Has Hamilton gone the wrong way on tyres for Chinese GP

The coming race in Shanghai is certainly looking to be a pivotal moment in the F1 V6 Turbo era. Having won the first two races, Vettel is the first Ferrari driver to win back to back GP’s since Fernando Alonso in Italy and Singapore in 2010.

 

Should Vettel make it three in a row at the 2018 Chinese GP, the Tifosi will perceive the hand of destiny to be fully resting their German driver’s shoulder. Because the last Ferrari driver to win three F1 races in a row, was non-other than the Red Team’s legendary saviour, Michael Schumacher.

More crucially, this result would see Lewis Hamilton at best a race win behind Vettel, just three rounds into the 2018 season.

However, don’t underestimate the task set for Maurizio Arrivabene’s men because it is a great one indeed. For them to beat Mercedes this weekend will require a re-writing of the recent history books. The Silver Arrows have bossed matters in China during the V6 era. In fact the roots of their dominance here were laid when Nico Rosberg, then partnered by Michael Schumacher, claimed a maiden win in the China event for the Brackley based team.

Mercedes have since then dominated qualifying claiming pole position year on year.

Two factors are crucial to Ferrari’s success this weekend.

Firstly, Mercedes need to get on top of their tyre difficulties. Last time out in Bahrain it was telling that for the first time in the hybrid era, Mercedes failed to top the time sheets in any of the weekend track sessions.

This means Lewis and Valterri need some solid running in the three hours of practice on Friday to gather data and refine the car which at present appears to be tyre hungry and performing contrary to expectations.

The problem for Merc is that rain is due on Friday.

Big rain, thunder and lightning.

Secondly, the tyres for the Chinese GP were selected by the teams before the first wheel turned in anger in Australia. Pirelli have dropped the super-soft selection they brought in 2017 and replaced it with the ultra-soft, meaning for this weekend we have medium, soft then a gap to ultra-soft.

Mercedes have selected the following for their drivers

Hamilton: 1 medium, 6 soft, 6 ultra-soft

Bottas: 2 medium, 5 soft, 6 ultra-soft

Ferrari have chosen 2 medium, 3 soft, 7 ultra-soft for both drivers.

The 2017 race was the first with the new larger Pirelli tyres, but it was a wet race and so we have little data on how these tyres perform at this circuit.

However, we did see in Bahrain that Mercedes were at their quickest in the race when on the hardest compound available, which Lewis has just one set of this coming weekend.

Further, if we go back to the last dry race in China 2016, Nico Rosberg utilised the two hardest compound (soft/medium) to clock up a Mercedes race win and since then, the Pirelli compounds are believed to have moved 1 whole step softer – The current medium is more like the 2016 soft tyre.

Given the likely warmer temperatures, Mercedes may well smash qualifying like they did in Melbourne, but race pace will be a whole different matter. The car is suffering more than the competition from thermal degradation and on a front limited track this could have serious consequences come Sunday.

With just one set of the medium tyre available, the big question is did Mercedes get badly wrong their post testing selection of tyres for this race for the car they now have? And is Hamilton’s side of the garage staring into the abyss before an F1 wheel turns on Chinese soil in 2018?

 

What to expect for the Chinese GP

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