Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: Mercedes Fighting Back, News & The Chinese Grand Prix

Formula 1 takes to the Shanghai International Circuit this weekend. The first two practices are history with Lewis Hamilton displaying the form that has been typical of him, and Mercedes, for the past year. But rather than his teammate nipping at his heels, Kimi Raikkonen demonstrated that Ferrari just might have pace this year, something further proved by the fact that Sebastian Vettel held fast in fourth. Nico Rosberg ended the second practice in fifth, which must feel like a confusing position for him.

Though the season is just two races old, it looks like the fight is going to be between Mercedes and Ferrari, with Williams and Red Bull positioned to capitalize should either of those teams make mistakes. It should be noted that RB’s Daniel Ricciardo finished the second practice in third, breaking up the monopoly at the front. The win that Ferrari seemingly stole in Malaysia roused Mercedes from their lofty perch of ruling the sport and now has the Silver Arrow playing both offense and defense.

Hamilton and Rosberg both came out with comments that sounded like they were from Star Wars over the past two weeks, claiming that they must strike back. If that’s the case, it’s tough to know who exactly is the empire between Mercedes and Ferrari. Maybe it’s empire against empire.

In Other News

  • Some idiot decided that he wanted to try and drive an F1 car during the second practice. That’s right, he scaled the 10-foot fence, ran across the frontstretch then made his way to the paddock – where he was swiftly apprehended by the marshals. He is now in custody. In the modern era of safety, it is amazing that this lunatic was actually able to get onto the track in the first place. Did security not see him climbing the fence and bring him down? The incident seems akin to the one in NASCAR at Richmond, when a fan not only made his way up the fence surrounding the track but then perched himself there. No word on whether alcohol had something to do with the incident in Shanghai as it did at Richmond.
  • To posit that McLaren has thus far been awful is to also make outrageous claims like the sky is blue on a sunny day or that fish need water to survive. Two races in, only Jenson Button has finished a race, and he did that during the opener in Australia, then followed with a DNF. Basically, each outing right now is a test session as the team comes to terms with Honda powering their cars. That makes the initial report from China somewhat akin to shocking. When the second practice concluded, Button and Fernando Alonso sat in the 10th and 12th positions, respectively. For two former champions to be that far back is somewhat of disappointment but for where they were when the season began, it’s immense progress. Much of that change is owed to the fact that the team is starting to unleash the power in the Honda engine. For the first two races McLaren has reined in the power for fear of failures, which also caused the drivers to burn more fuel as they hit the max, even though they were more than three seconds off the pace. Now they’re a mere one-and-a-half seconds off the mark. That may come across as baby steps but in reality it’s huge and shows that the team may have potential in the second half of the season.
  • Defending champion Hamilton is set to re-sign with Mercedes for what is purported to be $27 million. You read that right. Casting aside the debate on the worthiness of paying a driver that much (and it doesn’t matter, really, because that’s what the market allows), it’s rather amazing that with all of the sport’s issues that Hamilton is able to compel such a sum. And he only races 19 or 20 times a year. There is, however, a slight delay with signing the contract as the apparently the public released a collective gasp when they discovered the figure and the team wanted to let things pass. No doubt that he’ll be signing the contract at some point in the near future and things will continue on as normal.
  • Felipe Massa suffered a strange mechanical issue during the second practice that sent him careening into the wall and ended his day. The Williams driver appeared to be setting up for turn 14 when he encountered a rear wing failure that appeared to snap his car around. Massa rued the incident as he had hoped for more track time in what looks to be a competitive field and one that could leave him struggling.
  • Owner Dietrich Mateschitz once again threw out his claim that Red Bull would quit F1 should the team not find its footing at the front in the near future. This stance has been pointed toward Renault and pushing them to build an engine that gets the team back to form, but at this point there does not seem to be a reason to continue with this message as it comes across as though the team does not want to put a full effort into matching Ferrari and Mercedes.

The Race

When the Shanghai track opened in 2004, it was the most expensive one on the schedule. Rubens Barrichello won the inaugural event, with the Chinese Grand Prix appearing on the schedule ever since. The track is nearly 3.4 miles in length and features 16 turns, with the most notable being turn 14, which is nearly a hairpin after a long straight. Hamilton won last year’s race. One interesting aspect of the state of the sport is that Michael Schumacher held the track record at 1:32.2, but the current cars are hitting around 1:40. That’s an indication that the sport’s desire to slow the cars has worked, but seems counterintuitive to the concept of racing.

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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nice report. Good to see that you touched on a lot of the issues going on at the Chinese GP. I suppose the question on most peoples mind is how close to Mercedes is Ferrari? And despite the constant complaining from Red Bull’s owner they seem to have made huge strides in closing the gap as well.
Should be an interesting season.

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