Pierre Gasly, Red Bull, Shanghai International Circuit, 2019

Can Red Bull make it a three-way fight in China?

2019 Chinese Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Mercedes have scored their second front-row lock-out of the season in China.

In Australia it was Lewis Hamilton who led the team’s cars, but he was passed immediately by Valtteri Bottas, who went on to win. Will Hamilton take his opportunity to avenge that defeat?

There was little to choose between them in qualifying. Indeed, Hamilton will know this should have been his 85th career pole position. He was fastest in all three sectors, but didn’t string the lap together.

However Mercedes will no doubt impress upon their drivers the primary importance of working together to keep the Ferraris behind at the start. Particularly as the SF90’s straight-line speed is obviously superior.

Team principal Toto Wolff said they will have that “very important discussion” but, of course, did not elaborate on its key points. But no doubt it will include how to contain the threat of the quickest car through the speed trap.

However Ferrari – and possibly Mercedes too – will have to take the threat from Red Bull seriously. Max Verstappen’s fury at being unable to start his final run in Q3 was clearly motivated in part by the knowledge he could have beaten both the red cars to third place. “It was there for the taking,” his race engineer told him as he returned to the pits.

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While Red Bull have clearly unlocked more of the RB15’s performance by correcting their set-up error with it, that hasn’t helped Pierre Gasly extract the same kind of performance from it Verstappen can. But watch for Verstappen taking the fight to the Ferraris from the start.

The Shanghai International Circuit always punishes the front tyres and as the surface becomes more abrasive with each passive year the effect is becoming more pronounced. It could be enough to tempt some drivers into two-stopping. Last year a Safety Car period gave some driers the chance to make a second stop at low cost to great effect – it won the race for Daniel Ricciardo.

Pirelli says the ideal strategy is a stint on softs followed by one on hards to reach the end of the race. However the five fastest qualifiers will all start on the mediums they used in Q2, so they should easily run to the end on a medium-hard strategy. Intriguingly, Hamilton has saved a fresh set of softs – is he eyeing the possibility of a late pit stop to make a bid for the fastest lap bonus point?

Renault finally delivered on their potential and have lined themselves up for a one-two finish in ‘Class B’; i.e., seventh and eighth. However they have the complication of having to start the race on worn soft tyres – as do the Haas drivers and Gasly – which is going to put them at something of a disadvantage. Daniil Kvyat’s ‘new tyre pole’ could be especially advantageous here.

Ricciardo is also hoping Renault give him a more realistic strategy than his Bahrain one-stopper. “For sure it’s something which we’ll try and do better,” he said.

“I think this weekend a two-stop is probably more obvious so that should be a bit more clear. But we definitely learned some things. Basically we didn’t have the right strategy but throughout the race I think we learned some things that if we were in that situation again we could react a bit quicker.”

A complicating factor for all the teams will be the expected shift towards cooler conditions on Friday. Pirelli has also tweaked the tyre temperatures since teams did their long runs on Friday, which will make their data slightly less reliable. That doesn’t apply to Bahrain’s ‘moral winner’ Charles Leclerc, who was unable to do a long run due to technical problems.

Mercedes may have had the upper hand in qualifying, but the signs are the 1,000th world championship race could be a more competitive contest between the three teams than the 999th was.

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Qualifying times in full

DriverCarQ1

Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Valtteri BottasMercedes1’32.6581’31.728 (-0.930)1’31.547 (-0.181)
2Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’33.1151’31.637 (-1.478)1’31.570 (-0.067)
3Sebastian VettelFerrari1’33.5571’32.232 (-1.325)1’31.848 (-0.384)
4Charles LeclercFerrari1’32.7121’32.324 (-0.388)1’31.865 (-0.459)
5Max VerstappenRed Bull1’33.2741’32.369 (-0.905)1’32.089 (-0.280)
6Pierre GaslyRed Bull1’33.8631’32.948 (-0.915)1’32.930 (-0.018)
7Daniel RicciardoRenault1’33.7091’33.214 (-0.495)1’32.958 (-0.256)
8Nico HulkenbergRenault1’33.6441’32.968 (-0.676)1’32.962 (-0.006)
9Kevin MagnussenHaas1’34.0361’33.150 (-0.886)
10Romain GrosjeanHaas1’33.7521’33.156 (-0.596)
11Daniil KvyatToro Rosso1’33.7831’33.236 (-0.547)
12Sergio PerezRacing Point1’34.0261’33.299 (-0.727)
13Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo1’34.1251’33.419 (-0.706)
14Carlos Sainz JnrMcLaren1’33.6861’33.523 (-0.163)
15Lando NorrisMcLaren1’34.1481’33.967 (-0.181)
16Lance StrollRacing Point1’34.292
17George RussellWilliams1’35.253
18Robert KubicaWilliams1’35.281

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Valtteri Bottas23.988 (3)27.051 (2)40.383 (2)
Lewis Hamilton23.921 (1)27.016 (1)40.240 (1)
Sebastian Vettel23.933 (2)27.135 (4)40.438 (3)
Charles Leclerc24.010 (4)27.133 (3)40.499 (4)
Max Verstappen24.041 (5)27.176 (5)40.636 (5)
Pierre Gasly24.326 (9)27.624 (13)40.854 (6)
Daniel Ricciardo24.336 (10)27.577 (10)40.999 (8)
Nico Hulkenberg24.351 (11)27.451 (6)40.877 (7)
Romain Grosjean24.194 (6)27.603 (12)41.359 (14)
Kevin Magnussen24.296 (7)27.463 (7)41.188 (11)
Daniil Kvyat24.299 (8)27.552 (9)41.119 (9)
Sergio Perez24.466 (13)27.527 (8)41.251 (13)
Kimi Raikkonen24.489 (14)27.649 (14)41.193 (12)
Carlos Sainz Jnr24.452 (12)27.584 (11)41.181 (10)
Lando Norris24.497 (15)27.828 (15)41.522 (15)
Lance Stroll24.538 (16)27.927 (16)41.616 (16)
George Russell24.848 (17)28.203 (18)42.026 (17)
Robert Kubica24.896 (18)28.180 (17)42.137 (18)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Sebastian VettelFerrariFerrari327.1 (203.3)
2Charles LeclercFerrariFerrari326.1 (202.6)-1.0
3Daniel RicciardoRenaultRenault323.9 (201.3)-3.2
4Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrari322.8 (200.6)-4.3
5Daniil KvyatToro RossoHonda322.1 (200.1)-5.0
6Sergio PerezRacing PointMercedes322.0 (200.1)-5.1
7Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes322.0 (200.1)-5.1
8Romain GrosjeanHaasFerrari322.0 (200.1)-5.1
9Kimi RaikkonenAlfa RomeoFerrari321.7 (199.9)-5.4
10Nico HulkenbergRenaultRenault321.0 (199.5)-6.1
11Lando NorrisMcLarenRenault320.7 (199.3)-6.4
12Lance StrollRacing PointMercedes319.5 (198.5)-7.6
13Carlos Sainz JnrMcLarenRenault319.3 (198.4)-7.8
14Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes319.3 (198.4)-7.8
15Max VerstappenRed BullHonda318.3 (197.8)-8.8
16George RussellWilliamsMercedes317.2 (197.1)-9.9
17Pierre GaslyRed BullHonda315.5 (196.0)-11.6
18Robert KubicaWilliamsMercedes313.6 (194.9)-13.5

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Drivers remaining tyres

DriverTeamHardMediumSoft
NewUsedNewUsedNewUsed
Lewis HamiltonMercedes100212
Valtteri BottasMercedes101103
Sebastian VettelFerrari101103
Charles LeclercFerrari101103
Max VerstappenRed Bull101103
Pierre GaslyRed Bull101004
Daniel RiccairdoRenault101004
Nico HulkenbergRenault101004
Kevin MagnussenHaas101004
Romain GrosjeanHaas101004
Carlos Sainz JnrMcLaren101014
Lando NorrisMcLaren101014
Sergio PerezRacing Point101014
Lance StrollRacing Point101032
Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo101014
Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo012031
Daniil KvyatToro Rosso101014
Alexander AlbonToro Rosso101050
George RussellWilliams102013
Robert KubicaWilliams102013

Over to you

Share your views on the Chinese Grand Prix in the comments.

2019 Chinese Grand Prix

Browse all 2019 Chinese Grand Prix articles

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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21 comments on “Can Red Bull make it a three-way fight in China?”

  1. “Can Red Bull make it a three-way fight in China?”

    Here’s hoping..

    1. Only if it rains… and we caertainly van hope for rains.

    2. Can Ferrari make it a 3 way fight ?

  2. Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems like the are drifting back to Renault rather than toward Ferrari. That is if Renault can finish.

    1. Yeah I don’t see how you came to conclusion. Max obviously didn’t have a final run, but split the Ferrari’s in the first run so even despite not having the same oomph in the engine part, seemed to be able to be on the right track.

      Given that the teams are generally in the same ballpark on race day, he should definitely be able to contest for a podium.

      Gasly is another story, but that’s obviously not the car’s actual pace, and he still edged ahead of the Renault.

      Now the midfield is closer to the top 3 and generally on better pace as a whole, but that is compared to all the top teams, not just RBR.

    2. I guess you’re missing something. Ferrari – RBH > 0.2 sec RBH – Renault > 0.9 sec

      1. If you put togheter all hulk’s best sectors it’s RBH-Renalut =0,6. That’s not too bad

        1. With Soft tyre degradation at these levels you cannot simply use the best sectors to get a drivers “best lap”. Go hard in the first sectors and you pay in the last, or go easier and get a good final sector time. But you cannot simply take sector times from one lap and combine them with another, unless you’re sure that they were set under the same sector-push circumstances.

          Indeed, Keith has fallen into this trap with Lewis by claiming “Hamilton will know this should have been his 85th career pole position. He was fastest in all three sectors, but didn’t string the lap together.“. Lewis’s first run was a “go easy in the first sectors and reap in the final” lap, but was beaten by VB’s “go hard in the first sectors and pay in the last”. The second runs were the opposites with LH “go harder in the first sectors and pay in the last” which was also beaten by VB’s “go easier in the first sectors and come home strong” run. VB was better at keeping the tyres alive over the entire lap. He has been the faster driver all weekend and Hamilton will know this would have been a very lucky 85th pole position, if he had in fact achieved it.

  3. Verstappen definitely will be a problem for the Ferraris and any slow starting Mercedes at the start. Whether they can sustain the same pace is less certain. Also the first time we’ll see Gasly starting from a decent position on the grid after starting 17th and 13th. He has to start proving he’s worth that seat.

  4. Pirelli has also tweaked the tyre temperatures since teams did their long runs on Friday

    @keithcollantine Shouldn’t that be “tyre pressures”?

  5. Interesting that the Ferrari’s, despite being fastest through the speed trap, are not fastest in the final sector which comprises all of the long back straight. Perhaps they are struggling more to put the traction down through T13? That would explain why they have a higher top speed but can’t beat the Merc’s over the sector.

    1. @minnis, that is indeed the case – Ferrari are significantly slower through the slower speed corners in the final sector, and that poor performance in the corners is why they are slower overall through the final sector.

      It is true that Vettel was noticeably quicker on the back straight than Bottas – Vettel had the highest recorded top speed, at 327.1kph, with Leclerc second fastest at 326.1kph: Bottas, meanwhile, was clocked at 322.0kph.

      Similarly, if you look at how fast the cars were when they crossed the finishing line, Vettel was the fastest again, being clocked at 275.6kph, with Leclerc second at 274.6kph: once again, Bottas was slightly slower, only hitting 271.9kph at the finishing line.

      When you look at the onboard footage, it looks like Vettel and Leclerc were both losing a lot of time in the slower speed corners. In Turn 11, for example, Vettel’s apex speed was only 90kph, versus about 105kph for Bottas: they did take slightly different lines through Turn 12, so a comparison there is harder, but again Bottas’s apex speed looked slightly higher. It therefore means that, when they entered the back straight, Bottas entered the straight going about 3kph faster than Vettel was (245kph versus 242kph), although by the end of the straight Vettel went from beign 3kph down to 5kph up on Bottas.

      You can see a similar tend in Turn 14 – Vettel’s straight line speed before he hits the brakes is higher, but he has to start braking slightly earlier and slows down to about 65kph at the apex of the corner, versus about 74kph for Bottas. Despite the fact that Vettel’s apex speed was lower than Bottas’s apex speed through the hairpin, Vettel was matching Bottas for straight line speed (260kph for Bottas, versus 259kph for Vettel) before they started braking for the final corner.

      There is a similar trend through the final corner – Bottas went through the apex of that corner at 182kph, whereas Vettel was 11kph slower at 171kph. However, as I’ve noted above, although Bottas was much faster at the apex of the corner, and despite having a clean exit, by the time that they reached the finish line, Vettel was faster through that speed trap.

      Although there are not many corners in the final sector, most of those corners are low to medium speed corners, with several having an apex speed below <120kph. Even though Ferrari's acceleration rate is higher and their end of straight speed is higher, they are so slow in relation to Mercedes in the low speed corners that the time lost in those corners is outweighing what they can gain on the straights.

  6. If there is the slightest opportunity to do so, we can be sure Max will do it.

    1. Hope he can contain th raw urge though seeing as how he was too optimistic last year in china

  7. Not so sure about that, but we shall wait and see.

  8. The answer is: NO!

  9. I very much doubt there will be even a two way fight. Mercedes is so much quicker than Ferrari and Red Bull on the medium tires they’ll start the race at. I’m afraid they’ll drive off and won’t be seen again until the flag falls.

    Gasly on the softs is something to watch though. He’ll probably be the first of the front runners to get new tires and may undercut someone, if he was able to maintain the same pace at first that is. His FP race pace wasn’t too bad?

  10. We asking too much from Max Verstappen. Red Bull really are just F1.5 constructor champion not a part of big league. The only fair on how good a car is by looking where the 2nd driver. And I don’t believed Gasly is that bad.

    1. Gasly is not a bad driver but misses confidence at corner exit which results in slower acceleration out of the corners (for instance, he is 3km down on Max on the long straight). If Max is equal to the Ferrari’s in quali (RB thinks he would have been if he had done the second run in q3) he should be at least competitive in the race, if we look at RBs track record (in China).

      I expect an exiting race, also between the 2 Mercedes’ who will be very close.

  11. I wish there were more info about race pace..

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