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. David (@neiana) said on 20th April 2014, 1:54

    If Vettel can somehow manage to take the lead for even a small portion of the first lap, Nico has the best possible chance to win. If Hamilton is unchallenged at all then I don’t see anything happening between them.

  2. AdrianMorse (@adrianmorse) said on 20th April 2014, 2:39

    I think Rosberg qualifying behind the Red Bulls is pretty much irrelevant. Sure, if he would start P10 then we could discuss how long it would take him to pass the cars ahead, and how much time this would lose him to Hamilton, but as it is, recent starting performance suggests he will breeze past the Renault-powered cars before turn one.

    And then it will be a case of who of the Mercedes drivers has the fastest race car on Sunday. Rosberg is confident in his race setup – and mentioned that his poor performance in the wet could partially be attributed to a setup to protect the front left – whereas Lewis admitted to having guessed a setup after a terrible FP2. Who knows, perhaps we will see Hamilton doing three stops and Rosberg two in case Lewis can’t keep his soft tyres alive long enough.

    As for the cars behind them, my prediction HAM ROS RIC VET ALO is still looking pretty good. I think Ricciardo has a good chance to beat Vettel on merit today – he’s starting in front already, he’s had a very good long run on Friday, and also he was very strong at this track last year.

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