Shanghai, April 11: Sebastian Vettel's early-season form faces arguably its biggest challenge yet as Formula One arrives in China, where the German has not prevailed since 2009.
Vettel was not victorious at the Shanghai International Circuit during any of his four championship-winning campaigns, only making the podium once in his 2010 to 2013 dominance of the sport.
But the Ferrari driver has finished second in the Chinese Grand Prix for the past two seasons and arrives on the back of wins in the opening two rounds of the 2018 campaign.
After snatching victory from Lewis Hamilton in Australia, the German clung on to hold off Valtteri Bottas for victory in Bahrain on Sunday (April 8) - the first time Ferrari have won the opening two races of a season since Michael Schumacher did so in 2004.
The results have left defending champion Hamilton playing catch-up already, although the Mercedes driver did well to battle from ninth to finish on the podium in Sakhir, after serving a grid penalty for a gearbox change.
Mercedes have topped the podium at each of the last four stagings of this race - Hamilton winning three of those - and will be desperate to prove they have not been toppled as F1's dominant force by maintaining that run this weekend.
TALK OF THE PADDOCK
Much of the talk since the teams packed up in Bahrain has centred on the beef between Hamilton and Max Verstappen, and accusations that the Dutchman showed a lack of respect in the move that saw the two come together on lap two on Sunday.
The incident landed Verstappen with a puncture that ultimately led to his retirement from the race on a nightmare weekend for Red Bull, who also saw Daniel Ricciardo forced out with a major electrical problem early on.
Relations between Hamilton and Vettel, meanwhile, appear to have thawed somewhat after the Ferrari man leapt to the Briton's defence during a post-race news conference in Bahrain.
When Hamilton was asked about referring to Verstappen as a "d***head" in a drivers' room conversation, Vettel stepped in to pass off the remark as being in the heat of the moment and criticised the line of questioning.
Another point of interest this week will be whether Toro Rosso and Honda can maintain their pace, after a sensational fourth-place finish for Pierre Gasly in Sakhir.
Away from the track, Ferrari mechanic Francesco Cigarini is recovering following surgery on a double leg break after being struck by Kimi Raikkonen during a botched pit stop in Bahrain.
1. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 50
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 33
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 22
4. Fernando Alonso (McLaren) 16
5. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 15
1. Ferrari 65
2. Mercedes 55
3. McLaren 22
4. Red Bull 20
5. Renault 15
RACEWEEK SCHEDULE (all times local)
Friday (April 13)
FP1 (10:00-11:30) (IST: 7.30 AM - 9 AM)
FP2 (14:00-15:30) (IST: 11.30 AM - 1 PM)
Saturday (April 14)
FP3 (11:00-12:00) (IST: 8.30 AM - 9.30 AM)
Qualifying (14:00-15:00) (IST: 11.30 AM - 12.30 PM)
Sunday (April 15)
Race (14:10) (IST: 11.40 AM)
Lewis Hamilton could break the record for the most consecutive points finishes in F1 history, currently level with Raikkonen's marker of 27, achieved between 2012 and 2013.
💯 @LewisHamilton is the only #F1 driver to complete a century of starts with two different teams, first with @McLarenF1 and now @MercedesAMGF1 👏— Formula 1 (@F1) 9 April 2018
Not a bad record, is it... #F1FastFact #BahrainGP pic.twitter.com/gluvjm6a6p
2017: Lewis Hamilton
2016: Nico Rosberg
2015: Lewis Hamilton