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 The Italian has been replaced by the marque’s North America CEO Matteo Mattiacci, but president Luca di Montezemolo is also set to increase his involvement.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

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”