2014 Chinese Grand Prix Preview

1 Comment

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 The Italian has been replaced by the marque’s North America CEO Matteo Mattiacci, but president Luca di Montezemolo is also set to increase his involvement.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

Honda defends decision to redesign F1 power unit for 2017

McLaren/LAT
Leave a comment

Honda Formula 1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has defended the decision to redesign its power unit layout for 2017 despite suffering a number of reliability and performance issues at the start of the season.

Entering its third year since returning to F1 as an engine supplier, Honda looked to make gains by revising the layout of its power unit to mirror that of pace-setter Mercedes.

The decision appeared to backfire, though, with a lack of both performance and reliability leaving customer team McLaren frustrated and without a single point after three races.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference in Russia, Hasegawa was asked if the decision to revise the power unit layout was a mistake, and defending the move despite admitting to the ongoing problems.

“I don’t think we made a complete mistake from last year’s performance. We knew that we have to change everything, not only the package but also the combustion, so we tried to modify all areas,” Hasegawa explained.

“Some areas we succeeded, to reduce the weight and lower the center of gravity, but yeah, definitely we couldn’t get enough power from the combustion. So, yeah, it is just an excuse, but we still need time.

“But we don’t think we made a huge mistake, the direction was right. We are very much disappointed with our current situation.

“But because the base concept is correct, we believe we can make good progress in the middle of the season.”

McLaren’s hopes of scoring its first points of the year in Russia took a hit on Friday when Stoffel Vandoorne was forced to take new elements for his power unit, triggering a 15-place grid drop for the race.

More brake issues strike Haas in Russia F1 practice despite supplier change

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Haas Formula 1 team endured another difficult day of practice ahead of the Russian Grand Prix as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen suffered more brake issues despite changing supplier.

Haas confirmed on Thursday that it would be switching from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes, having suffered problems throughout its 14-month stint in F1.

Despite enjoying a positive test in Bahrain with Carbon Industrie parts last week, both Grosjean and Magnussen struggled with their brakes in FP1 and FP2 at the Sochi Autodrom on Friday.

Grosjean finished FP2 14th-fastest, with Magnussen breaking into the top 10, charging to ninth place in the VF-17 car.

“We’ve got very little grip. We’re really struggling with the balance,” Grosjean said. “We had some issues, as well, with the brakes over the long runs. We need to look at what we can do better with them.

“Generally, it’s just been a very difficult Friday. The car didn’t perform well – very low grip on low fuel and high fuel.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “We had a lot to do and I think we did a lot. We still haven’t got all the results yet, as we need to go through data.

“I would say the issues with the brakes were mainly because they’re new to us. We need to find out how they work. Going through the data, we will decide tomorrow what we’re doing and how we continue.

“All in all, we had pretty fruitful sessions. We did a lot of laps and we learned a lot. Now we need to get the best out of what we learned for tomorrow to go into qualifying.”

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

F1 Paddock Pass: Russian Grand Prix, Friday edition (VIDEO)

Getty Images
Leave a comment

While the drivers may be the stars of Formula 1, their on-track escapades would not be possible without the titanic effort from those behind the scenes at their respective teams, making it key for us to hear from the people who make racing possible from time to time.

Following on from the special Friday edition of NBC Sports’ original digital series ‘Paddock Pass’ in Bahrain, Will Buxton is back with all of the interviews from the team bosses in today’s FIA press conference in Russia.

In part one, we hear from Otmar Szafnauer, COO at Force India, who gives his verdict on the team’s showing in 2017 so far and new driver Esteban Ocon’s start to the season. We also catch up with Renault technical boss Nick Chester and Pirelli’s new F1 chief, Mario Isola.

In part two, Ferrari’s engine boss Luigi Fabroni offers his thoughts on the Italian marque’s strong start to the 2017 season following Sebastian Vettel’s wins in Australia and Bahrain. At the other end of the success spectrum, McLaren’s Matt Morris and Honda’s Yusuke Hasegawa discuss the ongoing rebuilding project at woking.

Vettel refusing to be misled by Mercedes’ F1 practice pace in Russia

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sebastian Vettel is refusing to read too much into Ferrari’s impressive Formula 1 practice pace in Russia on Friday, saying it is easy to be “misled” by rival team Mercedes.

Vettel arrived in Russia for the fourth round of the season after making the best start to a campaign by a Ferrari driver since Michael Schumacher in 2004, winning two of the first three races.

Vettel continued Ferrari’s impressive showing to start 2017 by dominating second practice on Friday at the Sochi Autodrom, finishing over half a second clear of Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

However, Vettel is refusing to take too much from the result, citing Mercedes’ jump in pace from Friday to Saturday in Russia last year as a reason why not to.

“I think Mercedes will be fine. It’s a circuit that suits them, so they will be strong tomorrow,” Vettel said after practice, as quoted by the official F1 website.

“I don’t want to make this personal but I think last year people expected Williams to be the fastest after Friday if I remember right, and obviously it turned out Mercedes were.

“That’s how sometimes you can be misled. I think there are a lot of things we can play with in the car, loads, engines modes. At this track especially there are a lot of things you can show or not show.

“I think the most important [thing] is that we talk about ourselves, our balance, and I think we improved throughout the session so I’m reasonably happy.”

Vettel will be chasing Ferrari’s first pole since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday, with qualifying live on CNBC from 8am ET.