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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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F1 Preview: 2018 German Grand Prix

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The German Grand Prix continues its biennial presence on the Formula 1 calendar – it’s hosted F1 events in even numbered years since 2014 – as Formula 1 returns to the Hockenheimring this weekend.

The German fans will undoubtedly be joyful in Sebastian Vettel entering his home race in the championship lead, by nine points over Lewis Hamilton. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Vettel despite being one of the most successful and decorated drivers of his generation, Vettel has won in Germany only once (2013, at the Nurburgring) and he has never won at Hockenheim.

Conversely, Hamilton has won in Germany three times, including twice at Hockenheim (2008 and 2016).

As such, Vettel will hope to add to his points lead over Hamilton with a win on home soil, though Hamilton may be equally as motivated after watching Vettel his own home race at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, their 2018 championship duel will most certainly continue to be closely fought.

Talking points ahead of the German Grand Prix are below.

A Different World in 2018 vs. 2016

Nico Rosberg during the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 31, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

The Formula 1 landscape looked completely different back in 2016, the last time Formula 1 visited the Hockenheimring. Bernie Ecclestone was still the chief executive of Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg was partnering Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes team, and was on his way to a driver’s championship that year.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were in the midst of a slump as Ferrari went winless in 2016.

The world was still getting to know a then 18-year-old Max Verstappen, the young Dutchman having won the Spanish Grand Prix in May that year.

And the cars looked completely different, with skinnier and taller rear wings and taller rear tires highlighting the appearance differences.

In 2018, Vettel and Ferrari might be the strongest combination. Rosberg is long from Mercedes, and Valtteri Bottas is doing his best to shine in the wake of Hamilton’s enormous shadow.

Verstappen is still a rising star, though he has come under fire at times for overly aggressive driving and his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo has garnered more headlines this year, with a pair of race wins alongside his status as an F1 free agent after 2018.

In short, the Formula 1 landscape is hardly recognizable from what it was back in 2016. And even though Hamilton won that year, followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen in second and third, very little will carry over from that race two years ago.

Hamilton, Mercedes Look to Take Back Momentum from Vettel, Ferrari

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 08: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 8, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

The seesaw championship fight has tilted back in the favor of Ferrari, with Vettel leading Hamilton after finishes of third and first in Austria and England. Hamilton, meanwhile, DNF’ed in Austria and came home second in England after spinning on Lap 1.

Hamilton trails by nine points, but this is hardly an unfamiliar position for Hamilton in 2018 – he started the year trailing Vettel until he took the championship lead for the first time after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Both teams have had multiple swings of momentum this year – Vettel won the opening two races before finishes of eighth in China (he spun after contact with Verstappen) and a pair of fourth place efforts in Azerbaijan and Spain before getting two more wins in Canada and England.

Hamilton, meanwhile stumbled out of the gates somewhat with finishes of second and third before taking a fortuitous win in Azerbaijan and two dominant wins in Spain and France before the misfortune in Austria.

All told the ebb and flow of the 2018 season seems to change with every race, and while Vettel now leads Hamilton again, things could change this weekend.

Raikkonen Trying to Fend off Ricciardo, Bottas

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 6, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Kimi Raikkonen is somewhat of a forgotten man this Formula 1 season, but he does rank third in the championship at the moment, 10 points ahead of Ricciardo and 12 points ahead of Bottas.

However, both Ricciardo and Bottas are likely thought to have had better seasons – Ricciardo has the aforementioned wins (at China and Monaco) and the only thing that has kept Bottas from the top step of the podium is a string of horrendous luck.

However, Raikkonen, to his credit, has picked up the pieces whenever others around him have faltered, and he has six podium finishes through 10 races.

However, in order to fully silence any critics, and maybe even keep his Ferrari drive, Raikkonen would do well to get a win in 2018.

Misc.

  • The driver challenging Raikkonen’s position within Ferrari is Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari junior driver has five points finishes, and that could have been six if not for a pit stop error at Silverstone that caused him to leave his pit stall with a loose wheel – it forced him to retire. Leclerc’s star is on the rise, and he could shine again in Germany.
  • Nico Hulkenberg is the “other” German driver on the grid. And though he has a 24 Hours of Le Mans win to his name, he is yet to finish on the podium in an F1 race. The Renault package may not be a podium threat in usual circumstances, but if he stays clean and others falter, he could sneak in there…and doing so in his home race would make that overdue podium even sweeter.
  • After a pair of eighth place finishes, Fernando Alonso has helped McLaren at least stop the bleeding after a dismal stretch of races from Monaco through France in which the team scored zero points. However, the team still has a long way to go, and Germany could be another weekend of struggles.

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