Following a dramatic and controversial, Malaysian Grand Prix, Formula 1 has taken a few weeks to recover. Apologises have been said, bitter tensions between team mates have reached a new high and just about every Formula 1 fan has had their say. However this weekend is all about China, a new backdrop for what Red Bull hope is a fresh start.
Nico Rosberg returns as victor in China; his only career win to date. His team mate, Lewis Hamilton, won in 2008, 2011 and graced the podium last year. If Mercedes’ current run of form and reliability can continue, the German outfit may add another victory to a so far underwhelming statistic.
Speaking of statistics, for Formula 1 has so many, only nine drivers on the 2013 grid have previously contested the Chinese Grand Prix; six of those have been victorious. Jenson Button (2010), Sebastian Vettel (2009), Kimi Raikkonen (2007) and Fernando Alonso (2005) have also stood on the top step in China suggesting that experience will be directly fighting the youth and experience of the rookies.
Jenson Button and new team mate, Sergio Perez, have a point to prove. Lewis Hamilton has so far had the last laugh as the McLaren he turned down has been off pace to say the least. McLaren have a good track record in China – the team may need to rely on changing weather conditions and the tyre-saving ability of their two drivers if a dramatic turn in fortunes is possible. Perez is yet to score points in Beijing.
Tyre manufacturer, Pirelli, believe that a three stop strategy will be the most effective on Sunday. This means, in theory, each driver could spend around one minute in the pit lane – quick pit stops will be even more important than 2013’s predecessors. Force India will hope that this does not become their race day breaking point.
The drivers will also have to negotiate the unconventional circuit. Inspired by the shape of the Chinese character Shang, medium speed bends, slow hairpins and long straights suggest this is not a circuit best suited to the Red Bulls. The back straight on the Shanghai International Circuit is one of the longest on the 2013 calendar. Much like other Herman Tilke designed circuits; it is unusual and presents new challenges away from the classic norm.
Pastor Maldonado has admitted his Williams may struggle come race day as the Shanghai International circuit proves to be particularly challenging for drivers and teams alike. “This can be quite an unpredictable race and the weather conditions are a particular challenge. There is also a mix of different corners so you need to get the right balance between good straight line speed whilst still having good grip”.
It is for this reason that very few wins in China are dominating. The inaugural Chinese Grand Prix in 2004 saw a close victory for Rubens Barrichello, out manoeuvring his team mate Michael Schumacher who probably wishes he could forget that particular race. Many have also blamed Lewis Hamilton’s trip to the gravel for his loss of the 2007 championship to Kimi Raikkonen. With a cool head and meticulous mind, the Finn could repeat his Melbourne victory.
It would be easy to talk about the Malaysian Grand Prix again and the affect it may have on the outcome. Red Bull’s relations do not seem healed as yet but a potential podium will not be thrown away because one driver has endured a slap on the wrist and a good telling off from the newspapers. Similarly the long time friendship between Rosberg and Hamilton has survived their team order fiasco; however the German may be seeking revenge in the form of a second consecutive win.
On Friday, Ma Qing Hua, will make his Caterham F1 debut during FP1; he is the first Chinese Formula 1 driver, a sign that the far east is becoming more and more motorsport literate. He follows in the footsteps of Giedo Van der Garde who fired up the Caterham for the first time last year. Of his hopes for China, the Dutchman admitted he has been struggling, “I didn’t have the car behaving exactly as I’d like in either Australia or Malaysia so I want to get that right in China”.
The drivers will fire up their cars for the first time since the controversial Malaysian Grand Prix. The events of those days will be deep in Formula 1 history, ready to be referenced next time team orders make the news headlines. But will it be a previous winner or a surprise newcomer who will emerge from the thick smog of Beijing to take the top step on the podium? With the combination of Rosberg, Hamilton and Ross Brawn, I struggle to look beyond Mercedes.