By Neil Leverett
- Round Three of the 2019 Formula 1 campaign rolls on to China for the 1000th race in the sport’s history
- Shanghai International Circuit hosts, as McLaren-Mercedes look to continue early season dominance
- Ferrari keen to bounce back in Far East, with Charles Leclerc making impact
SHANGHAI, CHINA – As Round Three rolls into the Far East for the 1000th F1 race, will McLaren-Mercedes continue to dominate on the track in Shanghai this weekend?
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Milestone weekend for F1
As Round Three of the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship rolls into China this weekend, motorsport’s juggernaut reaches a landmark point in its’ history, with Shanghai staging the 1000th Grand Prix in F1’s almost 70-year modern era incarnation.
In the post WWII era, Formula 1 rides into the Far East this weekend for the latest chapter of which the first began back in 1950, when Silverstone held the first official race in history.
After almost seven decades of highs and lows, thrills and spills, tragedy and triumph and evolution of the now multi-billion pound industry, the sport has changed markedly and is set to further in the coming months and years. But for the time being, what can we expect this weekend?
Can Leclerc battle Mercedes duo..?
If there were hopes of a more even-footed World Drivers’ Championship battle this season, those notions may have a hint of reality to them but anything but the ongoing dominance of McLaren-Mercedes has not. With two races down both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas has a win under their respective belts, however Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc lurks in the shadows for the Prancing Horse.
After just two drives for the Italian manufacturer, the 21-year-old Monagesque is already threatening to usurp his number one Sebastian Vettel and had it not been for hybrid system in Bahrain a fortnight ago, would have sealed his inaugural Grand Prix win.
After dominating in Sakhir, Leclerc saw his lead disappear and then both Mercedes driver pass him, with only late safety car keeping the Ferrari driver on the third step of the podium come the chequered flag.
We have already seen enough of Leclerc in the early stages this season to suggest that he is indeed the real deal, but the precocious man from the principality is remaining grounded, as he told BBC Sport.
“After the first race, nobody saw me as a title contender and after the second everyone sees me as one.”
“I need to work as hard as possible, try to do the best job in and out of the car. I am pretty sure the results will come – and then we will see.”
…Or will Vettel bounce back?
It seems now for the first time in his F1 career, Vettel is under real pressure in the driver’s seat. Despite a pre-season of testing that was expected to see the German at the head of the pack after the opening weeks, the four-time world champion is currently playing second fiddle – in expectations – to Leclerc.
The opening rounds of the campaign have indeed led to worrying times for Vettel, who has historically exploded from the paddock’s blocks leading into last spring. Already languishing in fifth place in the standings, albeit after such an embryonic stage of the year, Vettel much make a mark and soon.
In qualifying for this weekend there was again the mere width of a tyre that separated Vettel from the pack, finishing on the second row of the grid in third after Q3.
Ahead of Leclerc by just 0.017 and just 0.301 off the pace of pole-setter Bottas and Hamilton, the race in China this season could be one of the tightest in recent years. For Vettel however, the German is approaching a watershed moment even at this early stage. The 31-year-old last won in China ten years ago, but if he is to remain in the picture Vettel may need to reclaim his glory day from back in 2009. 1000 for Formula 1 could be one of Vettel’s biggest yet.
The 2019 Chinese Grand Prix takes place at the Shanghai International Circuit, with race day on Sunday at 7.10 am UK time
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