Circuit Profile – 2013: China, Shanghai International Circuit – Round 3

By Track Profile Specialist: Alistair Hunter
Formula 1 2013 Round 3 – Shanghai International Circuit:

After two dramatic rounds of the 2013 Formula One World Championship, Sebastian Vettel takes a nine point advantage at the top to the Shanghai International Circuit in the People’s Republic of China. The 2013 UBS Chinese Grand Prix will be the ninth edition of the race since it appeared on the Formula One calendar in 2004.

The circuit was designed by Hermann Tilke and became part of the Formula One calendar in 2004, the culmination of eighteen months of hard work converting an area of swampland outside the world’s most populous city proper into a state of the art race track. Alongside Bahrain and Malaysia, it was a sign that more expensive new tracks would be appearing on the sport’s radar in years to come.

The complex was described as “a fascinating statement in architecture and many a race track in Europe could learn from it” by BMW’s CEO at the time, Dr. Helmut Panke. While there are many newer tracks now that surpass their standards, at the time China was innovative and a completely different experience.

The importance of Shanghai and China were emphasised by several people before the inaugural race. Norbert Haug described it as “probably the most important race in the history of motorsport“, adding that it was a “new era and I think we will have more spectators worldwide for television than for any race before, especially in America I think there will be a lot mentioned about the race“. These sentiments were typical of the pre-race atmosphere, as China is one of the countries where many more fans could come from, and where many companies could sell their products to.

However, as Formula One is now on its way to becoming firmly established in the country, it might be time for China to become established in F1. A more detailed analysis of their hopes is given below, and the most likely to succeed is Ma Qing Hua, who reiterated what many people have been saying on the subject:

It’s very difficult, for China, because motor sports is so new for Chinese people. It’s just been around for a few years. Most of the people don’t understand it. The population of motorsports fans is growing but we still need time. But for me, personally, I’m very happy where it’s at. I want to be the person to develop, to introduce F1 to China.

Maybe, with a few more years and an increase of optimistic Chinese drivers, Formula One’s future in one of the most important countries in the world can be secured.

Circuit Characteristics

The design of the circuit is inspired by the Chinese character Shang (上, the first part of the name Shanghai). One of the defining features of this track is the long straight towards the end of the lap, where drivers reach a top speed of around 323 kilometres per hour, and contributes to an average speed of 213 kilometres per hour. The lap starts with a very tight first sector that is tricky to get right, before getting to a faster flowing section of the track in sector two. After the long straight, a tight hairpin directs the drivers back to the pit lane or a tight left hand corner leading to the start line.

59% of the lap is spent on full throttle, while the circuit is one of the easiest of the year on brake wear; both of these can be attributed to the faster parts of sector two and three. It exerts a medium amount of pressure on the engines and gearboxes, but this shouldn’t be an issue for the teams.

Unfortunately for the fans, the majority of the races have been won from pole position, with the polesitter going on to win five times out of the nine occasions F1 has come to the track. Overtaking here can be quite difficult, but the places that the drivers have suggested to keep an eye on are turns four, five, ten and thirteen, with many DRS passes coming at the end of the long straight.

A lap with Mark Webber

Pirelli and China 2013
Pirelli Soft
Paul Hembery, Pirelli’s motorsport director says: “China has often produced some of the best races of the year, where strategy has been at the forefront of the action. With all our compounds having got softer this year the degradation is deliberately more extreme leading to increased performance, but history has shown that it never takes too long for the teams and drivers to get on top of the tyres.

Shanghai is less aggressive on the tyres than the last round in Malaysia but we would expect to see the majority of competitors go for three stops although some may try two. Last year we had a new winner with Mercedes and Nico Rosberg, who were able to get the most out of their tyres from the very beginning of the weekend in order to spring a surprise. That goes to show exactly what is possible with the correct tyre management at this point in the season.”

This view is supported by Pirelli’s brand ambassador Jean Alesi, who adequately summarises the basic appeal of the track and tyres by adding: “China is a circuit that is again not very typical of the others, and although I never raced there myself, it looks like a great track. From a tyre point of view, the drivers will have to find the best compromise between performance and degradation, which is exactly the way that it has always been in Formula One.”

The tyre from a circuit point of view: China puts plenty of energy through the front tyres in particular, due to the number of high-energy corners – such as turn one, which is almost a full circle – and the heavy braking areas, which causes weight to transfer towards the front of the car. The most stressed tyre is the front-left, with China featuring the heaviest braking seen all year.

The other key corner from a tyre point of view is turn 13: a long right-hander, just before the main straight, which is slightly banked. The loading on the tyres is steadily increased throughout this corner as the cars accelerate out of it.

Pirelli MediumLast year, the medium and soft compounds were also chosen for the Chinese Grand Prix. The race winner (Rosberg) adopted a two-stop strategy, starting on the soft and then completing two stints on the medium.

The second and third placed finishers (Button and Hamilton) stopped three times: starting on the soft, changing to the soft again, and then completing two final stints on the medium. The fourth-placed driver (Webber) also stopped three times but did just one stint on the softs followed by three on the medium, while the fifth-placed finisher (Vettel) stopped twice on a similar strategy to Rosberg.

Technical tyre notes: The medium compound, with its low working range, is expected to have a good warm-up even in low temperatures, guaranteeing better consistency of performance and more contained degradation. The soft tyre, with a higher working range, works in a different way.

In cold atmospheric conditions it takes slightly longer to warm up, especially at the front. But it will then ensure stronger grip with more accentuated degradation and a useful working life of around 14 to 16 laps.

The performance gap between the medium and the soft compound in China is expected to be between 0.5s and 0.6s per lap.
Throughout the banked Turn 13, with maximum downforce pushing onto the car, the contact patch of the tyre can increase to twice the size that it is while the car is stationary.

Expected tyre behaviour in 3D:

Lewis Hamilton is the only driver to have won the race on multiple occasions, as he first claimed victory there during the 2008 season in order to extend his lead over Felipe Massa to seven points, a gap that would not be overhauled in the next race in Brazil, while his second race victory there in 2011 was an example of the strategic advantage that could be gained by understanding the Pirelli tyres, introduced that season in order to create more unpredictable racing.

Jenson Button’s 2010 victory compliments McLaren’s record in the race, sharing the achievement of the greatest number of victories at the track with Ferrari, who have overseen Rubens Barrichello’s first place finish in the inaugural event, followed by the same result for Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen in 2005 and 2007 respectively.

Chinese drivers
Ma Qing HuaOnly one driver from China has taken part in any form of official Formula One session, and that honour goes to Ma Qing Hua, who drove in first practice for the late HRT F1 Team on four occasions. This narrowly beats Ho-Pin Tung’s record of being a test driver for the BMW Sauber and Renault F1 teams in 2007 and 2010 respectively, who can be described as the first Chinese person to drive a Formula One car, while Ma Qing Hua can be described as the first Chinese-born driver to do so.

Ho-Pin Tung now competes in the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia series (mentioned below), after attempting to break into the United States by becoming the first holder of Chinese nationality to drive in an IndyCar race, finishing 27th at the 2011 Indy Grand Prix of Somona after previously failing to qualify for the 2011 Indianapolis 500.

Ma Qing Hua’s participation in Formula One has been limited to the Young Drivers’ Test at Silverstone last year where he completed enough kilometres to gain a FIA Super License (finishing fourth out of a field comprised of himself, Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, and Marussia’s Rio Haryanto and Max Chilton), and four ninety minute practice sessions in Italy, Singapore, Abu Dhabi and the United States, replacing Narain Karthikeyan on every occasion.

Unfortunately, due to being ranked last of all people to set a time in every practice session he competed in, the highest position he has finished a session in was 23rd, a feat he cannot repeat this year due to the grid being comprised of only 22 cars.

However, he can say that he was within the 107% time at most of those practice sessions (with the exception of the United States, where both HRT cars ran as little as possible), and he can point to finishing seventh in the second tier of the 2008 Spanish Formula Three season (18th overall) despite competing in only six out of the nine rounds, and winning the drivers’ championship (1600cc class) of the 2011 Chinese Touring Car Championship.

While these achievements can be easily undermined, he is now a test driver for Caterham, and also competes in the team’s GP2 operation alongside Spaniard Sergio Canamasas, so it will be easier to see his talent shine through on that stage. After one round, he has recorded a 21st place finish after starting from 19th, but was unable to start the second race due to gastroenteritis. Before he competes again in Bahrain next week, he will participate in first practice for the Chinese Grand Prix for Caterham.

Memorable moments
2004 – The inaugural race saw a three way battle for the race win from Rubens Barrichello, Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen, with the Brazilian eventually ending up on the top step of the podium.

2005 – As this was the final round of the season, Renault secured the constructors’ championship after Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella finished in first and fourth place respectively, while their closest challengers McLaren came nine points short after Raikkonen came second, but Montoya suffered an engine failure after previously hitting an engine cover and bringing out the safety car.

2006 – Michael Schumacher’s final victory in Formula One was at this track, taking advantage of Fisichella’s tyre troubles to take the lead and hold off a late charge from Fernando Alonso.

2007 – Lewis Hamilton led the World Championship by twelve points coming into the penultimate round in China, but due to a team decision to keep him out on a rapidly drying track, his tyres were so worn that he ended up in the gravel while attempting to enter the pit lane. Long story short, he didn’t win the championship that year, due to the dominance of Kimi Raikkonen in the final two races.

2009 – Red Bull Racing took their first pole position and victory at the track thanks to Sebastian Vettel, as Mark Webber followed him to take a one two finish ahead of rivals Brawn GP, who finished third and fourth.

2010 – Notable for Sebastien Buemi’s front wheels coming off as he drove down the main straight in practice, while Jenson Button won the race ahead of his teammate Lewis Hamilton to achieve the first one two for two British drivers since the 1999 Austrian Grand Prix.

2011 – Lewis Hamilton’s victory after being on a different strategy to Red Bull rival Sebastian Vettel gave us hope that the season would maybe be a tad more competitive than the first two races had indicated – in the end, it wasn’t – while Mark Webber started from 18th on the grid and finished on the podium.

Nico Rosberg was victorious for the first time in Formula One last year in China, and in doing so he took Mercedes’ first pole position and victory since Juan Manuel Fangio’s victory at Monza in 1955.

Support races
The race will be supported by the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia series. This follows the first round occurring at the 2013 Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix, and it will also be reunited with the Formula One calendar for their ninth round in Singapore, with these races separated by six rounds, shared equally between Zhuhai and Ordos in China, and Autopia, a new circuit in South Korea.

Porsche Carrera Cup AsiaAfter winning the first race, the current leader of the points standings is Austrian driver Martin Ragginger, who leads his closest challenger Alexandre Imperatori of Switzerland by two points.

The series currently has former F1 test driver Ho-Pin Tung racing there, although he was disqualified in the previous race. Fairuz Fauzy (the Malaysian driver mentioned in the previous circuit profile) also competed in his home race as a guest driver, finishing seventeenth.

Shanghai Results

2012 Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2011 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes
2010 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes
2009 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault
2008 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes
2007 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
2006 Michael Schumacher Ferrari
2005 Fernando Alonso Renault
2004 Rubens Barrichello Ferrari

2 responses to “Circuit Profile – 2013: China, Shanghai International Circuit – Round 3

  1. an inherited win and team-orders in the final two races in 2007….wouldn’t exactly call that dominance

    • Maybe dominance was the wrong word, but he qualified within the top three in the last two races, and went on to win them both – while misfortune and team orders helped on both occasions, Kimi was in the right position at the right time to benefit from these. In the last two races, he scored 20 points, in comparison to Fernando Alonso, who scored fourteen, and Lewis Hamilton, who scored two.

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