Mercedes and Ferrari look evenly matched on pace in the early stages of the 2019 Formula 1 season, but with the Silver Arrows securing 1-2 finishes in each of the two season-opening Grands Prix, it is time for Ferrari to kick into action as Formula 1 races its 1,000th Grand Prix, the Chinese Grand Prix.
There can be no getting away from the utter domination shown by Mercedes in Australia. For Ferrari to bounce back from its humiliation instantly seemed impossible, but bounce back it did. At the midpoint of the race at Bahrain, things looked good for the Italian team, but it all fell apart. Sebastian Vettel spun out and teammate Charles Leclerc suffered heartbreak when his Ferrari power unit let him down while leading with just 10 laps to go.
The net result is that Ferrari is already facing a huge uphill task to overthrow Mercedes in the standings. Mercedes leads by a whopping 39 points in the Constructors’ Championship.
Surprising many, Leclerc and current championship leader Valtteri Bottas have been able to take the fight to their teammates who share nine world titles between them. Neither wants to play a traditional “No. 2” role to their more decorated teammate and that mentality could make things very exciting for fans as the season progresses with four cars potentially duking it out for the title rather than just two.
One driver who needs to improve, particularly in qualifying, is Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly. Only two races into his career with the team, the Frenchman will be under pressure to perform after failing to match Max Verstappen in either qualifying or race trim so far. The gap has not even been small with Gasly unable to show any of the talent that earned him the drive in the first place in a car that he freely admits does not suit him.
Also in need of a strong showing are Romain Grosjean and Carlos Sainz. Neither has completed a race distance yet, and — particularly for Sainz who is being shown up by rookie teammate Lando Norris — a good haul of points from China is essential.
Circuit name – Shanghai International Circuit
Laps – 56
Circuit length – 3.38 miles
Race distance – 189.56 miles
Fastest race lap – 1:32.238 (Michael Schumacher 2004)
2017 pole time – 1:31.095 (Sebastian Vettel)
The 2018 Chinese Grand Prix will be remembered for two things — Max Verstappen lunging into the hairpin on Sebastian Vettel, causing both drivers to spin, and Daniel Ricciardo making his late charge through the field on fresh rubber to take the win.
With each pass, Ricciardo seemed to become more impressive. First he passed Raikkonen at the scene of the Vettel and Verstappen spin. Verstappen made life easy for the Australian by running wide on turn 7. Another move into the hairpin relegated Hamilton down a place, and a simple DRS move took him to second, with only Bottas ahead.
The move on Bottas was sublime and was voted by fans as the pass of the season. The Finn had seemingly closed the door on the entry to the turn 6 hairpin, but Ricciardo was having none of it. Banging wheels as he forced the gap back open, Ricciardo managed to get his Red Bull slowed down without a hint of a lockup while still making the apex — things that looked impossible as he made the lunge.
The win threw Ricciardo into championship contention at this early stage of the season and effectively marked him as the lead driver in the Red Bull garage.
Source: Autoweek Image:LAT