After what feels like a long break following the Malaysian Grand Prix, Formula One returns to the Chinese venue of Shanghai this weekend. Whilst the sport has been kept in the headlines with the on-going Bahrain saga, today it was back to business as usual for the teams and drivers in the practice sessions.The Chinese Grand Prix is now a long standing member of the F1 calendar, but whilst talk persists about why the sport keeps returning to a pretty characterless venue, the on track action in recent years has provided plenty of excitement. Fans can look back on several races that will no doubt soon be claimed as “classics”. What about the 2007 race, in which Lewis Hamilton went into the race with a chance of claiming the title in his first season in F1? Ultimately we all know how the tale ends, as McLaren elected to leave the British driver out on heavily worn tyres that resulted in him becoming beached in pit lane gravel. Hamilton however, made amends a year later and won the race convincingly. Last year he became the only driver to rack up two victories at the track and on practice form alone, looks to be a strong candidate to add a third.
He goes into this year’s race with one hand tied behind his back – as it was announced on Thursday that he would take a five place grid penalty for changing his gearbox. That means his run of pole positions is now over.
Looking back once again and the 2009 race will go down in history as the race where Red Bull scored their maiden pole position and victory, thanks to Sebastian Vettel. It was the team’s first one-two finish as well, as Mark Webber prevailed in a big battle with Jenson Button, himself a winner at the track in 2010. The Milton Keynes based team come into the third round of the year with a disappointing record for their very high standards. Neither Red Bull has started on the front row yet and the team’s best result came in Australia with Vettel’s second place. No doubt that the team will be keen to soon get back to winning ways, and what better way than to win at the track they claimed that maiden success at three seasons ago?
Mark Webber will be entering the race with the knowledge that he has so far out qualified Vettel in both races. The experienced Australian driver seems more comfortable with the car now exhaust blown diffusers have been banned and he could be one to watch this weekend. Certainly he’ll want to avoid a repeat of last year where he was knocked out in the very first part of the qualifying hour. Despite that set back, Webber came very close to winning the race in 2011 and he’ll be keen to build on that form.
So what about Vettel? Sebastian left Malaysia surrounded by controversy. An incident with Narain Karthikeyan left the German driver furious, and he later called the HRT man an “idiot” as well as a “cucumber” in post-race interviews. It was a rare display of frustration from the double world champion, and quite unexpected from someone who is normally quite laid back. It is perhaps a realisation that this year may prove to be much more difficult than last season.
Still, both Red Bulls have looked quick in the two practice sessions so far and will no doubt once again be in contention for victory on Sunday.
Who else could challenge McLaren and Red Bull then? Well, once again, on the form of practice, you’d have to say Mercedes. Mercedes have suffered two disappointing races so far. After Michael Schumacher qualified strongly in both Australia and Malaysia, he has only picked up one point so far, with team mate Rosberg not picking up any at all. Their problem seems to be excessive tyre wear in race conditions. Whilst one lap pace is clearly strong with both drivers making use of Mercedes’ effective and controversial “Super DRS” rear wing, it remains to be seen whether they’ll be as strong in the race. Nevertheless, don’t be surprised if one, or both, Silver Arrows line up on the front row of the grid.
Elsewhere, as we’ve seen from the two races so far, challengers can come from anywhere. No-one expected Ferrari and Fernando Alonso to win last time out, but with the Italian team seemingly struggling for pace once again in practice, it may be a case of damage limitation for the championship leader. Felipe Massa will once again be under pressure to raise his game, with the Saubers of Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez looking strong once again.
Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen will be after a self-proclaimed “normal weekend.” After dropping out of qualifying in Q1 in Australia and a gearbox grid penalty in Malaysia, it will be interesting to see where Raikkonen lines up on merit this time. He claimed after Malaysia that he thought he could have ended up on the front row of the grid, had it not been for an error on his crucial lap. Team mate Romain Grosjean meanwhile, will be hoping he can last in the race for longer than ten laps. He clearly has the pace, but two mistakes in two races means he has to perform here.
With the Toro Rossos and the Force Indias also looking like they have the potential to score points, it looks like we’re in for another super competitive weekend. The best thing about Formula One at the moment is that it is hard to predict what exactly will happen, and with two different winners from two races, who knows what will happen this time out? One thing’s for sure, the 8am Sunday alarm call is certainly worth it to see what should be another fantastic race.
Original Source: http://jhsracing.wordpress.com/2012/04/13/shanghai-special/