All eyes will be on Red Bull Racing in China next weekend as Sebastian Vettel takes to the racetrack for the first time since he controversially defied orders and overtook team mate Mark Webber to win the Malaysian Grand Prix two weeks ago.
The three-time World Champion had been told to hold back and maintain race position behind Webber in order to nurse both cars home and pick up maximum constructors points for the team. But a defiant Vettel fought for the lead anyway and, on fresher tires, wrestled victory away from Aussie Webber to take the chequered flag.
The German’s reputation has taken a severe blow since with many of F1’s most celebrated drivers labelling Vettel’s move ‘reckless’, ‘callous’ and above all ‘ruthless’. One ex-racer, speaking to the BBC, even called for the World Champ to be banned and stripped of his short term car insurance cover for one race – the insurance bit isn’t true.
Red Bull’s subsequent attempts to reconcile the two will be the hottest topic of conversation up and down the paddock in Shanghai, the venue for the Chinese Grand Prix next weekend. The team claim both drivers ‘shook hands’ immediately after the race in Malaysia and have unsurprisingly played down any residual rancour between the two. But the Vettel-Webber dynamic has been a source of intrigue for the media since the two were first paired together back in 2010.
Several incidents on track, and rumours of repeated spats off it, have only heightened tensions between the two. Webber believes Vettel is mollycoddled by the team, suggesting the German’s car is always first to receive updated components, while Vettel simply affirms his three World Championship titles.
Watch this space: it will be an interesting weekend inside the Red Bull garage.
Mercedes Benz will arrive in Shanghai full of confidence after drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg finished third and fourth respectively in Malaysia. Despite Rosberg outpacing Hamilton in the latter stages of the race, the German was told to maintain position to ensure both cars finished the race – unlike fellow German Vettel. Rosberg is a fan of the Shanghai International Circuit having won the Chinese Grand Prix last year. He will be confident of repeating that feat next Sunday as both Mercedes cars have shown good race pace so far this season, but will not want to be denied a podium place again – he made that clear on team radio in Malaysia. Lewis Hamilton will also be looking for his first victory of the season.
The team are clearly on the up and expectations are seemingly rising. They have two young drivers, who, we are told, get along very well, but it may be a little premature to be pitting Mercedes alongside Red Bull and Ferrari at this early stage of the season. Time will tell.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso will want to rectify his early retirement in Malaysia and really stamp his claim as a title contender capable of dominating the chasing pack this season. Alonso nurtured an under-par Ferrari car to numerous race victories last season and was only a desperate five points away from winning his third championship title. Despite his second place finish in Australia, Alonso clipped Vettel’s Red Bull in turn one of the Malaysian Grand Prix, damaging his front wing. It eventually broke off, slipping and wedging itself underneath Alonso’s Ferrari, rendering the car un-driveable.
Team mate Felipe Massa can achieve history in Shanghai by out-qualifying Alonso for a fifth-successive weekend. The Brazilian, who notoriously gets off to sluggish starts to seasons, has begun relatively well so far, keeping pace with his team mate Alonso and Ferrari’s closest rivals around him.
Lotus’ technical director, James Allison, believes his teams cars can keep pace with the leading back, not only in China but in upcoming races as well. Kimi Raikkonen won the Australian Grand Prix in emphatic style, and Romain Grosjean has seemingly put his first season jitters behind him.
So, who’s going to win this year’s Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai?
Well, the circuit contains many long, fast straights, which again could favour the Mercedes’. As aforementioned, Rosberg won this race last year, primarily due to the cars quick straight line speed. But expect both Ferrari’s and Red Bull’s to be right up there alongside them.
From a British perspective: as we’ve already mentioned Lewis Hamilton is looking sharp this season; perhaps back to his boisterous self. His car looks quick and he himself seems upbeat and excited about the season ahead.
Jenson Button on the other hand just wants his opening season nightmares to end. Both McLaren cars have been lagging far behind the lead pack – so much so that the team even considered bringing back last season’s car to mitigate identified problems with the new model in Malaysia. Many people expect McLaren to struggle this season – even Button himself.
McLaren’s struggles mean Paul Di Resta’s Force India team taste blood. They believe their cars can outpace the McLaren’s in China, which would surprise as well as delight a team heading firmly in the right direction.
Finally Marussia’s Max Chilton, the young 21-year old making his Formula One debut this season, will be looking to kick on from his experiences in Australia and Malaysia and perhaps pip team rivals Caterham to higher placed finishes.