Another Perspective – Little Trouble in Big China for Mercedes
By Tamhas Woods at Motorsport24.com
Any complacency that Mercedes might have felt at the close of the Melbourne event one month ago has now been expunged with considerable force.
Sebastian Vettel’s victory – his first in the red attire of Ferrari – came as a huge shock to the less knowing of F1 fans. Although those in the know would still likely have backed eventual runner-up Lewis Hamilton, a fast-flowing and challenging circuit such as Sepang is well-suited to Vettel’s shrewd nature as a driver.
Sebastian Vettel: Victorious for Ferrari in Sepang.
This will undoubtedly become a recurring theme in the near future, as a season with ‘revolutionary’ connotations brings technical changes to the approach that contending teams make ahead of each race. Although the arguments in favour of Mercedes’ right to dominate are strong, it is in the long-term interest of the sport to keep events as competitive as possible.
Skirmish of Shanghai
On the evidence of the opening two races, this will simply be a Hamilton v Vettel affair. Historically Hamilton has performed well in the Chinese Grand Prix and, with the announcement that the same tyre compositions as used in the 2014 event are to be supplied again, the omens are good for Hamilton.
The reigning champion has himself identified Shanghai as the perfect opportunity to make amends for his shock defeat in Sepang, stating:
“The circuit itself is a different challenge to Albert Park and Sepang – but it’s one I really enjoy and it suits my driving style quite well.”
Lewis Hamilton: Seeking redemption in Shanghai.
Though Shanghai is arguably more complex than Sepang in its layout, the Chinese circuit shares some distinct similarities with its Malaysian counterpart. In particular, the presence of long straights preceding tight corners will be an issue for many drivers.
For an example of this challenge being perfectly negotiated, race fans need look no further than Hamilton’s winning performance in the 2014 event, in which the eventual champion’s phased use of soft and medium tyres proved decisive.
The fight for third place is set to be a close affair, yet few will be surprised if Nico Rosberg scores another podium finish for Mercedes. After scoring the fastest lap in 2014 and claiming pole position in 2012, Rosberg is another driver who has shown great ability in Shanghai.
Differing though the odds are, it seems that most bookmakers see Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Räikkönen as the closest threat amongst the chasing pack.
Kimi Räikkönen: A match made in Ferrari heaven?
Despite mixed results thus far, the new Ferrari partnership has shown signs of great potential. Although Räikkönen’s historic results at the circuit are best described as ‘mixed’, the good performances still outweigh the bad.
A second consecutive 4th place finish seems assured for Räikkönen, a driver who is still in the process of recovery, having just missed the Sepang podium after a traumatic opening weekend in Melbourne.
The Surprise Package
Although a podium finish for anyone making a Shanghai debut is never easy to imagine, one driver to keep a close eye on is Felipe Nasr of Team Sauber.
The Brazilian is already acquainted with the track, having previously undertaken an FP1 session in a Williams car. Although a Formula 1 race is an entirely different proposition, much of Nasr’s confidence stems from Sauber’s key asset – a high top speed that could dominate on the straights.
Amongst the pack that will relentlessly chase the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers, Nasr looks to be a strong contender for a high points finish, provided that he can display the same fearlessness shown in Melbourne.
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