F1 Grand Prix of China - Previews

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 The Italian has been replaced by the marque’s North America CEO Matteo Mattiacci, but president Luca di Montezemolo is also set to increase his involvement.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

McLaren GT captures major endurance win at Bathurst 12 Hour

BATHURST, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 07: Race winner Shane van Gisbergen driver of the #59 Tekno Autosport McLaren 650S crosses the finish line to win the Bathurst 12 Hour Race at Mount Panorama on February 7, 2016 in Bathurst, Australia.  (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)
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There’s nothing to prove that Shane van Gisbergen isn’t actually a freak of nature with a big beard and a bigger right foot.

The man known as “The Giz” – the Australian V8 Supercars ace and McLaren GT factory driver – played an integral role in McLaren GT capturing a major endurance victory for the first time in more than 20 years, as he co-drove with Alvaro Parente and Jonathan Webb to secure the win in the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour race in the No. 59 Tekno Autosports McLaren 650S GT3.

Van Gisbergen stole the headlines and the track record with a best time of 2:01.286 around Mount Panorama on Friday to capture the Allan Simonsen Pole Trophy.

“SVG” then walked the field in the early hours of Saturday’s (Sunday in Australia) race before electrical gremlins ground Parente to a halt after he got in, and cost them about 45 seconds.

Nevertheless, a near faultless drive from there – plus an abnormal strategy the rest of the way that eventually led to needing less time in the pits for the final stop – helped deliver the victory. For good measure, van Gisbergen added a 2:01.567 lap in the race itself.

Nissan, which won the race last year, finished second with a lineup of Katsumasa Chiyo, Florian Strauss and Rick Kelly in their Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3. The “Bentley Boys” made it on the podium with Guy Smith, Steven Kane and (British) Matt Bell in their Bentley Continental GT3.

The win is the first marquee endurance race victory for McLaren since its 1995 overall triumph at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with the McLaren F1 GTR.

Sauber’s C35 chassis passes crash test

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 28:  Marcus Ericsson of Sweden and Sauber F1 drives during final practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 28, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sauber has confirmed its new nose and chassis of the C35 has passed the mandatory FIA crash test, in both static and dynamic settings.

Prior to today, Sauber was one of two teams – McLaren the other one – that had yet to confirm it had passed the crash test. The McLaren, in theory, should come in due course.

A good summary by F1 technical analyst Craig Scarborough is linked in the below tweet:

While the new chassis is good to go for Sauber, it won’t be running yet at the first test at Barcelona from February 22 to 25.

The team confirmed, via its website, that the 2015 C34 chassis will run for the first four-day test before the C35 makes its maiden run from March 1 through 4 at the second Barcelona test.

The team’s 2016 livery, however, will be revealed at the first test.

Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr are set to return for their second season as teammates; for Ericsson, it’s his third season in the sport while Nasr prepares for his sophomore campaign.

Busy week of testing ahead for IndyCar teams out West

AVONDALE, AZ - MARCH 15:  Ccars race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series CampingWorld.com 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 15, 2015 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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The old saying “Go West, young man” is apropos for the Verizon IndyCar Series this week, ahead of a busy week of testing for teams and drivers at three key tracks on the left coast.

The action starts today with seven drivers from three teams out at Phoenix International Raceway.

Team Penske’s fearless foursome of Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud will join now Ed Carpenter Racing’s Carpenter and Josef Newgarden, and KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais for a Chevrolet manufacturer test.

Others such as Tony Kanaan, Graham Rahal, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti have been out in Phoenix already this offseason. “TK” and Rahal tested for Firestone, with “Hinch,” “RHR” and Andretti out there in a Honda test in November.

Here’s some buildup to the test on social media:

On the team plane to Phoenix… First time in car for 16

A photo posted by Will Power (@12willpower) on

The latter post appears to be a teaser of Newgarden’s temporary Fuzzy’s Vodka colors on what will be his No. 21 Chevrolet.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, the other four-car powerhouse in the series – Chip Ganassi Racing – will have a four-car test of its own.

New signing Max Chilton is set to join the usual trio of Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball, with the Englishman set for his first test in an IndyCar at Sonoma Raceway.

Chilton, who’s been in the U.S. for media day and then stayed in the run up to Sonoma as he prepares for his debut, has been taking in the sights and sounds of San Francisco.

Honda won’t be devoid of testing this week as down the road in Fontana, Calif., at Auto Club Speedway, Hinchcliffe, Hunter-Reay and Carlos Munoz will be doing a Honda manufacturer test day on the 2.0-mile oval. While the track won’t see an IndyCar race this year, it remains a good testing location.

Chilton will also have his oval rookie test later this week at the same track, on Saturday. The Englishman failed to start at Indianapolis due to a fuel cell issue, but then promptly won his second oval start at Iowa within the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

Sonoma was one of the few tracks Chilton didn’t learn from his training within the Mazda Road to Indy, but he should pick it up pretty easily.

Munoz explored other options before re-signing with Andretti

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar
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With Ryan Hunter-Reay still under a multi-year contract and Marco Andretti confirming a one-year extension into 2016, their status of driving with Andretti Autosport for the Verizon IndyCar Series season wasn’t really in question.

Carlos Munoz’s, however, sort of was. But the Colombian has re-signed with the team for at least one more season in its third car.

Munoz captured his first career victory at the first of two races at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, in an admittedly strategy-aided and weather-shortened race. Nonetheless, it was just rewards for a driver who had shown plenty of glimpses of potential in a handful of 2013 starts and his first full season in 2014.

But as the year went on there weren’t really too many other drives that stood out and Munoz tested the free agent waters before re-signing with Andretti Autosport.

As Munoz related during IndyCar media day last week, staying with Andretti was always the goal, but wasn’t guaranteed until his signing was confirmed in November.

“We had the contract for this year, but I had been talking to other teams,” Munoz told NBC Sports during the media day.

“The situation was that my first priority was to stay with Andretti, but they were looking for sponsorships and everything. They found one. (Grupo) Exito signed with them for one year, one extra year, knowing it’s the 100th running, and they want to be competitive in 500. I’m happy to be back for a third year.”

Munoz was a revelation in his first two Indianapolis 500 attempts in 2013 and 2014. He finished second and fourth those two years, and his fearless, low line route through Turn 1 in particular raised eyebrows around the paddock.

But with the deficiencies that affected Honda’s aero kit last year at Indianapolis, a third straight standout drive simply wasn’t on the cards.

Munoz and the late Justin Wilson nearly snatched top-five results on fuel strategy, before late-race splashes for fuel dropped them to 20th and 21st, respectively.

“My race last year was (just) to be the first Honda,” Munoz said. “I was achieving that; I was the quickest Honda the whole race, but my mistake going in the pits cost me a drive-through.

“We knew we didn’t have a chance against the Chevys. We were more than 2 mph slower. You can’t do anything with that. We cannot change much stuff now this year. But we’re fighting there, and we’ll see if we can change the package.”

Munoz debuted a new red and white firesuit at media day, which would seem to indicate a change in livery for his No. 26 Honda when it’s revealed.

Munoz and Hunter-Reay will be testing this week at Auto Club Speedway, on Wednesday, in a Honda manufacturer test day.

The three drivers are the lone three confirmed for the full-season. Team principal Michael Andretti admitted to my colleague Luke Smith over the weekend in Buenos Aires that there is a chance Robin Frijns may run selected races in a fourth car, while Simona de Silvestro told Smith her FIA Formula E commitments may prevent her from an Indianapolis 500 bow.