1 000 Grands Prix and counting . . .

2019-04-10 06:01

AT the end of the 2019 season, Talking F1 will be have covered 12 complete seasons of the Formula 1 world championship.

While this is not trivial by any means consider that this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix marks the 1 000th world championship race.

Without fail there are two questions I am asked.

Almost always the first question is who is the best driver of all time?

While it gives rise to superb conversations and debates the question is impossible to answer.

For one, it is impossible to compare different eras of the sport given how much it has changed.

If you’d have told Jim Clark that one day Formula 1 would not only be the technical and engineering pinnacle of any motorised sport in the world, but that it would also lead the way in terms of safety, he most likely would’ve scoffed at such an impossibility.

In this era, death was expected and several of the sport’s most dazzling drivers, including Clark, died in the cockpit of a racing car.

In the 1950s, Juan Manuel Fangio won five world titles with his tally of race wins reaching 24.

Imagine how staggered he would’ve been to know that someday a German driver named Michael Schumacher would not only win seven titles but also rack up a staggering 91 race victories. In 2000, a rookie named Jenson Button made his debut for Williams at an exceedingly young 20 years old.

The mutters were that, at only 20, the young Brit couldn’t possibly be ready for F1.

Imagine the outrageous thought then that less than two decades later, Max Verstappen would make his F1 debut at a mere 17 years old.

In its 999 races, Formula 1 has endured great tragedy, celebrated the greatest champions, and made inconceivable advancements.

Fans have lived through and run the gamut of emotions from drama to extreme stress to anger to unbridled passion. And that just in the first two races of the 2019 season!

The second question that is consistently asked is why Formula 1?

But here is the real question: How do you condense such passion, such unadulterated bliss and glorious emotion to just a few words?

This is the deepest truth: It’s the greatest sport in the world and I am irrefutably richer for getting to live every magnificent moment of it. Here’s to 1 000 more.

Among the celebrations and nostalgia there is a race to be had this weekend. As the third round of the season, the Chinese Grand Prix was the last of Schumacher’s career wins in 2006.

On the calendar since 2004, the Shanghai International circuit has delivered a fair few crackers in its time.

It could even be considered as the watershed moment for Mercedes when, in 2012, Nico Rosberg scored the team’s first race victory since its return to the sport.

Last year, a masterstroke on strategy from the Red Bull pit wall allowed Daniel Ricciardo the opportunity to pull off a remarkable string of overtakes that ultimately culminated in a thrilling and memorable victory for the Aussie.

Twelve months later Ricciardo, now a Renault driver, arrives in China with a completely different mindset and slightly on the back foot.

The seven-time Grand Prix winner has admitted to still needing to understand the idiosyncrasies of the Renault before being able to unleash his considerable talent.

Similarly, Pierre Gasly, a teammate to Verstappen at Red Bull, has struggled in first two race weekends and he will have to up his game before being catapulted out of the seat by the ruthless Dr Helmut Marko.

Though it’s only two races into the 2019 season there are no such difficulties for Charles Leclerc, who has settled in quickly at Ferrari.

A devastating mechanical issue robbed him of a victory in Bahrain, but he is well served by just accepting it as part of the sport.

The good news for Leclerc is that his Ferrari team is confident that the Bahrain-issue caused no lasting damage to the engine and he will be able to race it in China.

What’s more, while he rightly receives plaudits for his performance, his teammate, Sebastian Vettel, is once again putting out fires in the media who have begun to ask uncomfortable questions of the German following his spin in the last race.

Meanwhile, Mercedes will arrive in China with a quiet confidence.

Leclerc may have outpaced them at the last race but they are beginning to understand the W10 more and more.

Merc have also won four of the last five Chinese Grand Prix and it is generally a track where they excel.

All that is missing then is Red Bull. While Honda is still not on par with Ferrari and Mercedes it has clearly made progress in 2019.

It isn’t the only culprit either for Red Bull’s lack of pace in Bahrain.

Instead, team boss Christian Horner has highlighted a need for improvement on the chassis and aero package.

The questions then for this weekend is whether Leclerc can once again outpace his four-time world champion teammate or whether Mercedes will have a pace advantage.

The ever-tightening battle in the mid-field certainly won’t relent either.

And with Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen confirming that following one another is now easier, it sets up then for an overtaking fest like no other.

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