By Adam Tate, Associate Editor
Ever since Nico Rosberg’s maiden victory at the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai International Circuit has been one of Mercedes best tracks on the F1 calendar. Despite Fernando Alonso’s a stunning victory in 2013, the silver arrows have taken pole position every year since 2012 and have won the race every year since 2014. 2016 Champion Nico Rosberg has won it twice, but it’s really three time champ Lewis Hamilton who is the king of China; he has five poles and four wins from 10 starts and will be the man to beat come Sunday afternoon.
Hamilton has said he is as hungry as ever to fight back in the wake of Ferrari’s stunning season opening victory. He is clearly relishing the potential showdown with Sebastian Vettel and is happy to have a rival from a team other than his own with which to battle for the win. His team will desperately want him to succeed as they could claim their 75th pole position in only their 150th start as a constructor. It would be a remarkable accomplishment and prove to the rest of the field that they are still the top dog. Starting the season in second place has been very strange for a team that has won 51 of the last 59 races. Sebastian Vettel has more often than not been their strongest opposition and denied them victory on four of those occasions, so too has Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull, with Max Verstappen taking the only other non Mercedes win since 2013.
Shanghai’s 16 turn, 3.387 mile layout with its crazy long straights and high speed corners should suit Mercedes well in their hopes to strike back against the scarlet cars as it will favor engine power above all else. Some however, including Haas F1’s Gunther Steiner, believe that the Ferrari power unit is now ahead of the Mercedes on horsepower. Vettel’s near 10 second margin of victory at Albert Park possibly suggests so, but it doesn’t take into account the number of laps Hamilton was held up by Verstappen in the Red Bull. If Ferrari and Mercedes are able to pit and emerge in clean air to battle for the win in the second half of the race we will get a much clearer picture of who is on top and what to expect from the rest of the season opening fly away races. DRS could also prove to be a deciding factor of the race as its effect has been boosted signifigantly by the larger and lower rear wings. Last year’s race featured the most overtakes of any Grand Prix in history, a mind boggling 161, largely due to DRS. While that isn’t expected to be duplicated or even desired, this year’s race should have considerably more overtaking than the lacklustre show we saw in Australia two weeks ago.
Further complicating matters are the current weather forecasts which show high chances of rain for the weekend. Pirelli had just one proper day of testing with its new wet weather compounds for 2017 and though the extreme wets were okay, many drivers said the intermediates still need a lot of work. Could we be in store for a race like Brazil 2016? Any rain or safety car intervention could well throw the entire equation off and allow for a surprise winner like Valtteri Bottas or even a Red Bull driver. It would definitely make a better show for the fans, but it could frustratingly obscure the true running order and inhibit the teams from getting the maximum out of the difficult to set up, tricky to drive cars. However, if that is what pans out, we might be in store for a classic race this weekend.