Shanghai. The third Grand Prix of the season, with a little more in the mix now that Ferrari have scored a victory in the heat of Malaysia, and shown that the Mercedes cars can be beaten on pure performance.
But the relative kindness of Ferraris to their tyres is not likely to be as pronounced in Shanghai – the heat of Malaysia was they key differentiator last time around, along with Mercedes rather unadventurous strategy that was essentially the same for both of their cars. In Malaysia,we learned that the Ferrari will go further on softer tyres in the heat. If the same advantage is in place for the cooler Chinese scenario, then we are in for an interesting race.
Qualifying performance for Chinese Grand Prix
The early drop-outs from the first part of qualifying were those we have come to expect: Manor, McLaren, and one Force India, with the British drivers at McLaren and Manor getting the best of their respective team mates.
The second session of qualifying saw more of an upset, with what might have been a mechanical issue meaning Kvyat’s Red Bull could only start at P12, ahead of the two Torro Rossos, but behind the disappointed Pastor Maldonado in what looks to be a much improved Lotus car. Sergio Perez got the remaining P15, just ahead of his team mate Hulkenberg, who was eliminated in Q1.
But in the top ten shootout, it was a familiar story at the front, with Lewis Hamilton putting in an early, blistering lap for P1 that Rosberg could only come close to at the last possible moment to gain a very close P2. Vettel did well to get ahead of the two Williams in P3, but was almost a second off Hamilton’s lap.
Raikkonen managed to get into sixth ahead of Ricciardo’s Red Bull and Grosjean’s Lotus, with the top ten rounded off with another good performance by the two Saubers.
Can the tyres and strategy win it for Ferrari again?
This is the big question to be answered tomorrow. In Practice on Friday, Hamilton’s soft tyre runs showed that his time performance fell off significantly after 11 laps. In contrast, the Ferrari was still going strong after 14 laps. So if the race pace is good for Ferrari, a repeat of Malaysia might be on the cards.
But Mercedes are probably likely to be much bolder in their strategy, as their ‘me too’ early dive into the pits at the start of Malaysia behind a safety car was a bad move. Vettel stayed out, made his tyres last longer, and because he was able to use the soft tyres twice, was in the unusual position of being able to overtake both Mercedes cars on pure pace. It’s been a long time since anyone has got past a Mercedes without the silver arrow car having a mechanical problem.
The timing of any safety car and associated tyre stops will be critical to the outcome – but with no safety car, the Ferraris might have the chance to win through lesser tyre wear. But the pace of the Mercedes in qualifying looks formidable. It looks like being a fascinating race.
My prediction for the Chinese Grand Prix Podium
I’m going to go with the long-run performance of the Ferraris winning out, and predict Vettel, Hamilton and Raikkonen for the 1-2-3.
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