2017 Chinese Grand Prix preview: Game on between Ferrari and Mercedes
This will be the 14th Chinese Grand Prix, and should make the 2017 pecking order a lot clearer. (Image Credit: LAT/Pirelli)

The Formula 1 season opening Australian Grand Prix threw up more questions than answers. 

Most of them were about whether Ferrari really have the car to take on Mercedes, whether Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton will produce a battle royale for the world championship. 

There where also doubts that the new formula would aid 'the show' and increase overtaking and close battles. 

Red Bull had a quiet weekend, and then of course there's McLaren-Honda - the less said about that the better. 

Albert Park is a bit of a outlier on the calendar. A street circuit, overtaking has never been easy and it is a gentle easing into the season, before the most permanent race tracks appear - of which the Chinese Grand Prix, held at the Shanghai International Circuit for the 14th time is one. And that is where the 958th World Championship Grand Prix race will be held this weekend. 

What to look out for

Mercedes vs Ferrari is the biggest known unknown in F1 at the moment. 

Yes, Ferrari won in Australia, but did so on a slightly duff strategy call from the reigning world champions. The SF70-H looks to be a more balanced car, as the W08 Hybrid looks to have some inherent understeer, but the Mercedes looks better in cooler conditions, something that could play a key factor in China this weekend. 

All eyes will be on Vettel and Ferrari. If they can beat Mercedes, at a track they have dominated at, it will answer a lot of questions. (Image Credit: Clive Mason/Getty Images)
All eyes will be on Vettel and Ferrari. If they can beat Mercedes, at a track they have dominated at, it will answer a lot of questions. (Image Credit: Clive Mason/Getty Images)

The circuit itself should give answers to at least some of the questions, with sector two going a long way to seeing who has the best chassis - being made up of long, sweeping corners, whilst sector three, complete with its 1.2km back-straight will show who has the best power unit. 

Daniel Ricciardo believes it to be the Mercedes, whilst Ferrari customer Haas, believe the Italian offering is better than its German rival. 

Ricciardo himself will be crucial this weekend to determining how far Red Bull are off the pace. After a disaster of a home race, he will be looking to bounce back in Shanghai, and knows that if he is to be in the title fight this season, he needs big points this weekend, ideally finishing ahead of Hamilton and Vettel. 

McLaren. Much has been said about its start to 2017, and the sounding out of Mercedes for a return to a customer supply as Honda have taken another step backward with its latest power unit. 

It will be a another tough weekend for the team. In pre-season, Fernando Alonso tore into Honda, saying: "We are 30km/h down on the straights" - and a 1.2km straight will hardly help matters this weekend. With all his skill, Alonso might drag the car onto the brink of the top 10, but a rain dance might just help his and Stoffel Vandoorne's chances. 

The curious case of Pascal Wehrlein continues. After driving on Friday in Melbourne, he stepped out of the Sauber, owing to him not feeling fit enough after his Race of Champions crash in January. Fair enough, but the impressive debut of Antonio Giovinazziwho once again deputises, has meant conspiracy theorists have had a field day. 

Drivers have driven through pain before, Nigel Mansell sitting in a cockpit full of high-octane fuel in 1980, and Mark Webber's broken collarbone in 2010 spring to mind. If Wehrlein says he is not fit, then we must take his word for it - but he is gambling his F1 career on it. 

The track

Built on swampland about an hour outside of Shanghai, the 16 turn track is the shape of Chinese character shang - which means high or above. 

It is a good workout for the balance of a car, owing to the tight, twisty first sector, the fast, sweeping second sector and the third sector and its straight. 

Originally the race was at the end of the season, but in 2009 got a bump up to the early flyaway races.

The layout is a typical Hermann Tilke design, and lap times are generally in the 1m:40s region, although thw weather may have something to say about that, even if the cars are about three seconds faster than last year. 

Where will I see some overtakes?

Turn 1, turn 6, turn 11 offer the chance of a move to the drivers, as these are the braking zones of the circuit, although the very best place to try and make a move is at turn 14, - the hairpin at the end of the back-straight. 

The Turn 14 hairpin is the prime overtaking spot, and could see a late move that is crucial for the result. (Image Credit: Formula 1.com)
The Turn 14 hairpin is the prime overtaking spot, and could see a late move that is crucial for the result. (Image Credit: Formula 1.com)

That means that a move which decides the win or podium, could be made on the final lap, just two corners from home. 

The two DRS zones are located on the pit-straight, on the run to turn 1, and the back-straight, into turn 14. 

What tyres are Pirelli bringing?

Pirelli have gone for the second softest range of tyres this weekend, with the super-soft being the softest brought, whilst the medium tyre makes its first appearance of the season. The soft tyre will also be available for teams to use. 

As ever, Pirelli have brought the intermediate and wet tyres to China, and they should be used this weekend as well. 

Owing to the long left handers at Shaghai, the front-left tyre can often take a pounding, with turns 1, 7 and 12/13 the main culprits. 

For the first four races of the season, Pirelli have pre-selected the mixture of compounds that each team and driver will get.

From the Spanish Grand Prix, they will be free to mix their compounds as they did last season, but as Pirelli are not 100% sure on the loads the new tyres are expected to go through, they have decided to play it safe, until it can analyse the data from the new cars and make sure the tyres are safe.

This time out, teams will have seven sets of the super-soft to use, four of the soft and two sets of the medium tyres.

Will it rain?

Yes. At the time of writing, the current forecast is for rain on all three days of the race weekend, with Friday practice being hit by rain, but with temparatures in the 14c region. 

Saturday is a bit of an unknown, with the forecast changing all the time, but the race on Sunday is expected to be hit with heavy showers which should make things interesting. 

When is it on?

First practice gets underway at 10:00am (03:00am UK time) local time on Friday morning. 

Qualifying starts at 08:00am UK time on Saturday morning, with lights out at 07:00am UK time on Sunday morning, 14:00pm local time. 

As ever, Sky Sports F1 will be showing every session live, whilst Channel 4 will be showing a highlights package for freeview viewers on Saturday and Sunday afternooons. 

First Practice - Friday - 03:00am - 04:30am 

Second Practice - Friday - 07:00am - 08:30am

Third Practice - Saturday 05:00am - 06:00am

Qualifying - Saturday - 08:00am - 09:00am

Race - the 56 laps of the 2017 Chinese Grand Prix get underway at 07:00am on Sunday morning. 

All times UK. 

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