The third stop for the F1 circuit is the Shanghai International Circuit in China, the 12th time they visit this circuit. The track is hard on tyres but with a forecasted high of only 21˚C and a possibility of rain it is anyone’s guess if Ferrari will have an edge.
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 is hoped that it will soon be time for China to become established in F1. 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.
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. With the changes in top speed and aerodynamics this year, the action at the end of this straight could get more interesting.
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.
The Shanghai International Circuit with Lewis Hamilton
Pirelli and China 2015
The Chinese Grand Prix has become well known for providing some exciting races characterised by tyre strategy in recent years. With fast corners, a smooth surface, and plenty of overtaking opportunities, the P Zero White medium and P Zero Yellow soft tyres should be well suited to the conditions, which are generally temperate.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director: “The weather tends to be quite unpredictable in China, although generally we can expect to see temperatures that are significantly cooler than those we experienced in Malaysia. Last year we had reasonably stable weather conditions in China whereas in previous years it has been more up and down – so this throws in a very interesting variable.
The front- left tyre is the most stressed in Shanghai, while the traction demands of the circuit also give a lot of work to the rear tyres. Although we haven’t actually yet seen a very hot Chinese Grand Prix during our time in Formula One, if you look at the weather history there is potential for this to happen as well.
This would make things very difficult for the tyres – Shanghai is a big, open circuit and if you add in heat, it creates a lot of energy – but we’ve seen from Malaysia that these tyres will rise to the challenge. As Shanghai is a large circuit there’s plenty of opportunity for overtaking and big on-track battles. Strategy-wise, we’d normally expect a two-stop race.”
The biggest challenges for the tyres:
Around 80% of the lap in China is spent cornering, which means that energy is nearly always going into the tyres. The frequent acceleration out of the corners means that the drivers have to guard against wheel-spin.
Downforce levels run by the teams in China are generally medium, in order to maintain optimal top speeds through both the corners and straights.
Cool weather means that graining can be an issue with both compounds, which accelerates both wear and degradation, especially at the front. Plenty of forces go through the front tyres 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 P Zero White medium is a low working range compound, while the P Zero Yellow soft is a high working range compound. This pairing ensures the capability to work effectively under a wide range of conditions: one reason why the combination has proved to be so effective.
Throughout the banked Turn 13, with maximum downforce pushing onto the car, the contact patch of the tyre can increase significantly compared to when the car is stationary.
￼Last year’s strategy and how the race was won: Lewis Hamilton won the race using a two-stopper last year, with a soft-medium-medium strategy. As is the case this year, the race lasted for 56 laps. Hamilton made his first stop on lap 17 and then stopped for more mediums on lap 38.
The top 15 all stopped twice, with the longest stint on the medium tyre lasting 27 laps and the longest stint on the soft tyre being 17 laps.
Expected performance gap between the two compounds: 1.2-1.4 seconds per lap.
Shanghai with Brembo
Despite the 14 turns the circuit is not very critical for brakes on the whole since the cars are normally quite aerodynamically charged. In fact, aerodynamic resistance contributes to the deceleration of the single-seaters, helping the braking action. However, the remaining braking sections are relatively light and free of any particular difficulties for braking systems.
Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso are the only drivers to have won the race on multiple occasions, as Hamilton 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. Alonso was first victorious here in 2005, while he took his second win here in 2013 after being better on tyres and strategy.
Ferrari are the most successful constructors at the circuit, who oversaw 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, and Alonso’s victory in 2013.
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.
Last time out Sebastian Vettel took his first win for Ferrari. This was put down to a strategy error on the part of Mercedes and that the Ferrari is more gentle on its tyres. However would this be enough?
Hamilton has been on the pace since Melbourne and judging by current performances, he appears to be the only one capable of fending off the attack from Ferrari.
Perhaps it is to early to discount Hamilton and Vettel’s team mates, both who are facing perhaps the biggest battle of their careers. Nico has been nowhere near the level he was last year however Kimi seem to like his new steed. Could this be the race where either Rosberg or Raikonnen find their feet and challenge for victory?
The race will be supported by the first round of the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia series. Double champion (2013 and 2014) Earl Bamber will not be taking part as he has secured a seat as a Porsche Factory driver. With Bamber now gone will Martin Ragginger, two time runner up to the former be able to start the season in winning ways?
|2009||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|