Sebastian Vettel has the best possible starting position for the Chinese Grand Prix.
But with his team mate out for revenge, a string of quick rivals behind him and rain threatening, he may not have things all his own way in the race.
At Sepang Sebastian Vettel worked his way up from third on the grid to pass his pole-sitting team mate going into the first corner. So, can Mark Webber return the favour as he shares the front row with Vettel tomorrow?
It’s probably Webber’s best shot of beating Vettel to victory. But unless the Australian gets off the line much quicker than his team mate it’s going to be a big ask. The long, sweeping first turn tends to funnel the pack into single-file quite quickly and doesn’t encourage changes of position the way the opening corners at Sepang do.
Fernando Alonso, especially, will know that picking off Webber on the first lap is crucial to getting a shot at Vettel later in the race.
The McLaren duo must be disappointed with lining up only fifth and sixth. Particularly Lewis Hamilton, who was one of few drivers not to improve on his Q2 time in Q3. If he had, he could easily have been third or second on the grid – the margins for error in qualifying are punishingly small this year.
They will most likely be worried about Nico Rosberg, who did a sterling job in qualifying for Mercedes once again, but could serve to delay the McLarens if the W01 can’t hack the leaders’ pace. Watch out for the MP4-25s mounting attacks on him down the long back straight on the opening lap.
Like Hamilton, Felipe Massa discovered how many grid places the smallest mistake can cost a driver in qualifying. An error on his lap left him only seventh on the grid – a position from which he’s not likely to still be leading the drivers’ championship come Sunday evening.
All the drivers in the top ten will start the race on the soft tyres, assuming it stays dry.
Jenson Button has been talking up his car’s wet weather set-up and he’s not the only driver preparing for rain tomorrow.
Toro Rosso have split their strategies with Sebastien Buemi running a compromise set-up in anticipation of rain falling and Jaime Alguersuari sticking with dry-weather settings.
Other teams may well have chosen a similar option. There’s no firm prediction on exactly when rain will arrive in Shanghai tomorrow, other than it’s likely to come at some point during the race. Rather than the kind of heavy rain we saw last year, showers more like those seen in 2006 and 2007 are expected.
If the rain does arrive, the timing will be crucial. At Sepang the widely-predicted rain never arrived, but several drivers delayed their first pit stops expecting the rain to arrive, hoping to save themselves making an extra pit stop.
We could see more of those tactics tomorrow – particularly from teams starting outside the top ten who may start the race on the hard tyres and pit later in the race.
First among them is 11th-placed Rubens Barrichello, who will not be running the ‘stalling rear wing’ the team tested in practice this morning. Nor are either of the Ferrari running their similar device which Alonso tested yesterday.
Come rain or shine, traffic is likely to be a problem whatever the conditions. Every session so far this weekend has seen some drivers gesticulating angrily at slower cars, usually the HRTs.
It seems to be a particular problem at Shanghai because the long corner sequences make it tricky for a backmarker to let a leading car by cleanly.
If Vettel finds himself with Alonso or an F-duct equipped McLaren breathing down his neck he’ll be hoping he catches Chandhok and Senna on the straights – and not halfway around the sequences that form turns one/two/three, seven/eight/nine or 11/12/13.
How do you expect the Chinese Grand Prix to unfold? Will the Red Bulls romp to victory or can the Ferraris and McLarens make life difficult for them? Have your say in the comments.
And don’t forget to join us for live commenting during the Chinese Grand Prix from one hour before the start of the race tomorrow.
2010 Chinese Grand Prix
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