Formula One followers are getting excited about the prospect of Ferrari posing a championship threat to Mercedes but one thinks that the Silver Arrows will return to winning ways in the Chinese Grand Prix, with Lewis Hamilton out in front.
Sebastian Vettel won the Malaysian Grand Prix – his first victory since the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix that was his ninth consecutive win – but the Ferrari driver triumphed because of tactics rather than the performance of his car.
Vettel qualified second fastest for the Malaysian Grand Prix so one is willing to accept that Ferrari had closed the gap on Mercedes between the first race and the second race of the season. However, if ever a race was decided by the pit-lane brains trusts, it was the Malaysian Grand Prix because Ferrari’s decision not to pit Vettel during the early safety car proved to be the race-winning move.
Assisted greatly by a brilliant strategic call, Vettel held on to beat Hamilton by more than eight seconds, with Nico Rosberg just a few seconds behind his Mercedes teammate. Break down the Malaysian Grand Prix, however, and it is obvious that Mercedes had a significant performance edge over Ferrari and that, had tactics not come into it, the result would have been a quinella for the Silver Arrows.
Vettel’s fastest lap in the Malaysian Grand Prix was more than 1.5 seconds slower than the quickest one that Rosberg recorded and more than 0.5 seconds slower than Hamilton’s best effort. Dig even deeper into the Malaysian Grand Prix statistics and one finds that Hamilton set six lap times that were quicker than anything that Vettel posted and Rosberg did six faster laps than his teammate’s finest.
In short, one does not expect Ferrari to get the better of Mercedes in the Chinese Grand Prix. Dry weather is forecast for Shanghai and the Shanghai International Circuit features a 1.17-kilometre straight on which one expects Mercedes to have an advantage over its rivals. That was the case last year when Hamilton qualified fastest for the Chinese Grand Prix – he was nearly six-tenths of a second quicker than everyone else – and the British driver led the race from start to finish, posting an extremely comfortable win.
Hamilton likes the Shanghai International Circuit, which has hosted every edition of the Chinese Grand Prix since it made its bow on the Formula One calendar in 2004. Hamilton boasts two Chinese Grand Prix victories (2008 and 2014) and he has four pole positions from his seven starts (2007, 2008, 2013 and 2014). Factor in that Mercedes-powered cars have taken out five of the last seven Chinese Grand Prix races and the case for supporting Hamilton, even at odds on, is strong.
Several bookmakers, including Betfred, Coral and Ladbrokes, are quoting odds of -152 about Hamilton winning the Chinese Grand Prix. One thinks that bookmakers and the Formula One public have overreacted to Vettel’s Malaysian Grand Prix success, thereby inflating Hamilton’s odds. Also one could argue that Rosberg, who is trading at odds of +300 with many bookmakers, including PaddyPower and WilliamHill, represents some Chinese Grand Prix value. However, Rosberg does not seem to be in the right head space right now, with his post-Malaysian Grand Prix comments suggesting that everything is not hunky dory with the German driver.
Time will tell if Ferrari is going to make Mercedes sweat but anyone who backs Vettel at odds of +500 with a host of bookmakers to win the Chinese Grand Prix is taking a leap of faith. After all, Mercedes stars Hamilton and Rosberg were the fastest two drivers in both Australia and Malaysia when one looks at qualifying and race laps.