It was a tough time for all three British drivers in Malaysia last weekend, for a range of different reasons.Embed from Getty Images
Prior to the start of the 2015 Formula 1, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Will Stevens may have been forgiven for thinking the year would pan out slightly differently. Although currently top of the standings, world champion Hamilton was expecting another dominant Mercedes show battling rival Nico Rosberg, rather than having to fend off the resurgent Ferrari and, particularly, Sebastian Vettel. Button rode out a frustrating 2014 to sign a new contract, teaming up with Fernando Alonso in the new Honda partnership that should have been extremely promising, but in reality has led to McLaren struggling to even make Q2, never mind finishing a race at all.
New full-time racer Will Stevens has had it tougher than most. The Manor Marussia driver took part in the season-closer in Abu Dhabi for Caterham last year, which is significantly longer than he has spent in a car this year. His new team failed to do any running in Australia and, although he posteed decent times in practice last week, he suffered “complex fuel problems” and had to watch as team-mate Roberto Mehri took part in his stead.
Manor’s sporting director Graeme Lowdon has had to fend off conspiracy theories since Stevens’ no-show, with some believing they are unable to run two cars at once: “I can guarantee you if that car could have moved, it would have raced,” Lowdon told racing website Autosport. “The systems and the people were perfectly happy with the results of everything in [practice] one, two and three from that point of view, and if you look at the run plans we weren’t going round and round and round in one, two and three because we had very specific tasks in ticking things off.
“Quali we had very clear run planning for both cars, and we would have definitely raced with two cars.”
In Stevens’ mind, Manor are only going in one direction. “There were some positive signs at Sepang with the running I was able to achieve, so I’m looking forward to building on that here in China. It’s been good to have the data from Roberto’s race there for the team to work with and I’m hoping that we can start to get into a good rhythm from this weekend. It’s always good to tackle a circuit I’ve never raced at before and this one has some nice challenges for both car and driver, so it will be good to experience those and to start getting to grips with the car a little more.”
At the other end of the grid, Lewis Hamilton is likely to be pushing his already stellar performance at previous Shanghai meetings and is the favourite for pole and outright victory once again. Just ahead of Vettel in the standings, he has won 3 times in China, as well as securing 4 poles, 2 fastest laps and 6 podiums in all, whilst leading more laps than any other driver. “Shanghai is one of my favourite locations – simply because of the fans. I don’t know how, but from the moment we land at the airport they know we’re there. It really is amazing to see the support we get. The circuit itself is a different challenge to Albert Park and Sepang – but it’s one I really enjoy and it suits my driving style quite well.”
However, Hamilton may be hampered by the statistic that shows that, since the inaugural race in 2004, no other driver has ever won consecutive Chinese Grands Prix, so the 2014 winner may end up conceding victory to one of the drivers around him. Despite progress in Sepang and being the man who has led in the most Shanghai races (6), Button doesn’t feel that it will be him. “China’s two long straights – each preceded by slow- to medium-speed corners – will place extra emphasis on the power-unit. And there is a feeling that the expected cooler weather will make it harder to generate tyre temperature – which could mean that any progress we make doesn’t necessarily translate to a laptime benefit.”
The weekend starts this Friday with first practice early in the morning, UK time.