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China GP: Ferrari enters Mercedes F1 territory. Do they still own it?

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China GP: Ferrari enters Mercedes F1 territory. Do they still own it?
Apr 12, 2018, 7:28 AM

Ferrari has won the first two races of the season on merit - well maybe with a slice of luck in Australia too.

Ferrari has won the first two races of the season on merit - well maybe with a slice of luck in Australia too.

Now they enter the lion's den, or maybe the dragon's den, in Shanghai.

This one is about pride for Mercedes. They have made mistakes in Australia (strategy) and Bahrain (Hamilton's gearbox and Bottas' non-overtake)

For Ferrari it's about keeping that momentum going and not allowing Mercedes to rediscover their winning rhythm.

This season is all about Ferrari making the most of a very good car and eliminating the mistakes, human and technical, that cost them the 2017 world championship.

So far they have ticked all the boxes - on Vettel's car at least - and Australia was a great piece of execution by the team and strategist. Bahrain was all about Vettel and his outrageously long stint on soft tyres, judged to perfection, that won the race.

Both sides of the equation will need to be perfect this weekend.

Ferrari's character and resilience has been tested with some dark business in the pit lane; the unsafe release of Raikkonen in practice and again in the race, which also led to a savage double leg fracture for one of its mechanics.

Shanghai a track where Mercedes and Hamilton are traditionally strong. The world champion has won there five times and the Silver Arrows started winning there with Nico Rosberg from pole back in 2012, when Michael Schumacher was his team mate.

Mercedes have been on pole ever since, their best qualifying record at any circuit. The track brings in the first proper high speed corners of the season and that was an area where Mercedes had the legs on Ferrari last season. Ferrari has lengthened its car slightly this season, in an effort to compensate, albeit not as long a wheelbase as Mercedes.

So this race should be an interesting acid test of whether that detailed change has had the desired effect. Mercedes needed to correct some 'diva' tendencies in its car from last year and so far the jury is out. The car looked after its rear supersoft tyres in the race better in Bahrain than last year, but they had some urgent work to do after Bahrain on qualifying pace.

Weirdly the Mercedes was not top of the time sheets in any session there; the first time that's happened since hybrid turbos were introduced in 2014.

Williams need to steady the ship

At the other end of the grid, Williams need to bounce back this weekend. Morale was very low after the Bahrain Grand Prix where the cars were utterly uncompetitive. Williams - who finished third in the constructors table in 2014 and 2015, have been on he slide since and are the only team without a point so far. Worse still they haven’t completed a single lap in a points paying position so far...

Holes opened up in the rear bodywork told their own story; that's always a real killer for the aerodynamics when you have to do that. But they couldn't get the soft tyre working and at times in the race Sirotkin and Stroll were significantly slower than the Sauber on medium tyres. That shouldn't happen.

One can only imagine the behind the scenes 'pep-talks' Lance Stroll's father Lawrence may have been giving Paddy Lowe, Rob Smedley and the technical team.

It was interesting to see how engaged Robert Kubica was behind the scenes in Bahrain. They could do worse than sending him out on a research mission in FP1 in Shanghai to bring his experience to bear. That's a delicate on though, as it implies that the team is paying a price for choosing a line up with two inexperieced drivers.

The tyre strategy is bound to play a part in this race; Pirelli is doing an experiment with ultrasoft -soft-medium; in other words the qualifying tyre is two steps softer than the next softest compound.

How long the ultrasoft tyre lasts in the race and how big the performance step is in qualifying between the ultrasoft and the soft will be critical pieces of information to glean. Teams without a perfect tyre model will really suffer.

Whereas Bahrain was all about looking after the rear tyres, Shanghai is the opposite. Those two long corners hammer the fronts and that is the limitation at this track to watch out for.

The weather often plays a role in Shanghai, especially rain. This year the forcast is for a dry race with a 60% chance of some showers on Friday and Saturday.

All photos: Motorsport Images

What are you keeping an eye out for this weekend in China? Leave your comments in the section below.

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