SHANGHAI (AP) Reigning Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton will have to make up considerable ground in the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday if he’s going to capture his third straight race in Shanghai and close the gap with Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the drivers’ standings.
Hamilton received a five-place grid penalty in Shanghai for making an early switch of his gearbox after it was damaged in a collision at the Bahrain Grand Prix two weeks ago.
Hamilton, though, seemed unfazed by the fact he can only start as high as sixth in Sunday’s race, even though he’s already 17 points behind Rosberg in the standings following a disappointing start to the season.
“When you hear on the Wednesday morning that you’re arriving at the weekend with a penalty already, of course, that changes the approach to the weekend and it changes the mindset a little bit,” he said at the track on Thursday. “But for me, a challenge is an opportunity to rise.”
Rosberg is confident after sweeping the races in Australia and Bahrain to start the season – and capturing five straight races going back to last season – but he knows he can’t count Hamilton out, particularly on a track where the British driver has prevailed four times before (2008, 2011, 2014-15).
“A Hamilton that starts sixth is still going to challenge for the win and we know that,” Rosberg said. “I’m not taking anything for granted at all.”
Hamilton noted that his teammate will most likely have an “easier weekend” with his penalty, but added: “I’m going to be pushing as hard as I can. It doesn’t mean I can’t win the race.”
Ferrari will also be looking to challenge the Mercedes cars after a series of technical issues slowed the team’s start to the year. Sebastian Vettel was forced out of the race in Bahrain with engine failure on the warmup lap and Kimi Raikkonen failed to finish in Australia due to a problem with the turbo charger.
“We didn’t have the start that we wanted, which is not a big secret,” Vettel said. “The performance is not yet where we want to be. But there’s nothing that shakes me or makes me nervous for this season or the next couple races because I know that this team is very strong.”
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, is looking forward to just getting behind the wheel again following a frightening crash at the season-opening race in Melbourne that left his car in a mangled heap on the track and him with a fractured rib.
The FIA doctors ruled him out of the Bahrain Grand Prix, but he was given provisional clearance to take part in Friday’s practice in Shanghai, after which further tests will be done to ensure he’s fit enough for the rest of the weekend.
“In Bahrain, I was mentally 100 percent, ready to race, but physically I had a lot of pain,” he said. “Now the situation has improved a lot and I’m mentally 120 percent now, but physically also 100 percent with no pain in the last couple of days.”
Alonso said he’s been training normally the last two weeks with running and cycling, along with some golf and tennis, and he wouldn’t have made the trip to China if he wasn’t sure he was ready to race.
“I did (that) once, in Bahrain, and it was quite tough to be there all weekend,” he said.
Formula One will also revert to last year’s qualifying format in China after experimenting with a new rolling-elimination system in the first two races that proved unpopular with drivers.
All the teams voted against the new qualifying format last week, forcing FIA president Jean Todt and series commercial chief Bernie Ecclestone to backtrack.