Who can stop Mercedes? It’s the question on everyone’s lips this weekend as Formula One heads to China for the fourth round of the 2014 season; and it’s the Silver Arrows who are firmly in control after three straight victories from the first three races.
With heads rolling at Ferrari, appeals lost at Red Bull and a double DNF for McLaren in Bahrain, it seems none of Merc’s main rivals are in an ideal position to halt the onslaught in the smog of Shanghai. So who do we turn to in our hopes for a different winner atop the rostrum?
Mercedes Secrets Revealed
A key ingredient of the recipe of Mercedes success was uncovered after the Bahrain Grand Prix, the secret being traced to the splitting of the compressor (the front of the engine) and the turbine (the rear of the engine) – a setup that allows Mercedes runners to run smaller intercoolers and thus save weight, combined with an added ability to get more out of the turbo – ie Mercedes engines are smaller, lighter, more reliable and more powerful than their Ferrari and Renault counterparts.
But why is it only Mercedes AMG benefiting so much? Essentially, the F1W05 is a good car. Even without the engine advantage, it would likely be the class of the field; the engine gives it the extra edge it needs. Red Bull are undoubtedly the closest rivals to Merc on pure aerodynamic performance – as if you’d expect anything less of Adrian Newey – with McLaren lurking somewhere not too far behind.
Williams and Force India
Williams and Force India fought brilliantly in Bahrain with the likes of McLaren and Red Bull, beating Ferrari fairly and squarely into 9th and 10th places. While it was not the form Williams delivered in pre-season testing, its miles better than 2013 and a step up from their Australian and Malaysian form. That it was Sergio Perez in the Force India that exploded from the melee to seize the final podium spot added more spice to what is an exciting and intriguing battle behind the Mercedes pair. This weekend will be as much about who finishes 3rd as the fight between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg for the win.
McLaren plumbed the depths of despair in Bahrain, a strong run from Jenson Button coming to nought when a clutch failure stole chances of a podium with the chequered flag all but in sight. The Briton believed he could have been 3rd if not for the failure, though team-mate Kevin Magnussen couldn’t quite get sorted out and was disappointed with his own performance. Ron Dennis spoke to reporters earlier this week and reacted defensively when the subject of McLaren protege Stoffel Vandoorne was broached. Claiming ousting Perez in favour of Magnussen was his idea and that it was he who pushed to snaffle Button from Brawn at the end of 2009 was as much a statement of ownership as it was setting the record straight. Dennis rubbished suggestions he was considering Vandoorne to replace Button at the end of 2014, saying unless Button suffered a dire and serious loss of form between now and November there was no reason to dump the 2009 World Champion.
Shanghai’s smog was as in evidence as ever when F1 rolled into the city over the last few days, lending the race that peculiar veil of grey that it has ‘enjoyed’ ever since it’s inception in 2004; F1’s eco credentials seem to do little to change habits here with the sport still regarded with a measure of mistrust and confusion by the locals.
Not that that will be bothering Mercedes, who have gone strongly here ever since their 2010 return; 3rd for Rosberg in 2010, a strong showing in 2011 and victory in 2012 was evidence of this and only serves to strike greater dread of the inevitable into their rival’s hearts. With DRS zones unmoved since 2013 and F1’s longest straight still very much in existence blunting the Red Bull challenge even further, it is merely a question of whether Rosberg or Hamilton will be on top come Sunday.
Rain is provisionally forecast for qualifying, with Friday and Sunday predicted to be cool but dry. Temperatures are forecast to get no higher than 19’c under the layer of pollution that covers the city.