Hulk has the Force

  • By: Tom Millard
  • Last Updated: April 16 2014, 15:22 BST

Force India's Nico Hulkenberg can rack up another points finish at this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix says Tom Millard.

Nico Hulkenberg: Solid bet for a top-six finish
Nico Hulkenberg: Solid bet for a top-six finish

Twenty-four seconds in 11 laps.

That was the gap pulled out by Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg over the third-placed finisher following the safety-car intervention in the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Working out at 2.2 seconds per lap, it shows just how dominant the silver cars can be when fully unleashed.

And this in the context of the pair battling for the lead, ducking and weaving as Rosberg, on faster tyres, unsuccessfully tried to overcome his team-mate.

The battle itself was one for the ages and underlines how closely-matched the two drivers are, two differing skill-sets and approaches producing virtually identical lap times, their performances ebbing and flowing as the race weekend develops.

Like Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost a quarter of a century ago, the duo look likely to contest the championship without the inteference of team orders, allowing fans to just sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

For punters, the two-horse race does narrow slightly the options available (another Mercedes whitewash is only 1/2, while only two UK bookmakers are currently pricing races without the Mercedes drivers) but as the development war continues into the European season next month we should feel optimistic that there are edges we can exploit.

The race in China this weekend doesn't throw up anything that leaps off the page, perhaps because the circuit is, at least superficially, similar in layout to the Bahrain track of two weeks ago.

Top-end speed, acceleration and traction will be once again the most important variables, meaning the Mercedes-powered cars of Force India, Williams and McLaren should still be fighting with the Renault-engined Red Bulls for best-of-the-rest honours.

A key difference with Sakhir is that the Shanghai International Circuit tends to punish the front tyres more than the rears, which potentially means that the aggressive Williams will suffer less with degradation than it did in Bahrain.

Nip-and-tuck with the Force Indias all weekend, Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa lost out in the scrap for third partly as a result of being forced to adopt a three-stop strategy and partly for failing to anticipate the appearance of the late-race safety car, which could have negated their disadvantage had they pitted as it was deployed.

Nevertheless, we'll give laconic Finn Bottas another chance to prove his merit by beating team-mate Massa and the Ferraris of last year's winner at this circuit Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen.

The red cars limped home ninth and 10th in Bahrain and wouldn't have even scored points had the McLarens enjoyed trouble-free runs.

Bottas is 2/1 to win Paddy Power's Group B, which looks slightly better value than a straight-up top-six bet.

It may also pay to stick with our early season tipping staple Nico Hulkenberg.

The German was edged out by team-mate Sergio Perez in Bahrain but without a mistake in Q2 which put him on the back foot, the Hulk would have been much closer to the lead Force India.

Despite starting seven places behind Perez, Hulkenberg was actually ahead of the Mexican after the first stops but an aggressive maneouvre by the Mexican as the sister car was held up in traffic cemented Perez's position and set up his run to the podium.

But Hulkenberg can be expected to have the edge in the intra-team battle over the course of the season and he looks a solid bet at even-money for a fourth successive top-six finish.

  • Friday's practice sessions are at 0300 and 0700; Saturday's starts at 0400, with qualifying scheduled for 0700 and the race due off at 0800 on Sunday (all times BST).