If you’re thinking every Formula 1 driver needs a big result at every Grand Prix they compete in, you’ve got a point. They do.
But at each race, there are always those who need a result that much more than the rest, whether because they are facing a particularly intense moment in their career or through sheer desperation after a bad run – and often because of both.
Look at the 2019 grid and it doesn’t take long to work out who those drivers might be right now as the F1 travelling circus heads to Shanghai for the Chinese GP this weekend.
No surprise who’s first on our list. The four-time world champion always knew his fresh, young team-mate Charles Leclerc would give him the odd headache this year, but he probably didn’t expect a splitting migraine this early into their time together at Ferrari.
Leclerc’s performance in Bahrain last time out was stunning, when only a dropped cylinder thwarted his bid for a dominant first F1 victory. But as much as the agony of that loss will be painful for the 21-year-old, what’s surely of consolation was the manner in which he outpaced, out-qualified and outraced his illustrious team-mate. Vettel’s calamitous spin as Lewis Hamilton passed him for what was then second place only added to the German’s humiliation.
Vettel didn’t respond well to pressure last year in his title duel with Hamilton, making way too many unforced errors during a season that turned increasingly into a personal nightmare. The expectation for 2019 has to be that the nightmare will end, the old Vettel will wake up, put Leclerc in his place and take the fight to Hamilton with greater conviction.
From what we saw in Bahrain, Vettel’s still slumbering – and he needs to wake up fast. All eyes will be on him in China. He needs to hit back now and re-establish his superiority in a team that will have gained new energy from the promise shown by its bright new star. It’s a crucial time for him.
We were all impressed by the new, tougher, hirsute Finn who blew away Mercedes team-mate Hamilton in Australia. That was a race in which Bottas needed a big result, to show he has what it takes to keep one of the two best seats in the sport beyond this year.
And now, just two races later, he’s in need a big performance once again.
Why? Because in Bahrain the perception was Bottas regressed to 2018-spec – in other words, the ‘wingman’ who could best serve his team in a supporting role to the star in the number 44 car.
The new, feisty guy – who tells his critics exactly what he thinks of them on the team radio in words of one syllable – needs to be the version of Bottas who gets off the plane in Shanghai. From the moment he gets there, he needs to be fired up and angry – just as he was in Melbourne. That seems to be when we see him at his best.
The target this weekend must be to at least out-qualify Hamilton at a track the Briton has won at five times. Nothing less will do.
A podium third place in Australia and fourth in Bahrain? Not a bad return for the Dutchman and Red Bull in their first races with Honda power. It’s certainly the best start the Japanese giant has had by far during its largely disastrous time in hybrid-era F1.
But for an ambitious man like Verstappen, it’s still not good enough. He’s spent enough time scrapping for podiums. He wants to be racing for the win each and every weekend, and if that expectation is unreasonable given how far back Honda is coming from, that’s too bad.
Verstappen was quite low after the Bahrain GP, complaining that Red Bull failed to nail a good set-up throughout the race weekend. As he’s shown in his time in F1 so far, patience isn’t really one of his virtues.
Between them, Christian Horner, Helmut Marko and Adrian Newey need to manage their star driver to get the best from him. Their task would be a great deal easier if the team has made progress in the Bahrain test last week and can hit the ground running in Shanghai.
An improved performance in China could catapult Red Bull’s season on to a greater level – and keep Verstappen’s chin up.
It probably wouldn’t occur to him, but at least Verstappen is not in the place his old team-mate finds himself right now.
The reality of Ricciardo’s gamble to move down the grid to Renault must be hitting home by now. So far, he’s been narrowly outperformed by new team-mate Nico Hülkenberg and has yet to see a chequered flag in a yellow car.
Ricciardo is adamant he’s made the right call to leave Red Bull, that he needed a change and wasn’t simply running from a battle with Verstappen. But after a lacklustre start to his time at Renault, the Aussie needs a solid Shanghai weekend from which he and the team can build.
He shouldn’t be desperate yet, but he might be soon without a big result to spur him on.
What is going on at Haas? From the first two qualifying results of the season, it appears the Anglo-American team has the fastest ‘Class B’ car behind the Ferraris, Mercs and Red Bulls.
But in Bahrain, the promise of qualifying turned into a racing disaster, as Romain Grosjean’s evening was ruined by an early clash with Lance Stroll’s Racing Point, and Kevin Magnussen simply faded from his excellent sixth place on the grid to an eventual 13th.
This team does have a tendency to show its inexperience, certainly in pitstops and perhaps also in its ability to manage races. The technical partnership with Ferrari that so winds up others in the midfield has resulted in a quick F1 car – and neither Magnussen nor Grosjean are mugs: they are both decent grand prix drivers.
So it’s high time the team gave them the support they need to deliver the big result everyone at Haas so desperately craves. A podium? Only if the Big Three in front hit trouble. But a double points finish, with one in the top six, shouldn’t be beyond this pair in China.