Chinese Grand Prix: Hamilton expects strong Ferrari challenge in Shanghai

Formula 1

Always in the spotlight – Lewis Hamilton was swarmed by the media as he arrived in Shanghai
Chinese Grand Prix on the BBC
Dates: 13-15 April Venue: Shanghai International Circuit
Coverage: Practice and qualifying on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra; race on BBC Radio 5 live. Live text commentary, leaderboard and imagery on BBC Sport website and app.

Lewis Hamilton thinks the Shanghai circuit will make it difficult for him to take his first win of the year at Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.

Hamilton has won five of the last 10 races in Shanghai but thinks the track will suit Ferrari, whose driver Sebastian Vettel has won both races so far in 2018.

The Mercedes driver said: “They are going to be hard to beat.

“Their straight-line speed has been faster than ours and we have the longest straights here. So I anticipate they are going to be very fast.”

Mercedes have won the last four races in China and five of the last six and it is one of Hamilton’s most successful tracks – he has also taken six pole positions.

He said: “It should be a good track for us but I think it is going to be a lot closer than you think.”

Vettel has a 17-point lead after two races, in which Ferrari have twice beaten Mercedes in strategic battles.

Mercedes let a win for Hamilton slip through their fingers with a calculation error around a safety car period in Australia and Vettel won a tense battle with the Briton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas in Bahrain last weekend after being forced to change strategy.

Hamilton said: “We performed well but Ferrari outperformed us. We need to bring our A game every weekend, especially given how close it is. It is going to take a serious, unified approach and all of us need to be on top of everything, including myself.”

Hamilton said he was taking a positive view of his results so far this season.

“The title is not won or lost in two races where you finish second and third,” he said. “I count those as relatively strong weekends.

“I know there will be potentially harder weekends to come but those two experiences just build strength. However, you definitely don’t want to fall any further behind than we have.”

Vettel said: “The first two races have been quite different so it is not straightforward to predict the next one. I think Mercedes are still the favourite going in but if we do our homework and get the car balance right, it should be a good weekend.”

Verstappen controversy rumbles on

Hamilton was critical of Red Bull driver Max Verstappen after the race in Bahrain following a collision between the two that led to the Dutchman’s retirement.

Hamilton, who accused Verstappen of lacking respect in the incident, said he had sought Verstappen out on arrival in China.

Speaking in Shanghai on Thursday, Hamilton said: “I generally do my talking on the track. After this incident I didn’t. I saw Max just now, and I said it is always good to show respect and, being that I am the older driver, I felt it was important I went to him.

“Whoever’s fault it was it doesn’t matter. That sign of respect hopefully shows a lot and helps you turn the page and move forwards and keeps respect between you. He acknowledged me so…”

Verstappen (left) and Hamilton clashed on the track in Bahrain – and the Englishman spoke to the Dutchman about the incident upon their arrival in China

Hamilton, who used an expletive to describe Verstappen when viewing the incident on television in the green room immediately after the race in Bahrain, said he had conflicting feelings about whether the pre-podium room should have microphones in it.

“You would have less fun stuff to write about,” he said. “I don’t know if it would be worse for the fans. But I don’t think it’s great us.

“Imagine a scenario when your senses are heightened and your emotions are running crazy and you’re infuriated yet excited and adrenalin-rushed and then someone sticks a microphone in front of your face. You are going to react more emotionally and then people will judge you on that moment. You are not going to feel great.

“It is good in sport to see some emotional stuff and this is definitely a sport… In (ice) hockey they don’t mind if they have punch-ups, it’s cool. In Nascar they have punch-ups.

“For some reason, if we had a punch-up here your career would be over, I don’t know why that is. Maybe your papers are more important or it is a different world. It is fun but it should be authentic for sure.”

Verstappen has had a series of incidents this year that have affected his results – he damaged his car early in the race in Australia while trying to pass Kevin Magnussen’s Haas, and then spun; he crashed in qualifying in Bahrain; and then collided with Hamilton in the race.

But the 20-year-old said he would not be changing his driving style or approach.

“You can say whatever you like about the incident,” Verstappen said.

“I think I had a fair shot at it. It was nothing crazy, nothing risky. But yeah, unfortunately this time it didn’t work out. This time we gave each maybe not enough space, but that’s racing as well at the end of the day. Like I said, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad.

“I might have a talk with him. It depends if it’s really necessary. But why should I change something? I don’t think I did anything wrong in terms of my approach. I was just trying to overtake a car.”

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