The sold out attendance for the historic 1000th Formula 1 Grand Prix at SAIC Shanghai International Circuit has taken a while to show itself this weekend. However, today for Race Day - they were out in force! The metros were full to the brim and the grandstands were filling up nicely from 10:30am onwards for a race that would start just under 4 hours later. The energy is high, the expectation is huge and the historical on track battle is getting closer.
For those who made it earlier to their seats, they witnessed the FIA F4 Chinese Championship Shanghai leg being won by a dominant Conrad Clark driving for BlackArts Racing. Clark crossed the line 9.3 seconds ahead of second place. With the clock ticking down to the start of the Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix, many in attendance will be hoping the gap at the top is far closer. However, what was also shown in the opening race of the day, were numerous overtaking manoeuvers. For the F1 grid, Daniel Ricciardo sitting in 7th in his Renault, is more than up to the challenge of out braking his rivals into turn 14 - plus he will have the benefit of two DRS zones. Also willing to put his front wing in risky places is a 5th placed Max Verstappen who was adamant to anyone listening that he had a car capable of being higher up the grid in 3rd. Verstappen will be eager to avoid any clashes similar to that from the 2018 race at the same venue when he made contact with a less than impressed Sebastian Vettel.
The stage is perfectly set for a gargantuan battle…if Scuderia Ferrari can find their pace. Sebastian Vettel must have taken some pleasure from starting ahead of his headline making Monegasque teammate Charles Leclerc but as he said in yesterday’s press conference, the gap to Mercedes is ‘too big’. On this weekend of all weekends, The Prancing Horse will be determined to show the watching world what it is capable of.
If Scuderia Ferrari cannot solve their pace issue, all eyes of the sold out crowd will have to be satisfied with the battle at the top between World Championship leader Valtteri Bottas and Current World Champion: Lewis Hamilton. Well, maybe not all eyes, seeing how the die-hard Kimi Raikkonen troupe was out in force once again frantically waving Finnish flags in front of his garage.
On such a historic weekend (as we keep getting told) Jean Todt presented pole sitter Bottas with a commemorative tyre trophy following the conclusion of qualifying. The trophy the Fin really has his eyes on could be just a few hours from his grasp.
One variable that may come into play though is the weather! Shanghai temperature can fluctuate to say the least and as the lights went out to start the Porsche Carrera Super Cup, the Jiading sky was getting very overcast indeed. If the tyres cannot get up to temperature, we may well see Mercedes running wide in a similar fashion to that shown during Free Practice. An intriguing thought.
The 1000th Formula 1 Grand Prix has been hyped to unprecedented proportions in innumerable column inches. Fortunately, we have a world class field of drivers capable of living up to it…as long as they make it cleanly round turn 1 of course.