Most will tell you that the excitement levels of Formula 1 have dropped over the last five years. Some may even tell you that in this modern, eco-friendly age of renewable energies and the infancy of the electric car, the sport may even be on its way to becoming redundant. Indeed we saw the quietly anticipated launch of Formula-E last September and, whilst it was not an overnight hit, things look promising for the future. In short, Formula 1 faces uncertainty. Having both undergone the most radical rule change in years leading to Red Bull threatening to quit entirely and losing two teams due to them not being able to carry the financial burden; the sport risks either becoming completely uncompetitive, think last year, or facing internal revolution. But of course, the support of that faithful is always a given, at least in Europe.
But, the racing continues and we’re back two races in looking towards this weekend’s race in Shanghai. It’s a fair assessment to say that thus far the best of the battling has been in the midfield, with Sauber impressing with a much improved a Ferrari engine and a particularly strong showing from Felipe Nasr, finishing 5th and 12th in Australia and Malaysia respectively. They’re being challenged by Toro Rosso whom, despite the struggling Renault power unit, are being touted by some to finish above their larger sister team Red Bull. New rookies Carlos Sainz Jr. and seventeen year old Max Verstappen have performed superbly for two debutants in a middle of the pack team. Sainz picked up 9th and 8th place finishes whilst Verstappen was unlucky to drop out of Australia with a clutch problem, making up for it a 7th place finish in Malaysia. Both Lotus and Force India are at the back end of this midfield pack, with Roman Grosjean’s pace up from last year following a switch to the Mercedes engine but still not that impressive, Pastor Maldonado is yet to finish a race, whether or not that is his fault is debatable, but he has previous. Force India came late into testing and don’t have enough information or millage on their car to expect to be competitive yet, much like McLaren. Speaking of which, Ron Dennis’ confession pre-season they wouldn’t be competitive until Europe has prevented much criticism coming their or Honda’s away, Jenson Button did very well, or was very lucky, just to get the car home in Australia; in contrast, Kevin Magnussen’s car blew up before the race had even begun. With both cars dropping out of Malaysia and Fernando Alonso already admitting that they expect to be slower in China than in Malaysia; don’t expect any fireworks unless they’re from the back their cars.
Looking towards the top of the field and Sebastian Vettel’s win for Ferrari in Malaysia came as a pleasant surprise for everyone who isn’t a Mercedes fan. It’s clear that Ferrari are able to manage their tyres better than the Brackley outfit and the searing heat in Malaysia helped the Scuderia cause. With cooler temperatures and a long back straight, described by Red Bull’s Daniel Riccardo as ‘boring’, the odds may seem to swing back towards the favour of Hamilton and Rosberg. But the combination of tight, slow corners and the faster turns will make tyre degradation a priority again, particularly for the left front.
All in all it looks a two horse race between Mercedes and Ferrari, unless Williams can improve upon what is a disappointing start when compared to last season. Though the prancing horse has rattled a few nerves in the Mercedes garage the smart money is on a Mercedes victory, strategy will be key however. Should Ferrari make the better calls as they did in Malaysia, Vettel could be in for the fight, and let’s not forget Kimi Raikkonen either, as if we ever could.