Formula One is in China for the second round of the 2017 season and the fourteenth running of the Chinese Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit. Lights Out takes a look at the stories to look out for over the weekend.
The rain poured in Shanghai on Thursday as the teams and drivers reconvened for the second round of the 2017 Formula One season. Rain is expected to hit the circuit this weekend, especially on Friday and for the race on Sunday. The threat of rain adds an extra level of intrigue to the days ahead. Rain was a factor last year here, of course, for Qualifying. Pascal Wehrlein was caught out in the slippy conditions by a bump on the start/finish straight. That part of the track has been resurfaced, and the bump removed, ahead of the 2017 Chinese Grand Prix.
Talking of Wehrlein, he will not be participating once again, as a result of his injury. There is plenty of media speculation surrounding the issue, with some believing that there is more at play here than a simple lack of training. What is certain is that his participation in the Bahrain Grand Prix, which is just a week away, is also called into doubt. Sauber said in a statement earlier this week that the German will be back in action “at the earliest possible opportunity – either the Bahrain Grand Prix or the Russian Grand Prix.”
Antonio Giovinazzi will once again take the helm of the Sauber, and the Italian has high hopes for his second outing. When asked if scoring a point this weekend would change his career, he commented:
“Of course it would change but it will be important for me, for my mind. Of course the result we also had in Melbourne, P12, was a good result and yeah, to improve the result from Melbourne is to take… to score a point will be difficult but I will try my best and score a point.”
At the front, all the attention is on Ferrari and whether their early pace really is genuine. Albert Park is a very different track to what Shanghai is. This is typically a Mercedes track, with the Brackley-based team taking every pole position here since 2012. Ferrari’s last back-to-back win was in 2010, when Fernando Alonso won both the Italian and Singapore Grands Prix.
Speaking of his aspirations for the weekend, Australian Grand Prix winner Sebastian Vettel said that the win in Melbourne was just the ‘tip of the iceberg’:
“This was not just a one-race wonder, but the tip of the iceberg. It’s a massive achievement especially in the light of the rough road we had last year, one that we had to take and lessons that we had to learn. It’s a wonderful achievement. Now that we’ve won the race it doesn’t mean we stop there. It’s just the beginning, but is a nice way to give something back.”
The four-time World Champion also offered an insight into the physical difference of driving these cars compared to their predecessors:
“We’re going faster but if you look compared to 10 years ago, you mustn’t forget that we have a lot more fuel in the car. We are on the tyres for longer, providing they last, and in general the cars are heavier. If you talk about load and high-speed corners they are the fastest cars we’ve ever had. I think for more or less all of us the step from last year has been quite big. Melbourne historically hasn’t been the most physical track, so I’m sure there will be tracks that will be more physical, but it’s been tougher than last year.”
Vettel will apparently be donning a special helmet this weekend, in tribute to his idol Michael Schumacher, who took his 91st and final career victory at this track in 2006.
Red Bull will be hoping for a stronger showing this weekend than in the opening round of the season. The team won their first race here in 2009, but, at over a second off the pace, their first victory of 2017 looks to be a little way off yet. While Daniel Ricciardo retired from his home Grand Prix after issues dogged his Sunday in Melbourne, Max Verstappen finished in fifth.
“We are definitely working hard to get new parts to the car as soon and try to just get the pace up a bit and be closer to the top two teams, because behind us is at the moment quite a big gap, as you could see. I think I could have done two pit stops in Melbourne and still have had the same position. We’ll see, on a normal race track here in Shanghai.”
When asked how long it would be before Red Bull were ready to challenge, the Dutchman responded by saying:
“It’s a bit difficult to say really. It’s quite a big gap, but I’m quite confident that we can definitely close it in the upcoming races to within a second and then we’ll see when we get the bigger upgrades also from the engine side.”
The TAG-Heuer branded Renault engine could be what holds the Red Bull team back this weekend, especially given the long straight – one of the longest on the calendar – around the back of the circuit.
Also likely to be held back by their engine this weekend are McLaren. Eric Boullier has expressed his concern that the Honda-powered team will be ‘exposed’ in Shanghai:
“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.”
An addition to the McLaren package this weekend is a rather aggressive looking T-wing. Fernando Alonso has finished every Chinese Grand Prix that he has competed in, but his retirement in Australia seems to put that record under threat. Speculation about the Spaniard’s future in the sport has been rife in the past few weeks, with some saying he’ll quit before the end of the season. Alonso put the record straight in Shanghai today:
“I prefer to be here than in a supermarket in my home town.”
WHAT I’M WATCHING FOR THIS WEEKEND
I’m intrigued to see whether Ferrari really do have the pace. This weekend will be the best test of it. Mercedes usually dominate by quite a margin in Australia. This year, Ferrari won there on merit. Mercedes have dominated in China for the past five years, bar 2013, so if Ferrari are able to challenge for the win this weekend, it will be confirmation that the Scuderia really are the new favourites for the title.
After their first lap collision in Australia, Marcus Ericsson tweeted that Kevin Magnussen had apologised for the incident, and that the pair were ‘all good.’
— Marcus Ericsson (@Ericsson_Marcus) March 27, 2017
In Shanghai today, Magnussen refuted this, saying that he hasn’t apologised, as it was a racing incident, but has spoken to the Swede about what happened:
“No, I didn’t [apologise]. I saw the tweet. We met in the plane and talked about it, but I didn’t apologise. It’s not his fault – it was a racing incident. He was on the outside, I understeered into him. It was actually an oversteer that turned into an understeer – if I was him, I would have left more room just to be sure.”
And finally, Kimi Raikkonen appeared to be in a somewhat jovial mood in the Press Conference. When a journalist asked him why he wasn’t as fast in Australia as he was in Winter Testing, he replied, with a grin:
“In the race I did fastest lap. It was only one lap and I was a bit light but…”