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China preview - Mercedes duo ready to fight it out again

17 Apr 2014

After their electrifying battle for the lead in Bahrain just under two weeks ago, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg go into the 2014 Formula 1 UBS Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai with victory on their minds once more. The question is, if, as expected, Mercedes emerge as the pacesetters again, which one of their drivers will get the upper hand?

Hamilton comes to Shanghai seeking a third consecutive victory, in order to further reduce the 11-point difference to his team mate at the top of the world championship table, while Rosberg will be looking for his second triumph of 2014 and a repeat of his breakthrough win at the same circuit in 2012.

“It's been good to have a bit of a break after such a long stint away (from home) but I'm already looking forward to getting back in the car,” Hamilton says. “The race in Bahrain was fantastic: not just for us as a team but for the sport and I'm sure it won't be the last time we see a great show this year. I'm in a really good place at the moment and walking around the garage too, you can see the positive energy within the team right now. Everyone is focused on getting the maximum from these early races and continuing to build beyond the strong start we've made to the season.

“I've had some ups and downs in China. On one side I've only finished outside of the podium places twice at this circuit. On the other, in my first season in Formula One I threw away a championship lead here by going into the gravel coming into the pits. Generally, though, I'm getting stronger every time I come to this track and it suits my driving style quite well. The aim, as always, is to win and if I could make it three in a row this weekend that would be incredible.”

Rosberg says: “Even though the last race was a bit disappointing from my perspective in terms of the result, it's been great to see all the positive comments that came afterwards. We've demonstrated already that we're pushing harder than ever to stay ahead of the pack. It will only get more difficult as the season goes on but I've got confidence in the team. Every day and in every area you can see that determination to win. This gives you a big boost as a driver: to know the people around you want it just as badly as you do.

“I've got good memories from China after taking my first pole position and race win in Formula One at this circuit in 2012. The layout seems to suit my driving style, it's a track I enjoy racing at and I want to be back on that top step of the podium this weekend.”

Meanwhile, Paddy Lowe, Mercedes’ technical chief says: “After two consecutive one-two finishes, there's a good atmosphere within the team. We were pleased to put on a good show in Bahrain and our confidence in the performance of the car continues to grow. We also have two highly competitive drivers in Lewis and Nico which is exactly how racing drivers should be and exactly what the fans want to see. The fans in China are always very enthusiastic, so hopefully we can give them some more entertainment this weekend.

“The Shanghai International Circuit has traditionally been one of contrasting fortunes for the team. 2012 marked the first win for the Silver Arrows since returning to Formula One two years earlier, while 2013 produced a podium finish. However, both also saw retirements for one of our cars and the latter arguably should have yielded a better result after a strong qualifying performance. It's a challenging circuit from both a driver's perspective and on the technical side. The layout itself is different to that of the previous three venues this season, with more duty put through the front tyres. Strong engine performance is essential for the long straight but equally there are some tight corners requiring good traction. Despite the challenges, we're optimistic about the overall strength of our package and looking forward to another good weekend.”

While the Silver Arrows are enjoying being in the spotlight, both Red Bull and Ferrari arrive in China licking wounds.

The former lost their appeal earlier this week against Daniel Ricciardo’s exclusion from second place at the season opening race in Australia for fuel flow irregularities, and are now buckling down to getting the best out of the extremely promising but occasionally troubled RB10.

"Infiniti Red Bull Racing accepts the ruling of the International Court of Appeal today," the team said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

"We are of course disappointed by the outcome and would not have appealed if we didn't think we had a very strong case. We always believed we adhered to the technical regulations throughout the 2014 Australian Grand Prix. We are sorry for Daniel (Ricciardo) that he will not be awarded the 18 points from the event, which we think he deserved.

“We will continue to work very hard to amass as many points as possible for the team, Daniel and Sebastian (Vettel) throughout the season. We will now move on from this and concentrate on this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix."

Ferrari come to Shanghai on the back of a disappointing race in Bahrain in which Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen could only manage ninth and tenth places respectively. It will be the Scuderia’s first race for many seasons without the popular Stefano Domenicali, who resigned as team principal on Monday. His replacement, Marco Mattiacci, steps in to undertake his first Grand Prix in charge of the Italian team, whose short-term goal is to become the second-best team on the grid. The 42 year-old Italian comes very highly rated by Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo after his work for the company in the Middle East and America, but it’s likely to be some time before any impact he can make might be felt.

On current form, the three other Mercedes-powered teams - Williams, Force India and McLaren - are likely to present very strong podium challenges. In particular, Sir Frank Williams’ Grove-based team are seeking to realise the true potential of the FW36 after the safety car intervention in Bahrain spoiled their chances of bagging the podium finish that eventually went to Force India’s Sergio Perez.

Like Mercedes, it is not just the fight for overall position that is fascinating here, but the intra-team battles - between Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas at Williams, Nico Hulkenberg and Perez at Force India, and Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen at McLaren - that makes this aspect so exciting and unpredictable.

Elsewhere, Toro Rosso will also be seeking a big result after flashes of promise from their STR9 as Daniil Kvyat continues his impressive form and Jean-Eric Vergne will try to stay out of trouble on the opening lap; Lotus’s uphill struggle continues, not helped by the five-place grid penalty that Pastor Maldonado carries over from Bahrain; and Marussia and Caterham will take up the cudgels again in their see-saw fight to close the gap to their lower midfield rivals.

Just two driver changes are currently expected for Friday's opening practice, with Giedo van der Garde stepping into Sutil's car at Sauber, and Felipe Nasr getting another outing for Williams in place of Bottas.

The Shanghai circuit poses a challenge to the teams in that 80 percent of the lap is spent negotiating a variety of long-radius and high-speed corners, whilst the remaining 20 percent is spent on the track’s two long straights. A high-downforce package is crucial to a good lap time, as is choosing the correct engine map in order to minimise wheelspin and thus avoid potential damage to the tyres on what is quite a demanding track for the rubber.

Pirelli have selected their white-marked medium and yellow-marked soft tyres for a race at which strategy has often proved critical.

“With this being the third race featuring the combination of medium and soft this year, coming shortly after the Bahrain test, the teams are beginning to accumulate more knowledge of how our tyres work with the complex 2014-specification cars,” says motorsport director Paul Hembery. “As a result, tyre strategy is starting to become a bigger factor in the races. China is a circuit that has showcased the effectiveness of a good tyre strategy in the past, so the teams will be hoping to put their data from the first part of the season to good use and explore some of the strategy options available with our latest-generation P Zero tyres.

“We’ve seen changeable weather at Shanghai before, so as always the ability to assimilate information quickly according to changing circumstances will be the key to getting the most out of them.”

The weather ahead of this year’s race is, once again, looking unsettled and that will also have an effect on whether DRS can be used. Shanghai’s 1.3km back straight has traditionally provided the best place for drivers to make a DRS-assisted overtake, and as usual the first of the two DRS zones will be placed on it. It begins 752m before the Turn 14 hairpin, with the detection point at Turn 12. The second zone’s detection point is 35m before Turn 16, with activation occurring 98m after Turn 16.

Sunday’s race will be run over 56 laps or 305.066 kilometres (189.559 miles). It starts at 1500 hours local time, which is eight hours ahead of GMT.