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F1: Chinese Grand Prix preview – settling down for a long run in Shanghai

What with all the growing excitement over next weekend’s London Marathon, we can’t help but feel that the Formula One field goes into this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix looking like nothing so much as the opening stages of the nation’s most popular footslog.

A pack has broken away from the main field of runners which, barring disasters, should contain the eventual winner. Running comfortably in that pack are both Ferrari drivers and probably both Red Bull drivers too.


McLaren’s Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton are hanging valiantly onto the back, in the position that was traditionally occupied by former national heroine Paula Radcliffe, not getting dropped but not in a position to challenge for the lead yet.

Mercedes GP, by contrast, are showing signs of falling away while Renault (or at least Robert Kubica) has the leaders in sight but can’t quite catch them.

As far as the F1 season is concerned we’re in the equivalent of that grim section in the back streets of Woolwich where there aren’t many landmarks you recognise and it’s a question of getting this bit over so we can move on to more scenic racing.

OK, we might have been a little harsh there. But not totally inaccurate either.

So, what would add interest to the Chinese Grand Prix, given that we also might not get quite the normal level of service from the F1 community on sites like Facebook and Twitter that we’ve come to rely on?

Well, the weather has been a great source of entertainment so far – either by chucking everything it has at the racetrack at key moments during the weekend, as happened in Australia, or by providing the opposite of what was confidently predicted, as happened in Malaysia.

While Friday and Saturday are probably going to be dry, rain is forecast for race day on Sunday so we might be looking at another wet grand prix.

With Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes all losing one or more drivers thanks to reliability problems in the first three races there’s also potentially much fun and profit to be had in playing exploding engine bingo, especially if one’s bookmaker is involved.

The midfield will likely contain a mildly intriguing instalment in the battle for supremacy between Williams, Toro Rosso and Force India.

The latter’s team principal Vijay Mallya expressed the view recently that his squad can finish fifth in the constructors’ championship, thus beating either Mercedes GP or Renault, which should provide a nuggety little challenge for the Silverstone-based outfit.

Sauber have, if we’re honest, dropped back into the GT-class competition going on at the back of the grid while the big beasts are racing the prototype equivalents.

Our view: it’s a victory that they got a car on track at all this year, given the upheavals caused by BMW’s departure and just keeping going is a significant achievement. They should really be planning to be back in the game in 2011.

There have been some interesting noises coming from Hispania’s Colin Kolles, taking time out from his feud with Dallara to discuss bringing in an “experienced driver” with a German newspaper.

The aim is to provide a benchmark with which to judge his rookie drivers, at which point the nation shouted with one voice: “Ant Davidson!” But it’s not as if there’d be a shortage of candidates.

In other veteran news, Red Bull’s David Coulthard is set to resume his Formula One career this weekend – well, not exactly, but he is the official reserve driver for both the mothership and for Toro Rosso in the absence of their usual junior personnel – they’re all on duty at the year’s opening Formula Renault 3.5 event at Motorland Aragon.

So, should Sebastian Vettel or Mark Webber suffer personal reliability issues, he could be back in a front-running car with the chance of turning unlucky 13 grand prix wins into a more amenable 14. Of course this will not happen, it’s a complete pipe dream, but a pleasant one as we hope you’ll agree.

Lastly, this could be actually be our final visit to the uninspiring Tilkedrome that is the Shanghai International Circuit.

It seems that someone other than the TV viewers of the world has finally noticed that it only attracts a handful of spectators, all of whom are instructed to cluster around the presenters of any TV segment whenever the cameras are switched on.

China has no contract for next year and there’s been no news about its deal being extended – although there is always the possibility of an announcement this weekend and the car manufacturers are certainly keen to return.

With Bernie Ecclestone keen to rejig the calendar for 2011, and given his usual sense of priorities, it seems perversely logical that we’ll have the usual scares about Monza, the Nurburgring and Spa-Francorchamps while hanging on to this white elephant.


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