This is an article being written with the hope that the Chinese Grand Prix actually takes place this weekend, but with the heavy amount of fog and cloud cover engulfing the Shanghai International Circuit, that is becoming a unlikely possiblity. That said, I’m going to write away like I think the race will happen come Sunday morning/Saturday night.
Shanghai, among many other fantastic qualities, has the the longest uninterrupted straight on the Formula One calendar. Its blend of high speed, sweeping corners and wide hairpins make for an exciting races year after year and, as is often the case, allows for increased overtaking.
As I’ve said previously, this will be the true test for the overtaking ability of this new generation of F1 machinery. Yes, we saw a comically low number of passes in Melbourne, but Melbourne is a track where there are rarely mass overtakes in the course of a race, something many of us seem to forget year in and year out. China, on the other hand, features two traditional overtaking zone (the heavy braking zones into turns 6 & 14) and the less conventional zone of turn 1. Even outside of those corners, we have seen drivers go wheel to wheel all over the course, challenging one another from the sweeper section to the backstretch. So, this week, look for an increase in overtaking, a lot of it may be aided by DRS, but now that the drivers have had a race under their belts in the cars, I believe we will see a little bit more gutsy action.
As for the teams and the drivers, China is a power hungry circuit, so expect Mercedes to do well, as well as any car that has a Merc engine in the back (Williams, Force India). If it dries up enough to get running, expect Hamilton and Bottas resume their traditional position at the top of the podium. Ferrari may be able to get close, but I don’t see them actually being able to steal a win in this one. Force India should be able to build on their success from Australia, and look like they could be on for another double points finish. Williams too, after Felipe Massa’s taking of the ‘best of the rest’ honors, could be looking at solid points. Stroll probably wont make the points, but Massa should be into Q3 comfortably and may be able to run as high as 5th.
Red Bull will struggle, yet again. And has been confirmed this week, they will do so for a while (Renault will be bringing their engine upgrade as late as Canada). Massa may even be able to pip them, if he plays his cards right. Verstappen will more than likely steal a headline with a good pass, but this will be yet another forgettable weekend for Red Bull.
McLaren will be dead last. They really have no hope at a track that requires so much power. I’ll be amazed if they can even make it out of Q1.
The front of the pack will be semi processional, however, as I don’t see Ferrari challenging Mercedes, and I don’t see Bottas challenging Hamilton, Bottas still doesn’t seem 100% comfortable in that car.
QUALS: 1) HAM, 2) BOT, 3) VET
RACE: 1) HAM, 2) BOT, 3) VET
First DNF: Joylon Palmer’s Renault breaks down 8 laps into the race. “It’s a shame,” he says, “Because we had a really great car under us today. I thought I was going to bring back points for the team.” A claim we know he can’t substantiate.
Grand Total of Laps Before a McLaren Breaks Down: 34 (they’re running the engine as such a low power level, they might actually get pretty far)
Moment of the race: After a daring pit stop strategy once again, Ferrari gets locked into a battle with Mercedes. This time is Vettel vs Bottas as the German exits the pits. The two go side by side through turns one and two. Bottas attempts to overtake Vettel into 6, but fails. He gets by half a lap later on the backstretch.