Formula 1 celebrates its 1,000th race this weekend in China with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc hoping it proves to be a memorable occasion for more than one reason. Leclerc was unlucky not to claim his maiden win in Bahrain but could make amends on a track where the Scuderia appear to have a significant advantage over the rest of the grid.
The 21-year-old gave a glimpse of a bright future in a Ferrari last week when taking his first pole position, a maiden podium place and setting the fastest lap at the Sakhir circuit a fortnight ago. However, it could have been so much more had an engine issue not allowed the Mercedes’ of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas to pace him late on.
It was tough to listen to the Monaco man’s desperate pleas over the radio for help as he slipped out of first place – but Shanghai gives him a great chance to bounce back.
The Shanghai International Circuit shares several similarities with Bahrain, favouring teams with straight-line speed as a result of having 1.4km of flat-out straights. That is an area where Ferrari have been dominant with Hamilton admitting there is a significant gap between his Mercedes and the Italian’s charge.
Having outclassed his team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who revealed he is not yet comfortable in this year’s Ferrari, in Bahrain, Leclerc can get the job done to make it a grand day for both he and F1.
The Chinese Grand Prix has been a race Hamilton has enjoyed in the past, winning on five occasions, while he has a record six pole positions to his name.
Despite his dominance in Shanghai, it is his Mercedes teammate Bottas, at slightly more generous odds, that gets the thumbs-up to finish in the top three. The Finn has started 2019 with a bang with a win in Australia and second in Bahrain, while he would have won this race last year but for a late bid from Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Having taken second in 2018, Bottas offers some value to make the podium again in a car which should be significantly quicker than everyone else on track, barring Ferrari.
What a start to life in Formula 1 rookie Lando Norris has had, coming home sixth in Bahrain last time out. The Brit has shown no signs of being overawed after stepping up to drive for McLaren and should go well again in China.
McLaren are fifth of the 10 teams in terms of straight-line speed this year, the switch to Renault engines paying dividends thus far, and Norris could be joined by teammate Carlos Sainz in battling for a points finish.
The Spaniard is 5/8 to break his duck for the year having recorded two DNFs in the first two races.
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