Friday, 13 April 2012

Chinese Grand Prix Preview

With an extraordinarily tight field, a surprise championship leader, an intriguing and yet challenging track and the prospect of wet weather, the 2012 Chinese Grand Prix promises to be a thriller. Here's my preview.

Incredibly, three weeks have passed since Fernando Alonso's stunning win for Ferrari in Malaysia which propelled him to the peak of the World Championship. It is a long break in between the two races, and yet it feels like only yesterday that Jenson Button started the season perfectly with Melbourne victory. Unlike last season, 2012 certainly doesn't look like it's going to be done and dusted with before it's even begun. However, like last season, it does look like there's going to be a lot of exciting racing going on.

Hamilton with his trophy in 2011
The last three Chinese Grands Prix have been thrilling. 2009 saw Sebastian Vettel's first victory for Red Bull, and also Red Bull's first victory. Who would've thought that they'd go on to win twenty six other races in the next three years? That was a wet race, a seriously wet one and it took a stunning drive from Vettel to convert pole into the win. 2010 was a win for Jenson Button in McLaren, with a great drive in difficult conditions. And then 2011, and one of the best Grands Prix I will ever see. An absolutely wonderful race with Lewis Hamilton taking possibly his best victory after a drive which was quite simply out of this world. Hamilton qualified third behind his team mate and Vettel, but the German made a poor start and was down to third by Turn One. However his strategy looked better than the McLarens, but Hamilton was not to be beaten. A superb exhibition of overtaking skill from the 2008 World Champion, with the epitome being his outrageous sneak up the inside of his team mate at Turn One for the lead. Hamilton went on to hound down Sebastian Vettel and steal the win from him with just five laps left after another impressive overtake. Another contender for driver of the day though was Mark Webber, who had a disastrous qualifying and was eighteenth, but miraculously worked his way up to 3rd, passing Button on the last lap for his first podium of 2011. With so many other battles going on throughout the field, it was a special race.

There are a few pieces of news to report since Malaysia, with the most relevant one that Lewis Hamilton will face a five place grid penalty for the race this weekend after a gearbox change for the McLaren man. This means the highest he can qualify now is sixth, but after two poles from the first two races, he will still be feeling confident about his chances. Another thing to note is the ongoing saga with the Bahrain Grand Prix; will it go ahead or not? After civil unrest meant the 2011 race was cancelled and the season delayed, Formula One was hoping to make a peaceful and successful return to Bahrain. However there is a lot of indecision going on at the moment, and it still isn't really clear whether we will be there or not. The FIA insist it will go ahead on the planned date of 22nd April, but with the Bahrain Grand Prix, nothing is certain.

So to this weekend's race, and the Chinese Grand Prix. China has a history of throwing weather-related obstacles into the way of the drivers, and if you believe the forecast, 2012 should be no different. There was plenty of rain this morning in practice, and it is quite likely we will see some over the course of the weekend. The track is a great one as well, my guide to the circuit is here.

Mercedes and McLaren looked to be very quick in practice this morning. Those two have certainly been the best two teams in qualifying this season. Mercedes will fancy their chances of a shot at their first pole position in Formula One also. After Schumacher narrowly missed out in Kuala Lumpur three weeks ago, he will feel it is certainly a possibility. With their ultra-productive DRS system, coupled with the long straights of Shanghai, it looks like a perfect mix for the Brackley team on Saturday. Ferrari and Sauber will be hoping that their form in the wet from Malaysia continues and will be praying for some form of precipitation, because quite frankly, the Ferrari would be quicker on snow than it is on dry ground. Williams also have very good race pace and will be looking for some more points, while Caterham will be hoping for rain and an attritional race, as their search for their first F1 points continues.

It's so difficult to call this weekend, particularly with so many surprise results last time out. Fasten your seatbelts, here comes the Chinese Grand Prix.

The season continues in Shanghai, and keep with my blog for all the news and reaction from the third Grand Prix of the season.

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