It will be ‘back to the future’ for Daniel Ricciardo and the rest of the F1® circus this weekend when they head to Shanghai for the third round of the 2016 world championship season, the Chinese Grand Prix.
At one of the most lavish and expensively-created circuits on the current calendar, this event will see the sport abandoning the widely-criticised qualifying experiments used at Albert Park and in Bahrain – and the return of old-style ‘quali’ as run last year.
It may mean predictable grids with more Mercedes front row lockouts, but it will at least avoid the unpopular sight of a session ending – as it did in Melbourne -- without a car in sight.
“No more public experiments, thank you,” has been the view of the teams who voted unanimously to bin the ‘progressive elimination’ system that flopped in the season-opening Aussie race and again in Bahrain.
"I think that we have learned that we need to make more time to consider proposals that come to us – absolutely," said Williams’ deputy team principal Claire Williams. “We don't want to play out scenarios like that in public. They should be done behind the scenes."
This news will be welcomed by all involved, including the fans who love to see the fastest cars and drivers push to the limit in the final seconds of Saturday’s final qualifying session.
“It’s great we can just get on with it again,” said Aussie racer Ricciardo, who is looking forward to maintaining his strong start to the season – and some spicy food in the city -- with Red Bull Racing this weekend. He finished fourth in Bahrain on April 3 and is now third in the drivers’ title race.
“The straight at the Shanghai International Circuit is super long which makes it pretty different compared to other tracks,” said the Perth pilot. “Coming off that straight, you then have to brake for one of the tightest corners on the calendar – you go from one of the highest speeds to the lowest.
“Turns One, Two and Three are like one big corner, really long and uphill, and this makes it really tough on the front left tyre. It’s one of the toughest circuits for that, which can be interesting.
“As a city, Shanghai is cool, but it’s hard for us to get to because the track is quite far away and the traffic can be pretty bad. We usually get one night to go into the city to eat out and get a view of the skyline.
“I remember one year, I was at a traditional Chinese restaurant with my mechanics and everything had spice in it -- and I love my spice!
“The pork ribs were amazing, but then you would get something simple, like soup, or vegetables, and it’s covered in chilli -- so you really need to like your spicy food to enjoy the local cuisine.”
While Ricciardo targets another good points haul, championship leader Nico Rosberg is doing his best to ignore the momentum he has gained from five straight wins, including two this year.
He is also shrugging aside any talk of good luck after seeing Mercedes team-mate and defending three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton take pole position twice, and then lose his advantage on the opening lap.
“I am not rejoicing in his issues,” said Rosberg, following his easy win in Bahrain. “I am focused on my job and getting a perfect start, as I did today, and then beating him that way.
That is what I am pleased about for now. That is it. At the same time, Lewis is going to come back, as he has been strong in the last two years. So, that is a definite.”
Hamilton has stayed cool despite his team-mate’s surge of good results and form – and says he is confident that poor starts will not become a habit.
“They won’t,” he said with a grin. “Don’t worry about that… You know, this is a psychological game and I am feeling good. I’m in a good place….
“It is partly a game and partly a battle, but, I guess, with age and experience, I am in the most solid place I have ever been psychologically. And there is very little, if anything, that can penetrate it…”
Hamilton’s speed and confidence suggests he will, again, be the man to beat in qualifying as Rosberg, and Ferrari, try to close the gap.
But behind the duels at the front, there will be much interest in the form of McLaren Honda and Fernando Alonso – if the two-time champion Spaniard is passed fit to drive after missing the Bahrain Grand Prix where his replacement Belgian rookie Stoffel Vandoorne finished 10th on debut.
Alonso walked away from a huge accident at Albert Park on March 20, but rib and lung injuries kept him out of his car in Bahrain. He is already in China. “I’m hoping to make it this time,” he said.