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F1 Preview: 2018 Chinese Grand Prix

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Two races into the 2018 FIA Formula 1 World Championship season and surprises abound in several places on the grid.

Even though Mercedes AMG Petronas appeared as daunting as ever entering the season, it’s Scuderia Ferrari who has been to Victory Lane in the opening two races, with Sebastian Vettel sitting on a perfect 50 points and at the head of the drivers championship.

McLaren F1 has had both Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne score points in the opening two races, yet Scuderia Toro Rosso, now using the maligned Honda power units McLaren parted ways with them, outran them in the Bahrain Grand Prix, with Pierre Fasly finishing an outstanding fourth, and doing so on merit – he qualified fifth and ran in the Top 5 all race long, moving up to fourth after Kimi Raikkonen dropped when disastrous pit stop saw him clip a team member and leave with a loose wheel.

Further, Gasly is even with Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo on 12 points and ahead of Max Verstappen after both Red Bulls record DNFs in Bahrain.

Even Alfa Romeo Sauber offered up a surprise, finishing ninth in Bahrain to currently sit ahead of Sahara Force India, who only points finish so far is Esteban Ocon’s tenth place at Bahrain.

All told, the opening two races have set the stage for a season potentially full of intrigue, and the unpredictability could continue at this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix.

Stories to watch for at the Chinese Grand Prix are below.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN – APRIL 08: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Valtteri Bottas driving the (77) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at Bahrain International Circuit on April 8, 2018 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari has a 2-0 victory advantage over Mercedes, and while Sebastian Vettel’s victory at the Australian Grand Prix was undoubtedly helped by a timely Virtual Safety Car, the Bahrain Grand Prix was a genuine display of strength from Ferrari, with Vettel securing pole and holding off a late challenge from Valtteri Bottas to take the win.

Still, there is reason to think Mercedes can easily find itself back in the winner’s circle in China. Lewis Hamilton was dominating in Australia before the Virtual Safety Car allowed Vettel to leapfrog ahead of him, and five-place grid penalty hampered his efforts from the outset in Bahrain.

Still, Hamilton worked his way up to third after starting ninth, and his charge forward featured an early nomination for “Pass of the Year” around Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon, and Nico Hulkenberg.

Add in some extra motivation after getting one-upped by Ferrari in each of the first two races, and Hamilton and Bottas will most certainly be ones to watch as they look to restore Mercedes’ supremacy.

Who Emerges This Week from the Jammed Midfield?

In Australia, it was the Haas F1 team who was “best of the rest” on pace, though their double DNF opened the door for McLaren and Renault Sport F1 Team to get double-points finishes.

In Bahrain, Toro Rosso came seemingly out of nowhere to be “best of the rest” with Gasly, while Haas put Kevin Magnussen in fifth while McLaren again had both drivers in the points – Alonso and Vandoorne finished seventh and eighth respectively.

Force India has stumbled out of the gates, with Ocon scoring the team’s only point, while Renault has looked fairly stout, with Carlos Sainz Jr. finishing tenth in Australia and Hulkenberg finishing seventh and sixth in Australia and Bahrain.

Even Alfa Romeo Sauber has been stronger than expected, with Marcus Ericsson finishing an impressive ninth in Bahrain.

With the midfield jammed as much as it is, it is anyone’s guess as to who will emerge from that pack this weekend, and if Mercedes, Ferrari, or Red Bull stumble, even in the slightest of ways, it’s very conceivable that one of these teams could land on the podium.

Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix rolls off at 2:00 a.m. ET.

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Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry. Time just published a brief piece by Wallace saluting Hamilton as a trailblazer.

The idea of Hamilton attending the NASCAR season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it would seem right for Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — to spend some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).