The F1 paddock heads to China packed with anticipation following Ferrari’s early lead in the title race.
Prancing horse leads the pack
Ferrari’s opening round win at Melbourne has laid down the challenge to Mercedes who see themselves behind in the title – albeit after only one race – for the first time in years.
The 5.451km track at the Shanghai International Circuit – one of the most expensive purpose-built F1 facilities in the world at a cost of $450m – features long straights and expansive turns that previously worked in favour of the superior Mercedes power unit.
And Hamilton and Bottas will surely pull every bit of speed out of their Mercedes cars along the 1.2km straight. But the fact that Vettel’s Ferrari at least matched the pace of the silver arrow in Melbourne suggests that Mercedes won’t have it all their own way.
Guenther Steiner, the team principal of Haas who use Ferrari engines, believes that Mercedes no longer have the power edge in Formula 1.
“With the engine, there is not just one area that is better, it’s the whole package that has improved from last year,” Steiner said.
“It’s now as competitive as a Mercedes engine, if not better.”
A True Test
The impacts of the new technical regulations will probably be more evident at the longer more expansive Shanghai circuit.
To being with, the abrasive track will test Pirelli’s 2017 tyres that are meant to be harder and longer-lasting. Ferrari could manage a long stint in Melbourne but it remains to be seen whether they can match that in Shanghai with a different track setup and lower temperatures.
And coming out of the opening round were persistent rumblings about the difficulty of overtaking. That isn’t uncommon in Australia where overtaking is notoriously hard but China offers better opportunities to get past other cars. Can the drivers use the long DRS zones and tricky turn 14 to make some moves?
McLaren Not Optimistic
While Ferrari and Mercedes are expected to be fighting out front, with Red Bull providing competition for good measure, McLaren are less positive heading into the weekend.
The McLaren-Honda partnership has been rocky since a disastrous pre-season testing but Alonso performed strongly in Melbourne before retiring.
McLaren racing director Eric Boullier is warning against taking any optimism to China.
“Shanghai is known to be an unpredictable weekend for a number of reasons: it’s tough on cars, tyres and power units and the weather is often precarious, but I can predict that we won’t be as fortuitous with our pace, compared to our rivals, as we were in Australia.”
“The characteristics of the Shanghai International Circuit are very different from Melbourne, and its long, fast straights will likely expose the weaknesses in our package more than Albert Park did.”
Another Outing For Giovinazzi
Giovinazzi, Ferrari’s 23-year old reserve driver, will again take Pascal Wherlein’s seat at Sauber.
The Italian received a late call at the Melbourne Grand Prix to replace Wherlein who suffered a back injury earlier in the year at the Race of Champions in Miami.
Giovinazzi says that more preparation this weekend might help him to exceed his 12th place finish in the opening round.
“It was a fantastic experience, quite a late call on Saturday morning but I enjoyed everything I did from FP3 to qualifying to the race,” he said.
“To be here now ready to start from FP1 [and] already with experience from Melbourne will make it a lot more easy.”
“It’s a different race weekend, the weather looks difficult, maybe it will be wet, to have also experience in the wet would be good.
“What I can do is my best and hopefully the result will be good like in Melbourne.”
The race will start at 14:00 local time and will run over 56 laps.