Will fortune favour these five teams in China?

 

After a three week break, it's back. The Formula 1 circus moves on to China for the third round of the 2013 Championship, held at the Shanghai International Circuit. With such little time between the opening two rounds of the season, teams were largely unable to change their fortunes from Melbourne to Sepang. But now we and they have had a three week gap between races; have any of the teams been able to bring significant upgrades and changes to their cars that will help them maintain their standing, or even see them climb up the field? I guess we'll know after Sunday's race. Heading into the weekend, I have selected five teams that I think need a strong weekend in China to help them get back on track after the much talked about events in Malaysia; starting with the race winners, Red Bull.

Red Bull

This may appear to be just a tad odd given the fact the team achieved a 1-2 finish in Malaysia; but given the circumstances surrounding just how it was achieved, Red Bull will need to show just how much of a team they are, both on and off track, to restore confidence within the paddock and amongst the fans. Vettel sits on top of the Drivers standings, and Red Bull lead the way in the Constructors Championship; some things never change do they?

With so much of the focus surely being on the team and its drivers this weekend, will they be able to produce another race winning weekend in China? How will the dynamic between the two drivers play out? It appears as though there will be no more team orders at Red Bull; is that a good decision, or perhaps more appropriately, a wise decision? Whatever does happen, I for one am sure it will make for fascinating viewing.

McLaren

It's not been the easiest start to a new season for McLaren has it? A radical redesign of the car over the winter has left the team with a lot of teething problems at this early stage; but the Woking team are hopeful that this car has the potential to develop throughout the year unlike some of its rivals'. Australia wasn't good, plain and simple. Malaysia was, on the other hand, more encouraging. With Jenson running in 5th and looking good to finish at least as high, if not higher, the signs were good. Unfortunately, and something that seems to have been the case all too often over the past few years, an error in the pitlane cost the team a strong result. I was having this discussion with some a week or two back; for a team with McLaren's experience and expertise, they do appear to make an alarming amount of basic and simple mistakes. Of course, nothing in Formula 1 is basic or simple, but relatively speaking these errors could and should be cut out; and have cost them dearly for several years.

Points will once again be the realistic target for the team in China this weekend; and from what we saw at Sepang I believe that's something that they can achieve. It does seem strange talking about McLaren in such a way, but that's the situation the team find themselves in. Sergio Perez has done very little wrong so far, quietly going about his business and impressing the team at both the opening rounds. Some fans may not be as convinced, but I believe that's partly to do with the fact that he's replacing Lewis Hamilton. Big boots to fill, eh? Jenson in particular showed that the team have made some steps forward, and they will look to do the same again this weekend. Hopefully by the time we're in the heart of the European season we'll truly see what this McLaren and its drivers are capable of. Until then, steady points finishes may have to suffice.

Force India

Nuts were the undoing of Force India in Malaysia, and the team will be praying that those issues have been fixed for this weekend. By all accounts the team have resolved the problem; hopefully meaning we'll see a sub 1 minute pit stop for both Sutil and Di Resta on Sunday. We saw again in Malaysia that the Force India car is fundamentally quick, but will the missed opportunities a couple of weekends ago come back to haunt them later in the season?

With the car and its drivers, particularly the returning Adrian Sutil, performing so well in the season openers, can we expect to see the green and orange outfit running towards the front again in China? With its rivals Sauber, Williams and Toro Rosso struggling to get up to pace this season; these early races could prove vital in determining which team finishes 6th (perhaps 5th if McLaren really do struggle, although I can't see that happening) in the Constructors Championship come the end of the season. Malaysia was certainly a missed opportunity to secure some strong points, and I for one hope that it's one that won't come back to bite them post Brazil.

Williams

Let's be frank (not Sir Frank), but the opening two rounds of the season have been nothing short of disastrous for the Grove outfit. Given how strong and quick their car was at times last season, particularly in the hands of Pastor Maldonado, the events in Australia and Malaysia have done nothing but raise fears of a repeat of the 2011 season; for me at least. When you hear the drivers say the car is "undriveable", alarm bells start to ring. They may be ringing, but only quietly at this stage. We've only had two races; there are 17 scheduled races left. That's plenty of time for things to change; but the last time they started this badly (admittedly only two years ago), the season turned into one of complete and utter disappointment; the worst in the team's history in fact.

He may have his critics, but there's no denying that Pastor Maldonado is a very quick driver. His qualifying performances last season, tallied with his race victory in Spain and possible other podium finishes in Valencia and Abu Dhabi prove that he has the talent and speed to be in Formula 1. Valtteri Bottas hasn't had the easiest start to his first season as a full time driver, but has finished the opening two races (something his team mate hasn't) and has looked every bit the match of Pastor so far. I have the utmost confidence in the team to turn it around, but will that begin in China? Can Maldonado finish a race? Can the team improve their pace over one lap, something the Venezuelan in particular will be disappointed about so far? Would a 10th place result be seen as a success at this stage of the season, given what has already happened? With Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso all already off the mark in terms of scoring points; should that be the first and main aim for Williams this weekend?

Caterham

I was left feeling underwhelmed by Caterham's performance last season; and nothing that I've seen so far this season has given me any more encouragement that Caterham can one day score a World Championship point in Formula 1. The first two races have confirmed what many had suspected from pre-season testing, that Marussia have moved ahead and into that 10th spot, particularly in the hands of the impressive Jules Bianchi. Something worries me about Caterham, I just can't put my finger on it. No points scored to date, but unlike Marussia who are showing clear and definite signs of progression, I see nothing that suggests a push towards the midfield teams, let alone a points finish, is anywhere near.

The inexperienced driver excuse, which is all too often banded around in Formula 1, has no validity here; especially when you compare them to main rivals Marussia. The team have promised a big upgrade once the cars head back to Europe in May, but can they afford to wait until then? I don't think Marussia are in a position to score points themselves any time soon, on pure pace at least, but all it takes is some mixed conditions and a few retirements and one of the two red and black cars could just score. There's no doubt that Caterham need to up their game, and soon. In Charles Pic I believe they have a quick and sensible young driver who could one day drive for a more established team. Will the team provide the drivers with the car to progress, or to even catch Marussia? I'm expecting to see them at the back once again, but would hope that maybe one Caterham can out qualify one of the Marussia's, likely to be Max Chilton.

So, there are the five teams that I will be watching out for the most over the course of this weekend. After the race I'll comprise a post to assess how all five have fared over the three days, so make sure to check back on Sunday or Monday to find out my thoughts. If you would like to comment on the article then please do so by entering your opinions below, or tweet me at: @paul_godley21

Thanks
Paul Godley - 10/04/2013

Image sources: Red Bull McLaren Force India Williams Caterham

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