Chinese GP: Preview & five predictions for Shanghai

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Formula 1 heads to Asia for round three of the 2019 season, the Chinese Grand Prix.

Since joining the calendar in 2004, Shanghai has always been considered a crucial event for F1 as it looks to capture the world's biggest market.

Much like America though, that endeavour hasn't been as successful as hoped yet the race itself is always a highlight because of the thrilling action it provides.

This year is extra special as F1 celebrates the 1000th world championship Grand Prix, and another enticing battle between Mercedes and Ferrari is on the cards.

That's because, in Bahrain, the Scuderia struck back after their steady start in Australia by having the fastest car by quite some margin in the Middle East.

On Sunday though, they again caused their own problems as Sebastian Vettel spun out fighting Lewis Hamilton, and Charles Leclerc was robbed of victory by an engine issue.

The expectation is that the Italian team will continue to set the pace in the Far East, the question is will they have the reliability and composure to get the job done?

China: A race of firsts and one last

Based on recent success, it would appear likely that the Chinese Grand Prix would benefit Mercedes as they have won five of the last seven years in Shanghai.

Indeed, it was at this race in 2012 that Nico Rosberg scored his maiden F1 win and the first for the German manufacturer since returning as a works team in 2010.

Sebastian Vettel also claimed Red Bull's first triumph on a rainy day in 2009, with teammate Mark Webber completing a one-two for the Milton Keynes outfit.

China did see one memorable last though, as Michael Schumacher took his 91st and final F1 win in 2006.

Other notable races include 2007, when Hamilton's championship hopes were dented in a small gravel trap entering the pits, with Kimi Raikkonen going on to take the title in the Brazil decider.

Last year, it was Daniel Ricciardo who produced an overtaking masterclass after Red Bull decided to pit during a mid-race Safety Car to take the win, with his pass on Valtteri Bottas one of the best all season.

Shanghai's special swoops

Image result for shanghai circuit layout

The Shanghai International Circuit took inspiration from the Chinese symbol for 'Shang' and features a unique variety of long radius corners combined with the second longest single straight on the calendar.

Turns 1 & 2 complete a full 270 degrees before finally switching back left for the hairpin of Turn 3, with the acceleration zone proving crucial as drivers can get a run on the car ahead for an overtake into the next hairpin at Turn 6.

The same is true after a small chicane at Turns 11 and 12 which leads into the banked Turn 13 and eventually onto the 1.2km back straight.

Surpassing 210mph, the hairpin at the end is one of the best overtaking zones of the year and has seen numerous incidents and moments over the year.

None more so than last year when Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel made contact.

The final corner is always tricky as drivers try to carry as much speed as possible onto the start/finish straight but the Astroturf on the outside can spin cars into the wall, particularly when wet.

Because of the high-speed and long radius turns, tyre wear can be an issue with Pirelli opting to bring the middle three compounds of their range.

Predictions

1. Leclerc ready to claim maiden F1 win

After his performance in Bahrain, there are no longer any doubts as to whether Leclerc can compete at the front in F1 and for him, the sky really is the limit this season.

Even better for the Monegasque, the engine problem which cost him victory shouldn't be repeated and with the confidence he gained, he will be tough to beat this weekend.

Ferrari though may not have the kind of advantage that Mercedes suggest and experience in Shanghai could be a mark against Leclerc, but really there is a lot more to suggest the 21-year-old can get the job done on Sunday.

2. Verstappen to challenge for the podium

Perhaps still the big unknown this season is Red Bull who featured strongly in Australia thanks to Max Verstappen but struggled to get the tyres working in Bahrain.

As last year's win for Ricciardo showed though, the team can be much more competitive in the technical sections and their Honda engine may give them a leg up down the straight.

To challenge for victory, the one thing the Dutchman may need is some rain, but whatever the conditions he can certainly put a charge on for the final podium place.

3. Renault to finally make midfield claim

From any angle, Renault's start to 2019 has been abysmal, whether it's their lack of qualifying pace or the poor reliability of their engines.

Having got the wake-up call in Bahrain though, that might just translate into an improvement in China, where upgrades are expected.

It's also clear that the car has strong long-run pace, with both drivers having run well inside the top 10 during races and eventually that will reap the rewards providing the car runs reliably.

4. McLaren to maintain momentum

McLaren has been the surprise package of 2019 with Bahrain marking the first time since Singapore 2017 that both drivers had made Q3 in qualifying.

Lando Norris followed that up with sixth place in the race, but ahead of the trip to Shanghai, there has been a warning that perhaps the circuit won't suit the car as well.

Despite that, I still have confidence in the British outfit to continue their promising start because when on form, McLaren does have the ability to optimise their result.

5. Racing Point ready to disrupt

Such is the competition in the midfield, the order between the six teams is likely to vary race-by-race based on how each car suits each track and who can extract the most from their package.

At Racing Point, that is very much the case as they performed well in Australia but could never get in the groove in Bahrain.

China though offers a different challenge and as they continue to learn and evolve their car, Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll will become a threat and that may well be the case this weekend.

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