2014 Chinese Grand Prix Preview

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Ahead of the first European race in Spain at the beginning of May, Formula 1 makes one final foray east with this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix. Having first graced the calendar back in 2004, the race is celebrating its tenth birthday this year. In the past decade, we have seen a number of memorable moments and some fine racing, suggesting that we could be in store for yet another Shanghai surprise this weekend.

However, if Mercedes claims a fourth straight win on Sunday, it will be anything but a surprise. The team has come out of the traps with a relentless pace and near-perfect score so far. Three wins, two seconds places and just one DNF. Despite being the blot on the Silver Arrows’ scoresheet, Lewis Hamilton is looking to record a third straight win for the first time in his glittering career, but you can be sure that teammate Nico Rosberg will be keen on getting even after losing out in Bahrain.

Therefore, the talking points this week do not surround possible race winners because – weather and reliability depending – that is a foregone conclusion. However, the same cannot be said about the rest of the field.

2014 Chinese Grand Prix – Talking Points

Ferrari begins life after Domenicali

After six seasons as Ferrari team principal, Stefano Domenicali fell on his sword earlier this week and resigned from the post after the team’s worst start to a season since 2009. The Italian has been replaced by the marque’s North America CEO Matteo Mattiacci, but president Luca di Montezemolo is also set to increase his involvement. It will be interesting to see how the team gets on this weekend in China after a rather difficult week.

Red Bull’s wounds begin to heal

The storm in a teacup finally ended in Paris on Monday as Red Bull’s appeal against Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification from the Australian Grand Prix was thrown out in court. Despite arguing relentlessly for the past month, the team accepted the decision with dignity, and attention now turns to China where a podium finish must be the target for defending world champion Sebastian Vettel.

Play it again, Force India

Force India heads into the Chinese GP weekend with its tail up after Sergio Perez secured the team’s first podium finish in five years last time out in Bahrain. However, the team will now be keen on a repeat performance, and the pace of the car suggests that both Perez and teammate Nico Hulkenberg could be in the mix to reach the podium. That said, the straight line speed of the McLaren cars could scupper these hopes.

What a fight for the podium we’ll have though: Force India vs Williams vs McLaren vs Red Bull vs Ferrari (well, maybe).

Meanwhile, at Sauber and Lotus…

We all saw the ‘coming together’ between Pastor Maldonado and Esteban Gutierrez in Bahrain, and although Pastor insists that it wasn’t his fault (Pastor’s wrong, by the way), both teams are still scratching their heads. Not a single point between them. Giedo van der Garde could be the winner in all of this though. He has another FP1 run-out this weekend as part of his reserve driver deal, but is it really too crazy to think about him replacing one of their drivers at some point this season?

Six in six?

Throw out the formbook for China. In the last five years, we have seen five different winners of the race (Vettel, Button, Hamilton, Rosberg, Alonso), and only Hamilton and Alonso are repeat winners. Could it be a sweet six this weekend? Daniel Ricciardo, Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg are the only drivers who can realistically manage it, and it would take a big slice of luck to see both Mercs DNF.

2014 Chinese Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai (5.451km)
Laps: 56
Corners: 16
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher 1:32.238s (2004)
Tire Compounds: Soft (Option); Medium (Prime)
2013 Winner: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
2013 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 1:34.484
2013 Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) – 1:36.808
DRS Zones: Main straight (T16 to T1); T13 to T14

Fernando Alonso likes NASCAR country, but he’s not leaving F1 any time soon

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson strolled into the Charlotte Convention Center and did a double-take when he saw Fernando Alonso hanging out in a hallway.

“What’s he doing here?” NASCAR’s seven-time champion wondered.

Alonso made the trip to North Carolina to make an appearance at NASCAR’s annual preseason media tour. No, a ride in NASCAR is not imminent, but the two-time Formula One champion is about to embark on his first major sports car race .

Alonso will race this weekend in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for United Autosports, the sports car team owned by his McLaren F1 boss, Zak Brown. It was Brown who paved the way for Alonso to compete in last year’s Indianapolis 500, and he is helping the Spaniard knock prestigious races off his wish list.

Alonso spent about 10 minutes chatting with Johnson, and the duo was eventually joined by sports car aces Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who were brought to the NASCAR event by IMSA to help promote the Rolex, and then Cup champion Kevin Harvick.

The meet-and-greet with Alonso was a thrill for Johnson. Alonso was equally impressed.

“The first time I heard his name it was probably 2003 on the NASCAR video game,” Alonso said Tuesday. “I used to choose him, not knowing him, just because of the car. I remember playing with another friend of mine, he likes a chocolate company I will not name now, and he was choosing that car and I was choosing Jimmie’s car.

“But that was the first time I heard of him, and obviously the success that he has in the years in motor racing, he became a legend of our sport, and massive respect.”

Johnson said he’s always been a fan of Alonso’s and spent some time telling Alonso how well he ran in the Indianapolis 500 last May. Alonso led 27 laps and seemed to be in contention for the win until his engine expired 21 laps from the finish.

“He handled himself so well, really did a great job, and I think brought a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “He brought worldwide attention to motorsports and it was really good for us here stateside.”

While in NASCAR country, Alonso was asked about potentially trying a stock car someday. It’s not something that could happen soon, he said, but it is something he’d like to at least attempt.

“Right now, it looks quite far. The driving technique and the experience all those guys have, it’s difficult for me to achieve that level,” Alonso said. “I will never know until I try, so I would like one day to test a car and after that, driving the car, I will know how enjoyable it will be in racing.

“Outside (watching), the races are great because they are all in a group, it is not predictable at all and until the last lap, you don’t know what is going to happen. We love watching from the outside, but I don’t know from the inside.”

Alonso has so far only had three days of testing at Daytona in the sports car to adjust to a closed cockpit, as well as driving at night and in traffic. Trying different series has been a thrill for him, and he’s still eyeing a way to get Le Mans on his schedule.

“It’s one thing that I would like to do, I would like to compete in the best races in the world, and Le Mans and is one of the top races,” he said. “If that day will be this year or not is still to be discussed, but maybe yes.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/