race?
Regardless of who’s on pole or leading after the first few laps, race strategy will probably play a part as there has been little to separate the top two teams in the past two races. And if the Red Bulls are fit and firing, they could separate the frontrunners and bag a podium spot.
The midfield battle is hard to predict with so many teams putting their hands up for points over the course of the first two races. However, McLaren and Force India should bounce back while Haas should continue to shine in China.
Ultimately, Vettel will start favourite with Hamilton not far behind. Ferrari have been the quicker car on both race days so far and have split the qualifying battle with Mercedes. We predict an enthralling battle between those two.
Hamilton will be especially motivated, as he goes in search of his first win of the campaign on a track where he’s done well in the past. If his team get the strategy right, expect Hamilton to prevail.
Can Hamilton bounce back in China? Will Vettel extend his lead? Or will someone else claim the glory in Shanghai? Let us know in the comments below!