Formula 1 pre-race predictions: Chinese Grand Prix

It\'s all about the tires
by Sharleen Banzon | Apr 14, 2013

\"2013

Apart from the living, breathing monster that is the Red Bull drivers\' rivalry, (it really deserves its own story), Pirelli is still dominating F1 headlines. China\'s uneventful final session of qualifying again highlighted that tire conservation and strategy are playing a bigger factor than even race pace in this current formula. We bet it wasn\'t fun for UK viewers to wake up at 7am, only to watch Jenson Button\'s McLaren tiptoeing on the Shanghai circuit like it was trying not to rouse a roomful of sleeping people. At least his compatriot Lewis Hamilton took pole.

We can tell you it certainly wasn\'t fun to follow qualifying using a live-timing iPad app while on a boat. With five minutes to go in Q3 and no times showing up, it was hard to say whether teams were saving rubber or your network connection had died again.

Anyway, on to the predictions.

1. The safety car will grace us with its presence. We haven\'t seen much of Merc\'s high-speed rolling billboard--aka the SLS AMG Safety Car--in the races so far. Official driver Bernd Maylander is probably getting tired of just playing Candy Crush Saga. We think he\'s due a few laps out on track to raise hell among team strategists. Who wants to bet that it will be caused by Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber?

2. Watch for pit-lane mayhem. We don\'t want there to be trouble in the pits, actually, because people could get seriously injured. But this being pegged as a three-stop race, something is bound to happen when cars dive in to be serviced. Remember, too, that the Shanghai pits have been the stage of a lot of epic brain fade--take Hamilton\'s blunder in 2007, which his McLaren replacement Sergio Perez decided to emulate during Friday practice this year.

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3. Lewis won\'t have this race easy. In fact, the polesitter isn\'t guaranteed his first victory with his new team. Tire problems, another fuel-shortage issue--you name it, fellow champions Kimi Raikkonen (P2) and Fernando Alonso (P3) are sure to pounce on it. Safer money is on the Ferrari man because of the F138\'s consistency.

4. The other champions will also be on the move and will improve on their starting positions. We\'re positive that Button won\'t be 30 seconds off the pace tomorrow, his ridiculous Q3 lap notwithstanding. Darth Vettel stated that he and his team had opted for a different strategy because pole was out of the question. And having not set a time in Q3, he can freely choose what tires to start on for the race.

5. Webber will make it to the points. If not the podium, come to think of it. The Aussie\'s Q2 time was dropped when he stopped on the track in Q2 with just over three jiggers of fuel in his Red Bull. The rules state that a car must get back to the pits on its own power as well as have a liter of fuel available for a sample. On the one hand, the conspiracy theorists are screaming sabotage. On the other, the prize money in F1 is awarded based on team standings, so that doesn\'t make sense. The same thing happened to Vettel last year in Abu Dhabi, and the team chose for him to start from the pit lane, tweaking his car to improve top speed. He finished third. So, no reason Webber can\'t do the same.

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CHI Free Practice Three Qualifying
Pos Driver (Team) Time, +Gap Driver (Team) Time, +Gap
1 F. Alonso (Ferrari) 1:35.391 L. Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:34.484
2 F. Massa (Ferrari) 1:36.013, +0.622 K. Raikkonen (Lotus) 1:34.761, +0.277
3 L. Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:36.065, +0.674 F. Alonso (Ferrari) 1:34.788, +0.304
4 S. Vettel (Red Bull) 1:36.286, +0.895 N. Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:34.861, +0.377
5 M. Webber (Red Bull) 1:36.420, +1.029 F. Massa (Ferrari) 1:34.933, +0.449
6 Adrian Sutil (Force India) 1:36.549, +1.158 R. Grosjean (Lotus) 1:35.364, 0.880
7 K. Raikkonen (Lotus) 1:36.605, +1.214 D. Ricciardo (Toro Rosso) 1:35.998, +1.514
8 J. Button (McLaren) 1:36.693, +1.302 J. Button (McLaren) 2:05.673
9 S. Perez (McLaren) 1:36.777, +1.386 S. Vettel (Red Bull) no time set
10 N. Hulkenberg (Sauber) 1:36.853, +1.462 N. Hulkenberg (Force India) no time set
11 J. Vergne (Toro Rosso) 1:37.072, +1.681 P. di Resta (Force India) 1:36.287, +1.803
12 D. Ricciardo (Toro Rosso) 1:37.205, +1.814 S. Perez (McLaren) 1:36.314, +1.830
13 P. Maldonado (Williams) 1:37.300, +1.909 A. Sutil (Force India) 1:36.405, +1.921
14 N. Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:37.349, +1.958 M. Webber (Red Bull) 1:36.679, +2.195
15 V. Bottas (Williams) 1:37.457, +2.066 P. Maldonado (Williams) 1:37.139, +2.655
16 P. di Resta (Force India) 1:37.487, +2.096 J. Vergne (Toro Rosso) 1:37.199, +2.715
17 E. Gutierrez (Sauber) 1:37.740, +2.349 V. Bottas (Williams) 1:37.769, +3.285
18 R. Grosjean (Lotus) 1:37.813, +2.422 E. Gutierrez (Sauber) 1:37.990, +3.506
19 J. Bianchi (Marussia) 1:38.496, +3.105 J. Bianchi (Marussia) 1:38.780, +4.296
20 C. Pic (Caterham) 1:38.821, +3.430 M. Chilton (Marussia) 1:39.537, +5.053
21 M. Chilton (Marussia) 1:39.627, +4.236 C. Pic (Caterham) 1:39.614, +5.130
22 G. van der Garde (Caterham) 1:39.652, +4.261 G. van der Garde (Caterham) 1:39.660, +5.176
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