After a compelling opening race in Melbourne, F1 heads to Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix. Ferrari are feeling confident, Red Bull not so much, and Antonio Giovinazzi is just happy to be here!
Here are a few of the key stories to follow in the build up to this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix. 🇨🇳
Can Mercedes bounce back? Or will Ferrari win again?
The Australian Grand Prix, despite not being the most exciting, gave many fans what they wanted and some others what they badly needed. Ferrari winning the opening race is a big deal. Many people suspected it was ‘bluffing’ during pre-season, and after the first two practice sessions in Melbourne that feeling had grown.
Ferrari’s failure to take pole wasn’t a huge surprise, but it was around half a second closer compared to last year, and only once in the past ten years has Ferrari been closer to pole in Melbourne than it was two weeks ago.
Come race day, Ferrari demonstrated without doubt, that it does have the pace to take the fight to Mercedes this year. The advantage may swing back and forth between the two teams, but Ferrari has given itself the best possible start in what we hope is an epic title fight.
The Chinese Grand Prix represents a very different challenge for both teams, and it will be fascinating to see how these two heavyweights shape up at a more conventional race track.
Is it another damage limitation weekend for Red Bull?
After a disappointing weekend in Melbourne, we can assume that Red Bull is unlikely to be in contention for the win in Shanghai.
The Australian Grand Prix proved what many thought, that Red Bull has work to do on its chassis, but also Renault too on its power unit which is not yet up to scratch compared to Mercedes and Ferrari.
The RB13 is also believed to have a ‘narrow’ setup window which could make life difficult for the team this weekend. With its tight and twisty sector one, and F1’s longest straight in sector three, finding a balanced setup at the Shanghai International Circuit can be difficult at the best of times.
Red Bull will likely be targeting damage limitation this weekend, and a repeat of Max Verstappen’s fifth place in Australia would be welcomed.
Will the Shanghai International Circuit encourage more overtaking?
The Australian Grand Prix was the first race under F1’s new technical regulations, and as some experts predicted, the increased aero appeared to have a negative effect on overtaking. Several drivers complained how difficult it was to follow in another driver’s ‘dirty air’, with Nico Hulkenberg saying that he found it “almost impossible” to pass during the race.
It must be said, however, that overtaking at Albert Park has never been easy, so reserving judgment for a little while longer may be advised.
The Shanghai International Circuit is a more ‘traditional’ race track compared to Albert Park, featuring long straights, some slow technical corners, and generally much bigger braking zones.
The characteristics of this track lend themselves well to overtaking, so Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix will be more of an acid test as to whether the new rules actually do make passing other cars that much harder.
Can Lance Stroll silence his critics this weekend?
As race debuts go, Lance Stroll had a difficult one. He came into the weekend looking to silence the critics who said he was out of his depth, but despite showing some flashes of speed, the weekend did not go at all according to plan for him.
A gearbox change following a crash in practice meant Stroll was awarded a grid penalty that put him at the back of the grid. His eagerness to make up places at the start meant he flat-spotted his first set of tyres, and his day ended prematurely with 18 laps to go due to a brake problem.
Shanghai is a chance for Stroll to make amends but it’s a circuit that can be tricky to find a balanced setup for – Massa’s many years of F1 experience will likely show here and it could be another tricky weekend for the young Canadian.
Has Renault got to the bottom of Jolyon Palmer’s car troubles?
It was a difficult start to the season for Jolyon Palmer, as a crash in practice meant he lost track time before a separate issue hampered him in qualifying.
After finishing slowest of all in Q1, a despondent Palmer said: “The brakes are terrible, the balance is pretty horrible and the traction is terrible.”
Renault believe they have found and solved the issue that slowed Palmer last weekend, so we should expect to see an improved performance in the Chinese Grand Prix.
This will please Fantasy GP players who chose Jolyon in their lineup for Melbourne – the Renault man was the only driver not to score a single Fantasy GP point in the opening weekend.
How will Antonio Giovinazzi fare, given proper time to prepare?
Antonio Giovinazzi says he found out that he would be deputising for Pascal Wehrlein in Melbourne via text message, and initially thought it was a joke.
Despite only having one practice session to get himself ready, the Italian qualified within a few tenths of team-mate Marcus Ericsson and brought his Sauber home in a solid twelfth place in the race.
Giovinazzi will once again replace Wehrlein for this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix, but this time the Italian has more time to prepare.
With three full practice sessions, Giovinazzi will have time to set the car up more to his liking and he has the benefit of already knowing the track having raced here previously in the junior categories.
If Giovinazzi does outperform Ericsson this weekend, he may just give Sauber, and employers Ferrari, a headache they weren’t expecting to have.