The Chinese Grand Prix is usually the first true test of where teams will be with regards to the development of both their cars and drivers for the upcoming season. If qualifying is any testament, what we have seen so far this season from a number of marquee teams has only been confirmed: some have gotten it, and others are in for a season of struggle.
This season of Formula 1 seems to have more of an emphasis on pure strategy than anything else, as the Pirelli compounds have a massive gap in performance, creating an emphasis on strategy that has been unprecedented in recent years. A majority of teams are also already working on the design for 2014, so week in and week out, the developments engineers make have shifted the hierarchy of teams around a little bit.
Mercedes has taken their development to the next level, and drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are reaping in the benefits.
Shockingly, Hamilton’s decision to leave McLaren Mercedes may have been absolutely beneficial. He has had strong runs, and now captured pole on the track that gave his teammate Rosberg his only career win. Both cars showed impeccable speed in a qualifying session that saw teams struggling with the degradation of the soft compound, meaning less runs in all sessions, and some teams opting not to challenge for pole and start the race on the longer lasting medium compound.
One of these teams was the aforementioned McLaren. This year, the car has been an absolute nightmare, and the team is struggling to match the pace of the Red Bull Racing cars, among others. Jenson Button did make it into the third qualifying session, but was one of the drivers that chose to not make a flying lap, and instead will start the race on the medium compound. Teammate Sergio Perez continues to struggle in the second McLaren car, once again missing the third qualifying session.
Another major storyline from the qualifying session was the performance of the Red Bull cars. Sebastian Vettel chose to start the race on the medium compound after not making a lap in the third session, while teammate Mark Webber was once again crippled by a technical issue, this time an issue with the fuel pickup system.
Both drivers will have plenty of spots to make up, but thanks to the difference in tire compounds and the length of the DRS zone, both drivers are still in contention for a podium finish.
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