Nico Rosberg will have a golden opportunity to increase his lead in the Formula One standings during the 2016 China Grand Prix, as Mercedes team-mate and top title challenger Lewis Hamilton will start Sunday's race with a five-place grid penalty.
Rosberg enters the weekend in the form of his life, having won the last five races stretching back to last season, and the China Grand Prix has always had a special place in his heart―he took his first-ever win in Shanghai in 2012.
Fernando Alonso will likely make his return to racing, as he was provisionally cleared for action, per BBC Sport's Andrew Benson. The two-time champion hasn't raced since his horror crash in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
Here's a look at the list of drivers for the China Grand Prix:
|China GP Drivers' List|
|Team||Driver 1||Driver 2|
|Scuderia Ferrari||Sebastian Vettel||Kimi Raikkonen|
|Sahara Force India Formula One Team||Sergio Perez||Nico Hulkenberg|
|Haas F1 Team||Romain Grosjean||Esteban Gutierrez|
|McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team||Fernando Alonso||Jenson Button|
|Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team||Lewis Hamilton||Nico Rosberg|
|Manor Racing MRT||Rio Haryanto||Pascal Wehrlein|
|Red Bull Racing||Daniel Ricciardo||Daniil Kvyat|
|Renault Sport Formula One Team||Kevin Magnussen||Jolyon Palmer|
|Sauber F1 Team||Marcus Ericsson||Felipe Nasr|
|Scuderia Toro Rosso||Max Verstappen||Carlos Sainz Jr.|
|Williams Martini Racing||Felipe Massa||Valtteri Bottas|
Start Time: 7 a.m. BST/2 a.m. ET
TV Schedule: Sky Sports will start its broadcast at 5:30 a.m. BST (for UK viewers). NBCSN's broadcast will start at 1:30 a.m. (for U.S. viewers).
Hamilton has won the last two editions of the China GP and has taken more wins in China than any other racer, but on Sunday, he still won't enter the race as the favourite for the top spot.
Rosberg has continued his fine late-season form from last year to run out to an early lead in the drivers' standings, and through two races, it hasn't even been close. Hamilton has been able to keep up during the qualifying sessions, but on racing day, he has lagged behind significantly.
A five-place grid penalty due to a gearbox change won't help the defending champion, but Rosberg doesn't think the setback will slow his rival down that much, as he told Sky Sports F1 (via Sky Sports' William Esler):
It is always a massive challenge out there and it will be again this weekend. Even Lewis with a five-place grid penalty is going to be a big threat.
How many times has he shown last year that when he starts ninth or whatever he is straight up to third? So definitely I am remaining fully focused, I'm fighting for the win definitely, but it won't be an easy one for sure.
Fortunately for Hamilton, the Shanghai International Circuit features some of the longest straights on the racing calendar, where his powerful Mercedes should have a major advantage over the other cars.
There are plenty of opportunities for overtaking elsewhere, so his start won't have to be perfect, either. As long as he can stay close to Rosberg and rise through the pack during the first laps, he should have a chance to grab his first win of the season.
Alonso didn't feature during the previous race in Bahrain, and in his absence, Stoffel Vandoorne made a strong impression for McLaren. Alonso will have to pass examinations after the practice sessions, but he's expected to race on Sunday, and Vandoorne already seems resigned to taking a back seat this weekend:
Ferrari have had a slow start to the season, with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel both sitting outside of the top three in the standings, and the latter in particular will be keen to take advantage of Hamilton's grid penalty.
The four-time world champion grabbed just 15 points from the first two races due to major issues with the new Ferrari engine. F1 Vines couldn't help itself:
Per Ben Anderson and Lawrence Barretto of Autosport, he'll be racing with a new engine on Sunday, but with each racer allocated five units for the 2016 season, it shouldn't be a major issue.
Figuring out the right configurations in a hurry will be key, however. While Mercedes are still expected to dominate the rest of the campaign, fans are hoping the Scuderia can close the gap throughout the season ahead of a title push in 2017.
So far, the gap doesn't look any smaller than it did last season, and with Hamilton and Mercedes dominating the China GP in recent years, that likely won't change this weekend.