It has been over two weeks since the last Formula 1 race, the Malaysia Grand Prix, was run but at long last the wait is almost over and the cars will soon be back on the track. With the opening practice session of the Chinese Grand Prix only a few days out, here are some story lines that will be interesting to watch develop over the weekend in Shanghai.
This will be the first time that Red Bull Racing team mates Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber are around one another since Vettel disobeyed team orders and passed Webber to win in Malaysia. Webber said that the incident had made it obvious that he needed to consider his future with the team and in the sport. The Aussie has been back in his native country during the time off and apparently hasn’t had any contact with Red Bull.
Webber didn’t bother to disguise his feelings when he encountered Vettel prior to taking to the podium in Malaysia, or in the press conference after the race. Exchanges between the two drivers were full of tension and it made for one of the most uncomfortable post-race press conferences in the history of F1. During the break officials at Red Bull have said that Webber would be welcome back with the team and is always a candidate for a race seat at RBR, but other names were thrown out including both current Toro Rosso wheel men, and Kimi Raikkonen who is under contract with Lotus F1 Team until the end of the season.
It will be interesting to see if that tension still exists between the two Red Bull drivers and if it complicates communication within the team, or if all parties have indeed moved on from the incident as Red Bull has suggested on multiple occasions. On top of that people will no doubt be hounding Webber regarding whether or not he has come to a decision about his future with the team, which could further distract the driver and the team.
Nico Rosberg scored the only win of 2012 for Mercedes AMG at China last year. Joining him on the podium were Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton who at the time both drove for McLaren. Hamilton is now Rosberg’s team mate at Mercedes, and it will be that team that is trying to make sure both of its drivers find their ways back to the podium in Shanghai.
Hamilton has been quick in both races thus far, finishing 5th in Australia and 3rd in Malaysia. Rosberg began his season with a DNF due to electrical failure in Australia, but sorted things out and finished in 4th right behind his team mate at Malaysia. Both drivers have had success in China in the past and are coming off of strong finishes, so the potential seems to be there for Mercedes to make some progress and grab a large number of points this weekend. Rosberg would no doubt love to repeat his 2012 win, but if the pattern of the season holds it will be Hamilton with a better shot at the win.
Another thing to watch for will be if Lotus can rediscover the magic it had in Melbourne and repeat their two-stop strategy that gave Raikkonen the opening win of the season. Lotus’ technical director James Allison pointed to the wet conditions in Malaysia as part of the reason why the team fell off pace in that Grand Prix. Allison said that the team will likely struggle in the rain until they finish development on a new rear wing, and as a result will be hoping for dry conditions to help them stay at the front of the pack.
Caterham F1 Team will be turning over control of their Renault-powered CT03 to reserve driver Ma Qing Hua during FP1 in China. This could just be Caterham’s attempt at getting a fresh opinion on the machine in order to improve it for the remainder of the 2013 season, or it could mean that Caterham is more focused on the future than the present. The team’s other reserve driver, American Alexander Rossi, will be in the cockpit next week during FP1 of the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Between the ongoing driver drama at Red Bull, seeing if Mercedes can help their drivers repeat least year’s Shanghai success, Lotus trying to find speed in the wet, and Caterham potentially auditioning drivers for 2014 there will be plenty to watch for early on in China.
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