Following Sebastian Vettel’s surprise victory at the Malaysian Grand Prix two weeks ago, the Formula 1 paddock now moves on to China in the knowledge that, contrary to popular opinion, Mercedes can be beaten in 2015.
It was at the Chinese Grand Prix back in 2012 that Nico Rosberg claimed the German marque’s first victory in F1 since returning to the sport in 2010. A repeat result for last year’s championship runner-up is essential, given that he has legitimately beaten teammate Lewis Hamilton just once since last year’s German Grand Prix in July.
With Vettel and Ferrari biting at the heels of the Silver Arrows, Mercedes heads to China knowing that it cannot rest on its laurels. The defeat in Malaysia came as a shock, but another this weekend at a race that should play to the strengths of the W06 Hybrid could raise serious questions about which team rules the F1 roost.
Naturally, the fight between Mercedes and Ferrari is just one of many storylines that are set to play out in China this weekend. Here’s our full preview of the 2015 Chinese Grand Prix.
2015 Chinese Grand Prix – Talking Points
Mercedes looks to resume usual service
Mercedes’ defeat in Malaysia was arguably the most surprising result in F1 since Pastor Maldonado’s victory for Williams at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix. Few thought the Silver Arrows could be beaten without some kind of divine intervention, yet Vettel and Ferrari managed to do exactly that. In China, the focus for Mercedes will be on resuming normal service and getting back on the top step of the podium. Although the cooler conditions should suit the W06 Hybrid better, if its tire management problems are as bad everywhere as they were in Malaysia, then another upset could be on the cards.
Ferrari and Vettel remain realistic
Despite soundly beating Mercedes last time out, both Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari are remaining realistic about their chances for the rest of the season. The four-time world champion has undoubtedly settled in at Maranello very quickly, and he will be hoping to pick up a third podium finish in as many races on Sunday. However, spare a thought for his teammate, Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn could have made it a Ferrari one-two in Malaysia had it not been for a first lap incident, and appears to have re-found his mojo following a disastrous 2014. P3 and P4 may be the best Ferrari can hope for in China, but those positions should be there for the taking.
Have the tables turned between Toro Rosso and Red Bull?
Toro Rosso has always existed in F1 for one reason: to nurture future Red Bull drivers. Back in 2008, when Sebastian Vettel’s escapades saw Toro Rosso beat Red Bull (the supposed ‘A’ team) in the constructors’ championship, the entire Red Bull F1 programme was called into question. Vettel was soon promoted and the rest, as they say, is history. However, in a flurry of déjà vu, Toro Rosso is showing signs of a repeat in 2015. Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. may be rookies, but both showed maturity and racecraft that exceeds their years in Malaysia, soundly beating Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat of Red Bull. Another win for the ‘B’ team in China would only turn up the heat on a Red Bull team that seems to be in disarray.
McLaren targets its first points of 2015
It’s very rare for a team as prestigious as McLaren to be satisfied with a double retirement, but the mileage racked up by both cars in Malaysia was of great value to the British outfit. Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso do not want to be battling outside of the top ten for long, and China could be where they buck that trend. The Honda engine is getting better with every lap completed, meaning that the team should head to Shanghai with its tail up. It will take time for everything to come together at Woking. Once it does though, expect Alonso and Button to prove just why they are world champions.
Palmer looks to impress with his practice outing
On Friday, 2014 GP2 champion Jolyon Palmer will get his first outing on a grand prix weekend when he takes part in FP1 for Lotus. The Briton signed for the team as its third and reserve driver for this season, and will be looking to convert his good pace in junior categories into a positive display in the practice session. It may not be much, but it is still a positive step for Palmer, who will become the first GP2 champion since Romain Grosjean (winner in 2011) to run at an F1 weekend.
Chinese Grand Prix – Facts and Figures
Track: Shanghai International Circuit
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher 1:32.239 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Soft (Option); Medium (Prime)
2014 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2014 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:53.860
2014 Fastest Lap: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:40.402
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T16 to T1); T13 to T14
Chinese Grand Prix – TV Times
Free Practice 1: NBC Sports Live Extra 10p ET 4/9
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 2a ET 4/10
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports Live Extra 12a ET 4/11
Qualifying: NBCSN 3a ET 4/11
Race: NBCSN 1:30a ET 4/12
For more information about our broadcasts this weekend, click here.