This weekend Formula 1 celebrates its tenth visit to Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix. To many fans this race may still seem like a recent addition to the calendar, but there are six venues on this year’s schedule that were added after the inaugural race in 2004, and two more (Turkey and Valencia) that have come and gone in that time.
There have been some memorable, and very important races in Shanghai over the years. It was the scene of Michael Schumacher’s 91st and final F1 victory in 2006, and Lewis Hamilton will forever be haunted by the gravel trap at the pit lane entrance that, in hindsight, lost him the 2007 championship.
Sebastian Vettel scored the debut race win for Red Bull in 2009, and Jenson Button took his first victory for McLaren a year later in an action-packed, rain-affected race. Pirelli grabbed most of the headlines in 2011 after heavy tyre wear meant that 77 pit stops were needed by the field of 24 cars. Lewis Hamilton prevailed in the chaos to become the first (and so far only) driver to win two Chinese Grand Prix. Last year, Nico Rosberg claimed his maiden F1 win, and the first for Mercedes in its current guise.
Looking ahead to this year, Mercedes are confident that they will be pushing for the win again. Ross Brawn, speaking on the Sky Sports F1 Show on Friday, certainly sounded confident, hinting at new parts on the cars for the weekend. Brawn also explained that the layout of the Shanghai International Circuit is more conducive to front-tyre wear, and so rear-tyre degredation, which is often a problem for the team, should be much less of a disadvantage this weekend.
Given that Hamilton and Rosberg took a straightforward third and fourth place at the last race in Malaysia (albeit with a little intervention from team orders), it is not hard to imagine them getting closer to the win at a track that is better suited to their car.
Speaking of team-orders, there will be much focus on the behaviour and body language of Sebastian Vettel this weekend. The fall-out from his behaviour in Sepang is still likely to be a talking point as the media descends on China, and it will be interesting to see how chastened the German appears after having time to reflect on his insubordination at the last race.
It is unlikely to have much of an impact on his desire to win though, and he will be determined to show that he can win fairly, without undermining his team-mate.
The championship table has little meaning after two races, but Fernando Alonso will be disappointed to find himself already 22 points adrift in the race for the title, particularly as Ferrari seem to have a much stronger car than they did this time last year.
Team-mate Felipe Massa is four points ahead in the championship, and will need to continue to build a lead over Alonso if he is to have any hope of mounting a challenge for the title in 2013. More of the same is needed from the Brazilian in China this weekend!
Lotus should also not be ruled out, although after both Kimi Räikkönen and Romain Grosjean did little of note in Malaysia, one could start to wonder if Räikkönen’s victory in the opening race in Melbourne flattered the team slightly…
And what of McLaren? If it had not been for a disastrous pit stop, Jenson Button may have scored decent points in Malaysia, but the team clearly have a long way to go before they will be challenging for podiums, let alone victories. If Sergio Perez came to the team expecting to win his first race within the first few attempts, he will be sorely disappointed at the moment. Nevertheless, McLaren are known for their speedy car development, so perhaps improvements will be evident in Shanghai.
Further down the grid, there is an unusually large amount of attention on the battle between Caterham and Marussia. Jules Bianchi, who has made a big impression in his first two races, came thirteenth in Malaysia, and out-raced both his Marussia team-mate Max Chilton and the two Caterham drivers, Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde in Australia and Malaysia.
Bianchi looks most likely to be the driver that scores the first world championship point for one of the newer teams, although it is likely that they will need a race in which a few of their faster rivals fail to finish. China is not likely to be that race though – there have only been two cars not classified in the last two seasons.
Nevertheless, point or no points, if the Frenchman continues in this rich vein of form, expect him to be snapped up by a bigger team very soon.
So far in 2013, fans have been treated to the strategic and entertaining race in Australia, followed by the exciting controversy-laden event in Malaysia. China has to follow all that, but as it has shown in our previous nine visits, it is usually up to the challenge. Ten more years!
|2013 FORMULA 1 UBS CHINESE GRAND PRIX|
|Timetable (all times BST)|
|Friday 12th April|
|Free Practice 1||03:00|
|Free Practice 2||07:00|
|Saturday 13th April|
|Free Practice 3||04:00|
|Sunday 14th April|
|Live: Sky Sports F1 HD and BBC One, Radio: BBC Radio 5 Live / 5 Live Sports Extra|