Who will win Chinese Checkers?
The thing that struck me most about the Shanghai track which I visited in 2009, was the long straight and the two gigantic structures that house media and hospitality centres. In fact, the Shanghai track has the distinction of having the longest straight (1.3 km) among all the circuits. Also, the Chinese Grand Prix facility was the most expensive at the time of its debut in 2004.
The track, which is located on the outskirts of Shanghai, has witnessed only one double champion so far. The remaining six races have had six different winners. In addition if the prediction of rain comes true, it will make the race even more unpredictable and therefore interesting. Similar to Malaysia, we may see the emergence of an unlikely hero. So, who could it be?
Looking at the performance in Malaysia, Sergio Perez ought to be the hottest driver to bet on. However, there were sterling performances from other newcomers too. Bruno Senna drove the race of his life in Williams as he sliced through the midfield to finish a respectable sixth. Albeit the fact that he didn't finish on the podium, his was one of the outstanding drives of the race. The other name to watch out for would be the talented Frenchman Jean Eric Vergne who finished in points in only his second Formula One race at Sepang. That Vergne is a promising talent is borne out of the fact that he was given a seat at Toro Rosso. Just to put things into perspective, Sebastian Vettel too started climbing the ladder of success when he was at Toro Rosso.
The other driver who would be hungry for success is Vergne's fellow countryman Romain Grosjean whose races have ended prematurely. What would have hurt him the most is the fact that he had to retire after showing fantastic qualifying form. In Australia, he started third while in Malaysia he was fifth on the starting grid. Grosjean now needs to ensure a clean getaway in the first couple of laps during the race. With Lotus showing competitive pace, Grosjean can be a handful.
And now, back to the usual contenders. As mentioned earlier, Hamilton has won here the most, his second win coming last year. In 2010, it was Hamilton's McLaren team-mate Jenson Button who was the first to take the chequered flag. If one considers their form in the ongoing season so far, Hamilton and Button would be hot favourites.
Of course, among the current crop of top drivers, almost all of them have won here. Past winners include Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher. Among the four, Alonso would be my pick as he has been sensational for the past couple of years with Ferrari. It's incredible that he should be leading the championship table in a car that is said to be one second off the pace.
With midfield runners becoming more competitive, the fight for places between 7 and 16 between teams like Mercedes, Sauber, Lotus, Toro Rosso, Ferrari, Williams and Force India could provide edge-of-the-seat entertainment.
More about Dhananjay Khadilkar
Formula 1 writer
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