Can Ferrari keep the F1 heat on Mercedes in China?

Ferrari fans will be praying that the heat is turned up this weekend in Shanghai – just as it was at Sepang – to cause the Mercedes challenge to wither.

The key to Sebastian Vettel's victory in Malaysia was partly great driving, partly superior race strategy but mainly fantastic tyre management that allowed him to make one less pitstop than the Mercedes.

And that relied a lot on the track temperature that came with the high ambient temperatures.

Now we arrive in Shanghai: a very different prospect. The ambient temperature is forecast to be 19C – pleasantly warm, but nowhere near the sticky heat of Kuala Lumpur. The track surface is highly unlikely to be anywhere near as hot as a result.

Two very different tracks

The circuit, too, has a very different characteristic. Whereas the casual F1 fan believes that all 'Tilkedromes' are the same, Shanghai is poles apart from Sepang as – in terms of tyre wear – it is front-limited as opposed to rear.

Mercedes' problem in Malaysia stemmed from a lack of balance: its rear tyres were degrading faster than the fronts, meaning the back of the car was difficult to control.

In Shanghai, the degradation is harsher on the fronts, due to its unique high-to-low speed Turn 1, the medium-speed Turns 7-8-9-10 switchback sequence, and the punishing banked acceleration zone of Turn 13 that appears to go on forever.

This means you'll first lose grip from the fronts, rather than the rear – remember Kimi Raikkonen dropping like a stone in his Lotus a few years back? A tyre gamble here, like Vettel managed at Sepang, can be truly disastrous.

Straightline speed is key

It also boasts a monster of a back straight, which could also play a part. From what we saw in Malaysia, the Ferrari isn't short of top-end speed, but the Merc still holds sway in the torque stakes.

With DRS in play on two of the straights, this could also play a huge factor in the outcome if it boils down to a late-race duel.

Bear in mind that this was where Nico Rosberg scored the first of his eight grand prix wins for Mercedes in 2012.

But recall too that Fernando Alonso won for Ferrari here in 2013, and Lewis won last season…

And while it might not guarantee another thriller like we enjoyed a fortnight ago, at least we go into a race not 100 per cent certain of the outcome at the front.

And you don't have to be a Ferrari fan to rejoice at that.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Event Chinese GP
Track Shanghai International Circuit
Drivers Kimi Raikkonen , Fernando Alonso , Lewis Hamilton , Nico Rosberg , Sebastian Vettel
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes
Article type Preview