After another week off, the Formula One stars are back at it this week with the Heineken Chinese Grand Prix (2 a.m. ET/ESPN 2). This race will mark the third of the 2019 season as everyone will try to keep pace with the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
Can Mercedes win a third straight race out of the gates of the season or will someone else stop them?
Here are the five storylines for this weekend’s race.
Can Ricciardo Get Going?
What a tough start to his new contract with Renault that its been for Daniel Ricciardo. He’s DNF’d in both races to start 2019 off with scoring 18th place finishes in each. Now, he heads to a track where he’s the defending race winner at.
Ricciardo, won last year with Red Bull, in a Renault I might add, for his first podium finish in seven career tries. While a win seems light years away for the Australian native, he’d just like to finish in points which is something that he’s done for six straight years in China.
In fact, Ricciardo has three fourth place finish in the last five years.
Will Gasly Step Up?
Max Verstappen is off to a decent start to the season in scoring a third place finish in Australia and a fourth place run last week in Bahrain. If not for a late race caution for the Renault’s, Verstappen was headed towards another third place finish instead.
But, here he is heading to a track to where he finished third in 2017 and fifth last year. His No. 33 Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda should be a contender for at the very least a top five, but even quite possibly a podium.
What about his teammate?
Pierre Gasly has struggled out of the gates in 2019. He didn’t make it past Q1 in Australia and failed to get into the final round in Bahrain. That’s hampered his results as he’s finished in the points just once (8th last race).
Last year, he was only 18th in China. Can he improve and get near the top five on Sunday?
Will Anyone Stop Mercedes?
The Ferrari’s have more speed, but they can’t seem to get out of their own way. Mercedes dominated the show in the season opener in Australia but were gifted a 1-2 finish in the last race in Bahrain. Now, they have to enter as the favorites because of their dominance.
Since the start of the 2014 season, Mercedes has won 76 of the last 102 races. The next best is Ferrari at 14. Red Bull is the only other team to have won and they’ve only won 12 times themselves.
Red Bull has struggled with their second year driver Pierre Gasly this season (11th, 8th) and Ferrari has made mistake after mistake. Plus, in that same time frame, Hamilton has won 52 of the 76 races for Mercedes.
On top of all of that, Mercedes has won four of the last five races at the Shanghai International Circuit to go along with seven of the last nine overall.
Hamilton, has won three of the last five years and looks like the absolute favorite.
Did Ferrari Fix Their Mistakes?
Ferrari claims that they have found the issue that plagued Charles LeClerc from winning in Bahrain. See, LeClerc was well on his way to earning his first career F1 victory in the Middle Eastern desert. He won the pole and dominated the race itself. Then, his engine practically quit on him and took him from a win to a third place finish.
Sebastian Vettel had a second place car but made a costly error when he was battling Lewis Hamilton for that position. He’d spin and finish fifth as a result.
All weekend long, the Ferrari duo were 1-2 in each session including all three rounds of qualifying. The speed is there. The luck isn’t.
If they can get out of their own way this weekend, they could be contenders. The only problem is, they’ve won just once in China since 2008.
Vettel, has three podium finishes in his last four China starts including a runner-up in 2016 and again in 2017. He’s finished outside the top five just twice in 10 tries. The problem is, he’s yet to get on the podium in 2019.
LeClerc, finished 19th in China as a rookie last year but that shouldn’t have any merit on what he can show this weekend. Kimi Raikkonen brought this car home third last year and had four straight top five finishes in China in it.
Impressive Start To The Season For Lando Norris, Kimi Raikkonen
I didn’t expect too much out of either rookie Lando Norris nor veteran Kimi Raikkonen this year to be honest. But, after two races, I’m impressed.
Norris, is a rookie driver for a team that has struggled lately. It’s no secret, McLaren hasn’t been on top of their game in the recent years. So, combine losing a driver of Fernando Alonso’s caliber and pairing a rookie with a younger driver in Carlos Sainz Jr., I didn’t think they’d be one of the top teams not among the “Big 3.”
Norris, finished 12th in the season opener in Australia and was sixth two weeks ago in Bahrain. He’s been impressive.
So has Raikkonen. I know Charles LeClerc had a good year in that car last year, but Raikkonen has taken that ride with Alfa Romero Sauber Racing to a whole new level.
The Finnish driver finished eighth in Melbourne and seventh in Bahrain. He’s the most consistent driver in terms of the ones with midfield teams.
Can both capitalize on their momentum this weekend?