Teams gather in China for landmark 1000th Formula One Grand Prix

From the first ever official Formula One Grand Prix won by Giuseppe ‘Nino’ Farina at Silverstone back in 1950, to Lewis Hamilton’s win in Bahrain a fortnight ago, the pinnacle of motorsport is now only a race away from reaching a landmark 1000th GP.

The build-up to this weekend’s landmark Chinese Grand Prix has already been huge, with added importance assigned to much of the pre-race PR activity and it will be a special weekend for all involved. Yet, when the first wheels are turned in anger, the real business in hand will be of scoring valuable points and, for the leading protagonists, winning the race.

And, after the heartbreak of seeing his Ferrari lose power with only a handful of laps remaining in Bahrain and eventually finishing third, new star Charles Leclerc is hopeful of getting that breakthrough victory this weekend.

“I don’t know the Shanghai track that well, having only raced there once, last year,” said Leclerc in the team’s official preview. “I have good memories of qualifying, less so of the race itself. But overall, I like the track a lot because there are many different types of corner that you don’t find elsewhere on the calendar, especially turn 1, and also 13 which leads onto the long straight. Usually, the Chinese race is good fun, because the weather can be unpredictable and rain can arrive when you least expect it. It’s the thousandth race in the history of Formula 1 and I hope the car will be as good as it was in Bahrain, so that I can continue to go for the results we deserve.”

It won’t be easy for the young Monegasque, with illustrious teammate Sebastian Vettel keen to get his championship campaign off and running with a first win of the season. And after their rivals’ seemingly dominant weekend in Bahrain, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff sees Ferrari as the favourites heading into the weekend.

“Bahrain was very strong [for Ferrari] — straight-line performance is unbelievable,” said Wolff. “The power they have displayed is unmatched by anybody. There was, I think in qualifying, five-tenths on the straights only. That is really difficult to compete with.

“It’s not the drag. It’s never one silver bullet or one simple action, but the drag levels we have calculated would have been 0.1s maybe in difference. It’s sheer power. So we have to get used to this level of performance, in my opinion, and see Melbourne as the outlier.”

Much has changed at Silverstone since that inaugural grand prix back in 1950 and the SportPesa Racing Point now has its very own ‘Acronis Mission Control Centre’ based there. And with the team managing back to back points finishes in the opening two races, drivers Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll are looking forward to ‘unlocking more potential’ in China.

“I hope we can be more competitive than we were in Bahrain because it’s a different sort of track,” said Stroll. “There’s a nice flow with some quick corners and it’s fun to drive. It’s a very wide track in places with one of the longest straights of the year. We often see some drag races down to the final hairpin and it is probably the best overtaking opportunity of the lap.

“We struggled with the balance of the car in Bahrain and it’s something we worked to improve during the test last week. We are still learning how to maximise the current aero package, but it feels as though we are moving in the right direction. I think we can unlock more potential from the car this weekend in China.”

For teammate Perez, both the challenge of the circuit and the milestone mark means that it’s a weekend to be savoured.

“The track itself is a challenge,” added Perez. “When I think of China, I think of turn one. It’s a tricky corner: very long and it is difficult to be precise, so even the smallest mistake through there is costly and frustrating. It’s a front limited track, so you need to find a balance to get the front tyres working through the long and quick corners. It’s a very technical track generally.

“As it’s the 1000th race, I’ve been thinking about some of the races I remember watching when I was younger. The first race I attended as a fan was Indianapolis in 2002 when I was twelve years old. It was the prize after winning a karting race in Miami organised by Juan Pablo Montoya.”

As emphasised by Perez, the challenging Shanghai International Circuit will put a lot of emphasis on tyres and compound choice, the right-hand tight turns 1, 2, 3 and 6 putting high loads onto the front left tyres as well as the quicker Turns 11, 12 and 13 that precede the long straight.

Add to this the fact that ambient temperatures are set to be cool this weekend, many teams will struggle with graining and it could be a multiple stopper, adding more to the excitement of what is bound to be another fascinating race weekend.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.