Shanghai: Let the battle continue…
10 April 2013 – After more than a fortnight away, Formula 1 returns to life at the Shanghai International Circuit this weekend. Part of a back-to-back schedule with Bahrain, the venue has all the required ingredients at the ready to produce another fascinating Grand Prix, with recent form suggesting that at least four teams can fight for victory.
Now that the Malaysian Grand Prix team order controversy has settled down and past drivers have delivered their respective opinions, attentions will be turning to how Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber can put their differences aside to keep Red Bull in the driving seat. Let’s be clear; Mercedes, Lotus and Ferrari are all within touching distance and McLaren has embarked upon its comeback, so any in-house fighting needs to be restricted to an absolute minimum by team boss Christian Horner.
If – and that’s a big if – the Red Bull duo can prolong their working relationship until what many expect will be a parting of ways in 17 races’ time, there is no reason to suggest an upcoming dip in form. And aside from last season, the outfit has enjoyed plenty of success at the Shanghai track under Adrian Newey’s technical leadership, with its maiden victory being achieved on Chinese soil four years ago.
However, despite Red Bull’s history at Shanghai and its performance – ignoring the inter-team drama – in Malaysia, Mercedes has shown that winning-pace is not too far away. With the outfit’s 2012 tyre woes seemingly a thing of the past, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg kept Vettel and Webber in sight until a phase of extreme fuel-saving took the wind out of their sails. If these issues are ironed out and a small amount of performance is added, the Silver Arrows could be a serious threat. You only have to look back 12 months to see what the team can do when it strings together a weekend.
Lotus and Ferrari should also have been in the fight for victory at Sepang, but a variety of reasons paved the way for Red Bull and Mercedes to storm clear. Lotus struggled all weekend amid the changeable conditions, describing it as a blip in form, while an uncharacteristic but somewhat understandable decision from Ferrari and Fernando Alonso to stay out on-track with a damaged front wing wiped away another podium chance. Felipe Massa picked up the pieces in fifth, far from the Scuderia’s pre-race target.
The heartache was more severe at McLaren, however, with the squad missing out on its first major points haul of the season due to a pit-stop error. In Jenson Button’s words, his season reboots in China, with a series of planned and responsive car upgrades being shipped to the Far East after the team reflected and understood its fundamental issues at the MTC. We can be sure that McLaren will be back, but it depends whether this is going to be in time to fight for either of the two world titles.
Another team eager for a prompt return to form is Force India. Although the pace of the VJM06 has never been in doubt, with the team stamping its authority over Sauber, Toro Rosso and Williams in Australia, both Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta suffered retirements last time out as a result of a wheel nut issue. With this problem rectified and McLaren still on the tall ladder to recovery, a second double points finish of the year is not out of the question come Sunday.
The back of the grid is also providing plenty of entertainment, with star rookie Jules Bianchi demonstrating his true potential after a tumultuous journey through motorsport's ranks. The Marussia driver has comfortably outpaced his closest rivals and heads to China hoping to unlock even more pace. If this continues, his services will surely be acquired by one of the sport’s more established teams in 2014.
But whoever we are discussing this weekend, tyres will be at the forefront of their minds. Red Bull has persistently complained after suffering severe degradation in Australia and Malaysia, while Pirelli simply states that the rubber is living up to what has been requested. The Medium and Soft compounds will get their first test as a combination at Shanghai, with plenty more pit-stops and permutations predicted.
Let’s wait for those five red lights…