China showcased one of the most exciting events on the 2011 Formula One calendar, with Red Bull and McLaren constantly battling for the top step. Lewis Hamilton emerged on top after overtaking Sebastian Vettel in the late stages, a remarkable due to mechanical issues. It also featured Mark Webber finishing on the podium after starting 18th as well as some great battles throughout the field. It was an entertaining race throughout, and this year could certainly be so again.
Overall, the host nation is an interesting example of F1's expanse. A country with over 1 billion people, China has yet to produce a single Formula One competitor. That may change in the near future, however, as HRT recently signed Chinese driver Ma Qing Hua to its driver development program. It is an important step for China, as the nation could certainly use a rooting interest. China is still relatively new to hosting F1, as this will be just the ninth event, and it continues to be a largely untapped market for the sport.
Home drivers matter, as India demonstrated last season in its F1 debut. For the event, Narain Karthikeyan, who had not competed for months, returned to drive for HRT in order for the grand prix to have representation. Perhaps China will have that luxury soon, as well.
From a technical perspective, Shanghai International Circuit is a venue that provides several good passing opportunities, most notably entering the very long right-hander just off the starting line and along the extremely lengthy straight prior to the 14th turn. It's nearly the same length as the Malaysia track and features numerous slow corners, meaning it is not an easy track to come to grips with.
The pole has not been crucial at the circuit recently, as only two of the past six fastest in qualifying have converted that into a win.
Lately, the victor in China has not been riding a strong finish in the previous event, as the past four winners have not placed better than eighth in the race immediately preceding China. Last season, Hamilton was coming off an eighth-place result in Malaysia, much like 2010 winner Jenson Button.
That bodes well for Vettel and Button, who both failed to score points last time out. Weather permitting, it should be Red Bull and McLaren battling for the win, with Ferrari struggling to keep pace.
For the championship contenders who have yet to win this season, China is pivotal. Since 1990 only one driver, Michael Schumacher in 2003, has gone on to claim the title after failing to win any of the first three races of the season. That season, Schumacher failed to post even a podium finish until the fourth race of the year.
Clearly, any driver who has yet to win will need a victory this week or be forced to overturn some serious history. With the amount of competition this season, it appears that any significant deficit in points early on will be very difficult to make up.
Hamilton is one of those drivers seeking his first victory of 2012, and he is the only multiple winner of this event. The speed of the McLarens should provide for a superb starting grid spot, and Hamilton's success here means he may just be the favorite to win in Shanghai.
After the fireworks in Sepang, this event certainly has high expectations to meet, but if it's anything like last year's edition, few will be left disappointed.