Chinese Grand Prix 2015: Five questions ahead of return of Formula One
Can Ferrari make a concerted push after a surprise win in Malaysia? And four other questions ahead of Shanghai.
1) Can Ferrari keep up with Mercedes?
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have not been the happiest of bedfellows over the past year. Internal warfare, and the pace of Mercedes, concentrated their minds solely on each other. Outside competition was largely non-existent.
All this was changed by Sebastian Vettel’s win in Malaysia. Hamilton and Rosberg even posted a picture on Twitter after a visit for the team’s Northamptonshire headquarters, explaining how they planned to reassert their authority over Ferrari.
This new dynamic is not only good for Formula One, it probably will help keep the heat out of the pair’s turbulent relationship. If their gaze is focussed on keeping Ferrari at bay, there is less time (and tolerance at a management level) for any internecine shenanigans. The onus is on Ferrari to keep chase.
2) Will Rosberg bounce back?
The bad news if Ferrari do make a serious fight of this championship is it means support within Mercedes will naturally gravitate towards the faster man. At the moment, that leaves Rosberg playing second fiddle.
The German has had an unusually messy start to the year. Qualifying, so often his strength in 2014, has been poor. And in race trim, Hamilton has been comfortably quicker.
It was telling that in the two-time champion’s post-Malaysia media briefing he said: “I really wasn’t happy with my balance. I mean, Nico was catching me…” There followed a wry smile and an admirable attempt at biting his tongue.
Rosberg’s ability to remain calm behind the wheel, understanding the race as it unfolds, seems to have deserted him too. He needs to reverse this worrying decline in form. Time is of the essence.
3) How bad will McLaren be?
The McLaren press release arrived earlier this week and it was hardly one to brighten the mood. First Fernando Alonso: “I don’t think our car package will be as well suited here as it was in Malaysia.”
And then Jenson Button, who has been exceptionally cheery of late: “China’s two long straights – each preceded by slow- to medium-speed corners – will place extra emphasis on the power-unit. And there is a feeling that the expected cooler weather will make it hard to generate tyre temperature – which could mean that any progress we make doesn’t necessarily translate to a laptime benefit.”
That’s all PR-speak for, ‘we’re going to be pretty hopeless. Don’t expect anything.’
One can hardly blame the team. They know they are slow, and will be painfully slow here, with China’s absurdly long back straight. But it shows how far the mighty have fallen. It’s a long journey back to the front.
4) Any sign of the FIA?
With the FIA’s current president mostly silent, it has been left to the former president to do most of the talking for the federation in the last year or so.
Jean Todt, inherently distrustful of the media, rarely speaks publicly on anything, whereas Max Mosley is becoming more visible with each passing month (you can tell he has a book coming out later this year…)
His latest intervention was one of his most strident. Mosley warned F1 is heading for “collapse” unless the teams sort themselves out and all agree to his favourite idea: the cost cap.
But perhaps we might see more of Todt soon. From this month, the FIA has employed a new director of communications. Pierre Regent has gone to work for his old boss, Nicolas Sarkozy (while a bright, affable guy, motorsport never seemed to be his thing) and Olivier Fisch, a former commercial director at Eurosport, has replaced him.
The task for Fisch is enormous: rehabilitate the FIA and make it seem relevant to Formula One once more.
5) What now for Renault?
Criticised from all sides and still struggling to be competitive, Renault have been thrown a bone by Red Bull. The drinks giant says it might consider painting the Toro Rosso cars yellow to give the French manufacturer a bit more exposure.
This is an entirely short-term fix. Renault either needs to pile money into Formula One with its own team, or place all its eggs in the Formula E basket.