As Karun Chandhok stepped off his plane from sunny Chennai, he looked at the grey skies with disgust. “I might just as well be back in England” was his comment. The prospect of another wet race in China could give us red-hot excitement.
This weekend two drivers, by co-incidence both German and both former winners in Shanghai, will line up where they both drove perhaps their most memorable races.
Last year Sebastian Vettel dominated on the rain-soaked track, to give the Red Bull Racing team their first-ever GP win. We now think of them as established Championship challengers. Looking back at my report from last year’s race, I wrote. “Vettel showed a pace in the atrocious conditions which was simply spellbinding. He seemed to be able to stretch his advantage at will”.
“It was a masterful drive that has raised comments that Vettel might be a successor to Michael Schumacher as the next German world champion” I concluded. “I can think of no reason to doubt the logic.”
Vettel has shown us that he is not just the master of a rain-soaked track, but capable of blistering pace in the dry too. He drives with an abandon and a confidence you see in few drivers. It stood out recently in the spectacular qualifying lap which gained him pole position in Melbourne. Vettel has that special ability to literally grab the car by the scruff of its neck and make it defy physics.
Of course, a driver needs luck too and that has been in short supply for Vettel this season. He was robbed of likely wins in the opening races, but it was a case of ‘third-time lucky’ with victory ahead of teammate Mark Webber in Malaysia.
Interestingly, Vettel needed a bit of luck to win in Shanghai last year. On lap 19, the safety car intervened after Robert Kubica hit the back of Jarno Trulli’s Toyota. The field was running in convoy when Toro Rosso rookie Sebastien Buemi drove into the back of Vettel. Luckily no damage was done.
Roll back to 2006 and another dramatic race where rain also played its part. The race started on a wet, though drying track with Fernando Alonso in pole position and Renault teammate Giancarlo Fisichella alongside.
Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari was in sixth place at the start, but the race saw a relentless charge that saw the German pass Button, Barrichello, Raikkonen and Alonso, before closing in on race leader Fisichella. On lap 41 as Fisichella left the pits, Schumacher rocketed down the inside of Turn 1 to take the lead. A lap later the German was a devastating 7.6 seconds ahead.
The race is regarded as one of Schumacher's best-ever wins. It was also his 91st and so far, his last.
For Vettel though, it is another story. He has to be hot favourite to win again in Shanghai and if he does, he would take over the championship lead. His biggest challenge will come from McLaren and Ferrari.
Catch F1 race commentator Steve Slater on STAR Sports’ coverage of the Formula One