Rosberg, not the Red Bulls, is Hamilton’s main threat

2014 Chinese Grand Prix pre-race analysis

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Shanghai International Circuit, 2014Lewis Hamilton is on pole position for the third time this year but the two Red Bulls will line up behind him on the grid.

Does Sebastian Vettel believe the Mercedes can be beaten? “I think if we put two chicanes in all the straights then yes,” he said in the press conference after qualifying.

Straight-line speed remains the major disadvantage of the RB10 and its Renault Energy F1 V6 turbo engine. On the blast to turn 14, where the drivers are flat-out for a whisker under 1.4 kilometres, it’s giving away 20kph (12.4mph) to the Mercedes.

Come rain or shine, that fact will make it very hard for the Red Bulls to take the fight to Hamilton. His biggest threat is more likely to be his team mate.

Weather

The weather forecasts have proved dependable so far this weekend and continue to indicate race day will be dry, though cloudy and still fairly cool.

That will be a disappointment to the Red Bull drivers, as wet conditions represent their best chance of challenging for victory. As noted yesterday, the green track surface produced by the rain will exacerbate the graining problems drivers have experienced.

The start

The Mercedes cars get off the line as well as anything out there and with the run to turn one being fairly short Hamilton is likely to retain his advantage at the start. Having the experience of starting from pole position at this circuit three times before can’t hurt either.

The more significant question in terms of how the race will unfold – and whether we get a Bahrain-style thriller or a Malaysia-style snooze cruise – is how quickly Rosberg arrives on his team mate’s tail.

Can he get past both Red Bulls before the end of lap one? Will he need the added benefit of DRS to blast by?

The sooner he does, the greater his chances of being able to go after his team mate. Hamilton may have taken pole position and been quickest in practice, but Rosberg’s pave has been strong al weekend.

Keep an eye on Fernando Alonso as well at the start, as he often gets away quickly and he is anxious to stay ahead of the midfield battle on Sunday:

“Fifth place means I can start with the lead group and if I can stay with the leaders we can finish close to the podium,” he said.

“The opening laps will count for a lot therefore and we must try our absolute best to get a good start and to avoid battles, which in the last few races have seen us lose ground.”

Strategy

Kevin Magnussen, McLaren, Shanghai International Circuit, 2014In a dry race, tyre strategy is likely to be influenced heavily by how teams experience the graining – and which tyres the problem is less acute with.

Even the Mercedes drivers were not immune to the problem, though the sheer pace of their cars should keep them safe from their rivals. Again, Red Bull are foremost among them, having run some impressive stints in practice.

Other drivers have ground to recover from surprisingly low qualifying places. That particularly goes for the two McLarens who line up 12th and 15th.

“We know our car is lacking in overall performance, but most notably it lacks sufficient downforce,” racing director Eric Boullier acknowledged.

“That’s always a significant problem in any conditions, of course it is, but it becomes an insuperable handicap when it’s both cold and wet, as it was today.

“Then you get a downward spiral, because you can’t get enough heat into your tyres, and that’s what we saw today. Our drivers did their best, but in truth they were facing an impossible task.”

For tomorrow their task is to move forward and get into the points. But McLaren were one of the teams that felt the graining problem most acutely.

Another driver with a lot of work to do is Kimi Raikkonen, who’s endured a difficult weekend so far. That has kept him from enjoying the benefit of the gains Ferrari have made this weekend.

“We have brought some small updates here, which we already tried at the Bahrain test,” said Fernando Alonso. “Everything worked well and that’s good news.”

While Alonso may have a chance of taking on the Red Bull drivers for a podium finish from fifth on the grid, Raikkonen needs to avoid the kind of early-race setback which he suffered in Malaysia and Bahrain – both courtesy of Kevin Magnussen.

Qualifying times in full

Driver Car Q1 Q2 (vs Q1) Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’55.516 1’54.029 (-1.487) 1’53.860 (-0.169)
2 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1’56.641 1’55.302 (-1.339) 1’54.455 (-0.847)
3 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1’55.926 1’54.499 (-1.427) 1’54.960 (+0.461)
4 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’56.058 1’55.294 (-0.764) 1’55.143 (-0.151)
5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’56.961 1’55.765 (-1.196) 1’55.637 (-0.128)
6 Felipe Massa Williams 1’56.850 1’56.757 (-0.093) 1’56.147 (-0.610)
7 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1’56.501 1’56.253 (-0.248) 1’56.282 (+0.029)
8 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1’55.913 1’56.847 (+0.934) 1’56.366 (-0.481)
9 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1’57.477 1’56.584 (-0.893) 1’56.773 (+0.189)
10 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1’58.411 1’56.407 (-2.004) 1’57.079 (+0.672)
11 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1’58.279 1’56.860 (-1.419)
12 Jenson Button McLaren 1’57.783 1’56.963 (-0.820)
13 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1’57.261 1’57.289 (+0.028)
14 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1’58.138 1’57.393 (-0.745)
15 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1’57.369 1’57.675 (+0.306)
16 Sergio Perez Force India 1’58.362 1’58.264 (-0.098)
17 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1’58.988
18 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1’59.260
19 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1’59.326
20 Marcus Ericsson Caterham 2’00.646
21 Max Chilton Marussia 2’00.865
22 Pastor Maldonado Lotus

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton 28.922 (1) 34.914 (1) 49.653 (1)
Daniel Ricciardo 29.029 (2) 34.963 (2) 50.334 (5)
Sebastian Vettel 29.095 (4) 35.094 (3) 50.106 (4)
Nico Rosberg 29.048 (3) 35.114 (4) 50.090 (3)
Fernando Alonso 29.315 (5) 35.524 (5) 50.493 (7)
Felipe Massa 29.482 (8) 36.206 (13) 50.439 (6)
Valtteri Bottas 29.462 (7) 36.082 (8) 50.569 (8)
Nico Hulkenberg 29.458 (6) 36.085 (9) 50.068 (2)
Jean-Eric Vergne 29.614 (10) 36.143 (11) 50.716 (10)
Romain Grosjean 29.575 (9) 36.052 (7) 50.780 (11)
Kimi Raikkonen 29.817 (13) 36.022 (6) 50.706 (9)
Jenson Button 29.779 (12) 36.122 (10) 50.930 (12)
Daniil Kvyat 29.757 (11) 36.330 (14) 51.054 (14)
Adrian Sutil 29.912 (15) 36.531 (16) 50.950 (13)
Kevin Magnussen 29.877 (14) 36.157 (12) 51.061 (15)
Sergio Perez 30.194 (17) 36.415 (15) 51.115 (16)
Esteban Gutierrez 30.072 (16) 36.675 (17) 51.796 (18)
Kamui Kobayashi 30.335 (18) 37.100 (19) 51.657 (17)
Jules Bianchi 30.418 (19) 36.807 (18) 52.054 (20)
Marcus Ericsson 30.721 (20) 37.887 (21) 52.038 (19)
Max Chilton 30.811 (21) 37.260 (20) 52.476 (21)
Pastor Maldonado

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Engine Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Mercedes 317.7 (197.4)
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes Mercedes 317.1 (197.0) -0.6
3 Valtteri Bottas Williams Mercedes 316.9 (196.9) -0.8
4 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes 315.5 (196.0) -2.2
5 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes 314.8 (195.6) -2.9
6 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes 314.7 (195.5) -3.0
7 Adrian Sutil Sauber Ferrari 312.6 (194.2) -5.1
8 Kevin Magnussen McLaren Mercedes 311.4 (193.5) -6.3
9 Jules Bianchi Marussia Ferrari 311.1 (193.3) -6.6
10 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari 311.1 (193.3) -6.6
11 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham Renault 310.9 (193.2) -6.8
12 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso Renault 310.9 (193.2) -6.8
13 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso Renault 310.8 (193.1) -6.9
14 Marcus Ericsson Caterham Renault 310.5 (192.9) -7.2
15 Jenson Button McLaren Mercedes 309.4 (192.3) -8.3
16 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber Ferrari 308.7 (191.8) -9.0
17 Fernando Alonso Ferrari Ferrari 308.2 (191.5) -9.5
18 Max Chilton Marussia Ferrari 306.9 (190.7) -10.8
19 Romain Grosjean Lotus Renault 305.4 (189.8) -12.3
20 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Renault 297.7 (185.0) -20.0
21 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Renault 297.1 (184.6) -20.6

Over to you

Do you expect anyone to challenge the Mercedes drivers in China? If not, who will win the battle for third? Have your say in the comments.

Share your views on the Chinese Grand Prix in the comments.

2014 Chinese Grand Prix

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Images © Daimler/Hoch Zwei, McLaren/LAT

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36 comments on Rosberg, not the Red Bulls, is Hamilton’s main threat

  1. Cyclops_PL (@cyclops_pl) said on 19th April 2014, 13:05

    If the race is indeed dry, then we should not expect anything else than Mercedes-only battle for the win. Ironically, it’s in Red Bull’s hands who will win this one. If they hold up Rosberg long enough – Hamilton might escape with enough of lead to remain unchallenged till the chequered flag. Hopefully this won’t happen, because Rosberg vs Hamilton in Bahrain was one of the best things I saw in recent years of F1.

  2. If by some accident, misfortune or doggedness a Red Bull beats a Mercedes on the track that will be such a morale booster for RBR. It could be possible if Rosberg fails to get a good start, gets bogged behind Alonso, and the top Bull car gets a clear getaway in second.

  3. ““I think if we put two chicanes in all the straights then yes,” he said in the press conference after qualifying.”

    Funny, that.

    Merc’s were stronger than RB in the high speed corners of Malaysia

    and

    on the straights, and again in China, Lewis is quicker than both Redbulls in Sectors 1 and 2, the twisty stuff.

    • Mads (@mads) said on 19th April 2014, 14:19

      Lets not assume that the extra power of the Mercedes only makes a difference on the longest straights. Every single time he is flat on the throttle, he will gain time on the Red Bull’s due to the sheer power whether it is in the twisty stuff or the long straights. The power difference just becomes more apparent on the straights.

  4. Chris (@tophercheese21) said on 19th April 2014, 13:26

    The Lewis fan in me wants this to be an utterly boring race with Lewis romping to the finish without being troubled at all. But I would love to see the action from Bahrain carry over here.

    Regardless of who wins, the team mate battles throughout the field will still be hotly contested.

    Should be good!

    • Hamilfan (@hamilfan) said on 19th April 2014, 14:19

      @tophercheese21 Same here . But I have a different wish . Let Lewis go off into the distance and let there be a massive scrap for all the remaining positions . That would tick off most boxes . But yeah , a battle for the lead is something totally, a different excitement, like what happened in Bahrain .

    • Steven (@steevkay) said on 19th April 2014, 16:04

      I’m not cutting Lewis any slack; I want him to battle for the lead with Rosberg. He said himself that he wouldn’t want to win like Vettel has (i.e. win the race in Q3) but wants to battle for it. I agree; although Vettel won 4 WDCs, there were still fun seasons, where other teams had chances, but didn’t capitalize. Although Lewis had the same result, the victory in Bahrain was much sweeter than the one in Malaysia.

      If it rains, it’ll be interesting to see if Ricciardo can maintain that sort of pace; on his cooldown lap he said there was nothing left in it. As fast as he was, 6 tenths slower than Hamilton is still a pretty massive gap. I’d also like to see more battles between him and Vettel.

  5. ciprian (@ciprian) said on 19th April 2014, 13:45

    Maybe Massa can do something amazing.

  6. DaveW (@dmw) said on 19th April 2014, 14:02

    I don’t credit vettel moaning about power as the reason they trail MB. RBR is dead last on speed trap, I.e., behind all other Renault cars. As usual Newey designs and sets up his cars without regard to maximum speed. And it’s working for them as they are ahead of many Mercedes cars while being slow on the straight. This is a good talking point to get some “reliability” upgrades cleared though.

    • anon said on 19th April 2014, 15:39

      That drag factor will probably account for part of the difference, no doubt – in the 2013 Chinese GP, Vettel and Webber were 19th and 20th in the speed traps and both losing around 10kph despite the fact that the power output of the V8 engines were all pretty much identical by then.
      The only other team slower than Red Bull that year was Williams, and that was with a car that was known to have poor aerodynamics.

      That straight line speed disadvantage was bearable in the past when they were able to break free from the pack in the early stages of a race – however, the fact that they can no longer rely on that strategy does mean they’re potentially a little more vulnerable than in the past if they are backed up into the pack.

    • trotter said on 19th April 2014, 16:43

      @dmw
      Completely agree with everything you said. Especially the fact that they are moaning about their own design philosophy as a prequel to some “reliability” upgrades. Shed some wing if you want more top speed.

    • David Not Coulthard (@davidnotcoulthard) said on 19th April 2014, 16:55

      @dmw But with an engine as good as the Mercs they’d have less top speed than the Mercs but for the same amount of downforce not by as much.

      That’s what they probably meant.

      Or at least that’s why their design philosophy can’t solely be used to discount what they said.

  7. scuderia_fan85 (@scuderia_fan85) said on 19th April 2014, 14:05

    Rosberg is not that much of a threat to Lewis because of talent and the aggresive nature of Hamilton. I think Ricciardo is more aggresive and able to challenge the guy on pole, he is even beating his 4 time world champion teammate..

    Fernando and Kimi gonna come from behind and into the top 5.

    • Chris (@tophercheese21) said on 19th April 2014, 14:29

      I think Ricciardo is more aggresive and able to challenge the guy on pole

      No, in the dry, the Red Bull’s will get swept aside by the Mercedes quite easily.

      Fernando and Kimi gonna come from behind and into the top 5.

      Fernando maybe, but Kimi I highly doubt will be top 5. The Ferrari is still look to be down on power and fuel efficiency, but encouragingly their Friday long runs didn’t look to bad, so Fernando might be able to hold onto 5th, or even snag a podium.

  8. Lewisiabamf (@lewisisabamf) said on 19th April 2014, 14:13

    It seems like redbull car is very dragy, it is not only slower than the merc engines but it is a lot slower than the other reanults

  9. George (@george) said on 19th April 2014, 14:46

    If Red Bull can look after their tyres significantly better than Mercedes they might have a chance. I’m not writing them off for the win, although I think it’s unlikely.

    • Dennis the menace (@) said on 20th April 2014, 3:25

      It’s a good point as on a track that has had a big soak yesty then graining is likely to be an issue today and Ricciardo looked very strong in practice on the long stint. Saying that it is hard to imagine Ricciardo staying anywhere near Hamilton and if their advantage over the field is anything like in Bahrain, Lewis could probably get enough gap to have an extra pit stop if needed. Expect Vettel to give Ricciardo a battle also.

  10. timi (@timi) said on 19th April 2014, 14:52

    I’m sorry, but as a long time McLaren fan I’ve finally had enough of the continuous mediocrity. A clean slate, best PU and we’re behind the Mercedes (fair enough), Force India, Red Bull, Williams (possibly equal on pace). It’s just embarrassing. To add insult to injury, we still don’t have a title sponsor. And quite rightly so. Ron is probably demanding race winner money for what is currently a midfield team :(.

    I seriously hope the 2015 car has tonnes of downforce and the Honda PU is top-class. I’ve had enough of seeing a once great team fall into mediocrity a la Williams.

    • Chris (@tophercheese21) said on 19th April 2014, 15:48

      It’s only been like this for 1 season and 3 races. Not a massively long time.

      The lowest they’ve been in the constructors championship in the last 10 years is 5th, and, barring 2013 they’ve won a race in every season during that 10 year span.

      Things will return for Mclaren. I have a huge soft spot for them. I love their perfectionist approach and general ability to produce beautiful cars that are also race winners.

      • Mr win or lose said on 19th April 2014, 22:03

        They didn’t win a single race in 2006.
        Given they have Mercedes engines, McLaren is hugely underperforming this year. Sad but true.

        • Chris (@tophercheese21) said on 20th April 2014, 0:29

          Oh yeah, apologies, forgot about 2006.

          But it wasn’t a terrible car, I mean, they had 9 podiums (2nd x 4, 3rd x 5) that year. Far better than last year.

          I just don’t think this will continue for very long. They’re clever blokes and should be able to get on top of this relatively quickly.

  11. Simon999 said on 19th April 2014, 15:46

    Are there any official figures as to how much the Renault engine really is “down on power” compared to the Mercedes engine?

    The speed trap shows the Red Bull is 8kph down on the next “slowest” Renault, let alone the Mercedes. Their philosophy has always been lower top end speed, counter-acted with higher cornering speed (whilst at the same time complaining about lack of engine power).

    Whilst I’ve no doubt there is a difference, the cynic in me also thinks that Red Bull massively overplay their dis-advantage.

    • trotter said on 19th April 2014, 16:46

      Whilst I’ve no doubt there is a difference, the cynic in me also thinks that Red Bull massively overplay their dis-advantage.

      Exactly.

  12. David Not Coulthard (@davidnotcoulthard) said on 19th April 2014, 17:08

    Red bull said they’re losing speed from their engine. So I’d like to see their acceleration and compare it to the rest of the field and compare that to the comparison of last year’s field’s acceleration.

    • Russ said on 19th April 2014, 18:57

      I would like to see proof of anything they say.After the waste of time and energy that was the Fuel Flow Meter hearing,Shame on them.What are they going to try next?Alternative timing system?

  13. nidzovski (@nidzovski) said on 19th April 2014, 17:22

    I guess that the more aero efficient your car is the lower maximum speed you’ll get at the end. I can’t see why Vettel is complaining. They should just tune their car with minimum aero down force and Voilà! I’m maybe joking but what will happened when Red Bull win a race in, let’s say Monaco? Suddenly they will become a genius?! You can’t have it all guys.

    • GeordiePorker (@geordieporker) said on 19th April 2014, 22:37

      Not quite…I’m no aerodynamics expert, but basically you can’t add downforce without adding drag. Red Bull have always designed cars with high downforce, but this costs them top speed. The better (more efficient) your aero, the less drag you add for a given amount of downforce – but you always add SOME.

      Red Bull’s issue this year is that they have loads of downforce, but without the power to compensate for it as effectively as they have been able to for the last few years. So this year, the Red Bull can probably accelerate earlier than most of their rivals (because with the extra downforce they have, they have more rear grip for a given speed), but the lack of power means that they’re still slower overall than the Mercs (and, on a dry day, some other teams).

  14. Rigi (@rigi) said on 19th April 2014, 17:59

    i think the red bulls are playing it all on one card, the middle sector. still, even if they get within drs range from hamilton i highly doubt they’ll be able to catch him on the straight, but it will probably protect them from most threats from behind and i think that will help secure them 3rd and 4th place (rosberg should be able to pass them i think).

    • Palle (@palle) said on 19th April 2014, 23:12

      I don’t think RBR can keep up with the Merc’s to any extent where they can get a “tow” on DRS. And they can’t defend against anyone getting a DRS tow on them, so they are in trouble here, despite the grid positions. What will play to their benefit is if they can keep out of graining problems and maybe manage the race with a pit stop less then most other teams.

  15. Tim (@grez76) said on 19th April 2014, 22:58

    Hulk’s 3rd sector time is impressive, he split the Mercs. I don’t expect to see him being stuck behind slower cars for too long tomorrow.

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