Dominant Mercedes will look to capitalise on fresh woes at Red Bull and Ferrari and hammer home their championship advantage with a fourth straight win at Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.
Three victories out of three, including one-two finishes in Malaysia and Bahrain, tell the story but the Silver Arrows also received boosts this week from two of their main rivals.
Ferrari were left reeling after team principal Stefano Domenicali quit following a torrid start to the season, including a poor showing 10 days ago in Bahrain.
And Red Bull were handed a setback when they lost their appeal against the stripping of 18 points from Daniel Ricciardo for a fuel-flow violation in Melbourne.
Both incidents will have only heightened the mood at Mercedes, who are top of the constructors’ standings and have Nico Rosberg leading the drivers’ table ahead of Lewis Hamilton.
And with Hamilton a three-time winner at the Shanghai International Circuit, they will be confident of another big points haul on Sunday.
“I’m in a really good place at the moment and walking around the garage too, you can see the positive energy within the team right now,” Hamilton said.
“Everyone is focused on getting the maximum from these early races and continuing to build beyond the strong start we’ve made to the season.”
Hamilton’s wheel-to-wheel duel with Rosberg in Bahrain provided this year’s best action and a welcome break from discussion of F1’s technical changes and quiet new hybrid engines.
But much of the focus will again be off the track as Ferrari’s untried new team principal Marco Mattiacci, who moves over from the Italian company’s road car business, makes his F1 debut.
His first task will be to establish the Prancing Horse as the “best of the rest”, according to engineering director Pat Fry. They are currently fifth in the constructors’ standings.
“Currently, our first priority is to establish ourselves as the second best team,” Fry told the team website.
“We are looking at all areas of the car — power unit, aero, suspension. We are trying to make as big a step as we can for each and every race.”
Fry expects a better showing around the 56 laps of the 5.451-kilometre Shanghai circuit after suffering poor traction and a consequent loss of straight-line speed in Bahrain.
But the Englishman would not be drawn on where he expected Ferrari to finish on Sunday. Former world champions Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen were ninth and 10th in Bahrain.
“It’s proving hard to make predictions this year — at least when it comes to who can challenge the current leaders,” Fry said.
Red Bull have promised move on from their disappointment over the Ricciardo appeal, which was quashed at a special hearing in Paris.
“I’m stronger for it & hungrier than ever. Not that I need any more motivation, I’m pumped!” tweeted the Australian, who was disqualified from second at his home grand prix for a fuel infringement.
Red Bull are a lowly fourth in the constructors’ championship, a massive 76 points behind Mercedes who have streaked away by claiming 111 points out of a maximum possible 129.
Four-time defending world champion Sebastian Vettel is in an unaccustomed sixth place in the title race, but will hope to start clawing his way into contention in Shanghai.
“The grand prix in China is still something special for me, because I won my first race there with Red Bull Racing in 2009,” Vettel said.
Force India have been the surprise package of the season, second in the constructors’ standings and taking only their second ever podium finish when Sergio Perez came third in Bahrain. Team-mate Nico Hulkenberg was fifth.
“Forty-four points out of three races, it’s the dream start we were hoping for,” team principal Vijay Mallya.
“Bahrain was not just a one-off and we’ve been improving with each race,” he added.
Germany’s Rosberg, who won the season-opener in Australia before yielding to Hamilton in Malaysia and Bahrain, leads the drivers’ standings on 61 points, 11 ahead of his British team-mate.