All eyes will be on Shanghai for this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix to see if Ferrari can repeat their Melbourne success or if Mercedes can re-assert their superiority. Mercedes have been the masters of Shanghai since the start of the PU era, and a victory here this weekend for Ferrari would send a strong signal that their stunning performance at the Australian Grand Prix was not a one off, and that 2017 could finally be the year that a Ferrari driver reclaims the world championship.
If Ferrari’s apparent kindness to tyres in Melbourne against Mercedes issues with wear, the Italian outfit look to be in a great place for getting a result in Shanghai.
Ferrari will need to be on top of their game however, and will be hoping to avoid a repeat of last year’s opening lap fiasco that saw Vettel and Raikkonen collide on the opening lap. Lewis Hamilton will be also be hoping for better fortune this year after mechanical woes beset his challenge last year, and will also be looking over his shoulder at Valtteri Bottas, who will be encouraged by his race performance in Melbourne, and looking to continue bridging the gap to Hamilton. Red Bull were disappointed to not be in the mix in Australia, and will be hoping they can close the gap – with the lack of overtaking on display in Australia the pressure will surely be on the championship hopefuls in qualifying to get themselves position ahead of the Bulls for Sunday. There’s plenty more to watch out for further down the field, Antonio Giovinazzi will again step in at Sauber, and another good performance will only increase the clamour for the young Italian to get a more permanent F1 role, while Haas will be looking to convert potential to points, Williams will be looking to capitalize on their early good form against the other midfield runners and McLaren looking to…well, maybe keep ahead of Giovinazzi for a start.
Last year’s race saw Mercedes Nico Rosberg have an easy Sunday drive to victory from pole position, as misfortune befell his main rivals in the race. Daniel Riccardo had qualified second for Red Bull and got the jump on Rosberg at the start to take the lead, only to pick up a puncture on the second lap and drop back. Behind him Ferrari’s challenge took an immediate hit on the opening lap. It all started when Kimi Raikkonen locked up and drifted wide in Turn 1, with Vettel inside him allowing space on the inside on the exit of the corner, which saw Daniil Kvyat make an opportunistic move up the inside of Vettel, who was then squeezed as Kimi came back across. Three into two doesn’t go, and the as a result Vettel collided with Raikkonen, who bounced off Kvyat, Kimi heading for the pits with a puncture of his own and a damaged nose. Vettel was quick to blame Kvyat on the radio, but the incident looked like a mess of Ferrari’s own making. Vettel survived with minor damage, but dropped down the order as a result of the impact. The safety car was brought out to clear the debris (too late for poor Daniel Ricciardo), and given that Rosberg had started the race on the soft tyre after avoiding going onto the supersoft in Q2, his easy drive to victory was made even easier as the cars immediately behind him on supersofts pitted to take on the soft tyre. Vettel would recover to take second from Red Bull’s Kvyat (aided by a cheeky double pass on the grass on the pit lane entry as Nico Hulkenberg slowed and held up Carloz Sainz), giving a podium reunion for the pair after their lap 1 incident! As for the second Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, well, a dodgy Mercedes PU prevented him from taking part in qualifying, and to add insult to injury, he was caught up in the first lap chain reaction set off by the Ferraris, getting clobbered by Felipe Nasr’s Sauber, and was only able to recover to seventh place in the race.
Lewis Hamilton is the most successful driver in the history of the Chinese Grand Prix, and will be confident of adding to his 4 victories (2 for McLaren-Mercedes and 2 for Mercedes) here this weekend. Of the active drivers, Fernando Alonso can reminisce to the good old days when he won two Chinese Grand Prix, one with Ferrari, and one with Renault, while Vettel (Red Bull) and Raikkonen (Ferrari) have both been victorious here on one occasions
Despite only arriving on the F1 calendar in 2004, the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai has already earned it’s place in F1 history, witnessing debut wins for Red Bull, Nico Rosberg and the modern Mercedes team, as well as Michael Schumacher’s final F1 victory, not to mention the controversy over Lewis Hamilton’s champagne spraying tendencies, or the locals invading the track to have a try at one of the Ferrari’s!! .
It all started back in 2004. F1 arrived to the latest freshly constructed Hemann Tilke circuit in a relaxed state, with the championship having already been sealed by a dominant Michael Schumacher for Ferrari, who had 12 wins and 2 second places to show for his 14 finishes that season. In fact, Schumacher’s only failure to appear on the podium had been caused by retirement, after he was taken out in the tunnel at Monaco, under the safety car! For once Michael would have to play second fiddle, as Ferrari team-mate Rubens Barrichello secured pole and raced to victory in the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix. As for Schumacher, a torrid weekend saw him start from the pitlane after a mistake in qualifying saw him fail to set a time, and in the race he could only manage to progress to 12th place, having collided with the Jaguar of Christian Klien, spun off, and picked up a puncture for good measure. A most un-Schumacher like performance.
In 2005 Schumacher’s luck was still out in China – he had another disastrous weekend, colliding with Christian Albers Minardi before the race had even started, Schumacher seeming to simply not pay attention as he weaved about on his way to the grid and was collected by the oncoming Albers. Schumacher was given a reprimand, but was able to take the start from the spare car, although he subsequently spun out of the race. Fernando Alonso, already crowned world champion to end Schumacher’s period of dominance in the sport, signed the season off in style by taking the win in China from pole position for Renault. Schumacher’s bad luck in China would finally end in 2006 (read more), when he produced a wonderful win in wet/dry conditions over title rival Fernando Alonso that seemed to put him on the brink of regaining the drivers title. It would however prove to be the final victory of Schumacher’s career, and not enough to wrest the tile back from Alonso.
In 2007, it was McLaren and Lewis Hamilton’s turn to suffer in Shanghai (read more). The rookie seemed on course to seal the driver’s title at the first attempt, only to slide off the track on the way into the pits, opening the door to an unlikely Raikkonen recovery in the championship. In 2008, Lewis made amends for his 2007 nightmare with a lights to flag victory from the Ferrari’s of Massa and Raikkonen, to set himself up to take the title he had let slip the previous year.
For 2009, the race moved to early in the season from its previous end of season slot. Sebastian Vettel, who had already secured a win for Toro Rosso in the wet in Italy the previous year, now took the senior Red Bull teams first ever victory from pole position, leading home team-mate Mark Webber for a memorable Red Bull 1-2 (the first of many!) in a wet race. 2010 would see another wet dry race, this time reigning champion Jenson Button took the victory for McLaren with a well judged drive in the changing conditions.
The 2011 race produced one of the classic dry races of recent seasons, with McLarens Lewis Hamilton coming out on top of Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel in a thrilling dry race that saw 4 teams vie for the win, Hamilton passing Vettel on track shortly from the end as Vettel paid the price for getting the tyre strategy wrong (read more).
2012 was notable for the first Grand Prix victory for Mercedes in the modern era, current world champ Nico Rosberg taking his maiden F1 victory in a dominant display from pole positon, ending his long run in F1 without a victory (Nico’s first F1 win coming at the 111th attempt), and recording the first Mercedes win in F1 since 1955! Michael Schumacher’s Chinese bad luck returned however. Driving the second Mercedes Schumacher had been running in second place behind Rosberg in the early stages, but was eliminated from the running after being released from the pits with his front right wheel not properly attached.
Fernando Alonso triumphed for Ferrari in a dry race in 2013, before the new PU era kicked off a period of Mercedes dominance, with Lewis Hamilton taking a pole to flag victory from team-mate Nico Rosberg in 2014, although the chequered flag in question came out a lap too soon after a mix up!! 2015 saw a member of the public invade the track during practice on Friday, apparently hoping to try their hand at one of the Ferrari’s (something for Liberty to consider perhaps!), but on track 2015 saw yet another dominant 1-2 for Mercedes, with Hamilton leading Rosberg, with Nico bitterly complaining that Hamilton was backing him into the Ferrari’s behind in the early stint of the race! If a hostility within Mercedes wasn’t bad enough, Lewis also faced a backlash from the public after he was accused of being ‘selfish and inconsiderate’ (not an F1driver surelty!!) after spraying champagne directly into the face of one of the podium hostesses!
Last year’s race saw the wheels come off Lewis Hamilton’s championship challenge, well the MGU-H anyway, with energy recovery problems meaning Lewis was unable to set a time in qualifying and would have to start from the back. This, added to a puncture for Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and a collision between the other Red Bull of Kvyat and the two Ferrari;s of Raikkonen and Vettel on the opening lap, meant it was all rather too easy for Nico Rosberg, who romped home to victory for Mercedes, to take his third straight victory at the start of the season.
There is just 7.4 m of elevation change on this 5.451 km circuit, not surprising when you consider the track was built on marshland, with some 40,000 concrete pillars providing stabilisation of the track! The track was designed by Hermann Tilke, and with two long straights featuring DRS, we should hopefully see more overtaking than was on offer in Melbourne anyway.
Off the grid there’s 380 m burst to Turns 1 and 2, the cars seeming to wind forever through a very long winding double right hand corner (Daniel Ricciardo took advantage of the never ending bend to pass both Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and the Renault of Jolyon Palmer here last year as he fought his way back through the field after his unfortunate puncture)eventually dropping downhill into a winding left hander Turn 3, before flicking left thru Turn 4 and running wide over the kerbs onto a short straight, staying on the right hand side of the track as the track lifts slightly through the right hand kink at Turn 5, the cars moving immediately to the left before braking hard into Turn 6, a slightly downhill 90 degree right hander. Turn 6 has seen a few overtaking attempts down the years, with Red Bulls Daniil Kvyat swapping positions with Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso on track, Kvyat diving up the inside. The cars run wide left over the kerb on exit before launching forward towards Turn 7, a high speed looping left hand curve (where McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton ambushed Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel for the lead at the end of the 2011 race) that feeds into a right hand bend Turn 8.
Exiting Turn 8 the cars come to a pair of 90 degree left handers, braking hard into Turn 9. During his recovery drive last year after being forced to start from the back Mercedes Lewis Hamilton showed his new team mate Valtteri Bottas how to do it here, taking a wider line and getting a good exit from Turn 8 and diving up the inside of Bottas Williams into Turn 9.
Exiting Turn 9 the cars get back onto the throttle through Turn 10, the cars running wide right onto the kerb on exit to propel themselves down another short straight before braking into the left hander Turn 11, a left hander that feeds past the first DRS detection point into a pair of right handed curves, slowly first through Turn 12 and building up speed as they move to the outside around the long winding Turn 13, catapulting onto the back straight. This straight is over a km long and features the first DRS activation zone, so we are sure to witness plenty of action here over the course of the race. It was here that Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel got his ‘revenge’ on Daniil Kvyat, breezing by the Red Bull with the aid of DRS. After getting a breather on the long straight the cars have to brake hard into the right handed hairpin at Turn 14, the cars running wide on the left on exit past Turn 15 (well, technically a turn, blink and you miss it) and trying to hold position on the short run into the final corner, braking past the second DRS detection point passing the pit entry as the cars turn sharply left for Turn 16, and onto the pit straight, where DRS is available to have a look at overtaking into Turn 1.
TYRES WITH PIRELLI:
Shanghai imposes unique and quite high demands on the tyres, which has led to close racing as well as plenty of overtaking in the past. But the weather can also never be predicted, ranging from bright sunshine to heavy rain: sometimes in the same weekend. This will have a significant effect on tyre behaviour and strategy, as less degradation for this season theoretically means fewer pit stops. Last year, the winner stopped twice during the 56-lap race, although most drivers did a three-stopper.
THE THREE NOMINATED COMPOUNDS
1/ Red – Supersoft
2/ Yellow – Soft
3/ White – Medium
THE CIRCUIT FROM A TYRE POINT OF VIEW
Track always feels ‘green’ and slippery during the first sessions of the weekend.
There’s a roughly equal split of corners and straights on the track, inaugurated in 2004.
Corners that demand most from tyres are Turn 1 (a long right-hander) and Turn 13.
The front-left tyre is worked hardest.
The long straight means tyres can cool down and subsequently provoke graining.
Straight also provides chances to overtake, so teams can opt for the quickest strategy.
Pirelli will supply wet weather tyres in a different compound with better performance on low severity tracks and smooth asphalt.
MARIO ISOLA – HEAD OF CAR RACING
“We’re bringing the middle selection of compounds, but we expect teams to use mainly soft and supersoft, depending of course on the unpredictable weather: especially as the allocation is just two sets of medium. In the past, there has been some graining in China due to the long straights followed by tight corners, but we’ve seen in Barcelona testing that graining is generally reduced this year, so it will be good to have that confirmed. In case of wet and possibly cool conditions, we will supply wet weather tyres in a different compound, with the target of giving the drivers more grip.”
Pirelli is already collecting data for the 2018 range of prototype tyres, so China will provide some useful information when it comes to defining specifications.
There is only one non-F1 support series for the China Grand Prix, which means that not much rubber will be laid down on track over the course of the weekend.
For the first five races the teams all have seven sets of the softest compound available, four sets of the middle compound, and two of the hardest compound.
SHANGHAI MINIMUM STARTING PRESSURES (SLICKS)
21 psi (fronts) – 20.5 psi (rears)
If one swallow doesn’t make a summer, than one Australian Grand Prix does not make a championship race. Or does it? Mercedes have always looked strong here in China, and while the performance of Haas relative to the Mercedes customers in Australia made it look like Ferrari had made real progress on the PU front, China will provide an interesting comparison. Mercedes form here should still see them favorites, but it will be fascinating to see how Ferrari can push them. Within the Mercedes camp, Lewis Hamitlon has been quoted as saying Vettel will provide a sterner challenge than Rosberg, but the challenge from his new team-mate Bottas should not be overlooked. While looking outmatched initially in Australia, Bottas gradually improved as the weekend wore on, and put in a fine shift on Sunday afternoon – so Lewis would be well advised to consider the threat from Bottas as well. Kimi Raikkonen was disappointed after not managing to match his team-mates pace in Australia, but Kimi is not one to let a bad race or two dent his confidence, rest assured should Kimi be able to get the Ferrari working to his liking he will be right in the mix with Vettel. Red Bull are likely to still be number three, with the Renault PU not quite there…yet. But watch for them to play the spoiler during the race, even though the long straights in China should allow for more passing than we witnessed in Melbourne.
2006 – Michael Schumacher’s last Grand Prix victory, a tense see-saw battle in changing conditions with Fernando Alonso as the two fought for supremacy at the end of 2006. Read more.
2007 – Lewis Hamilton had one hand on the title in his rookie but saw it start to slip away as he slid off while entering the pits in a wet/dry race, opening the door for Kimi Raikkonen to steal the title. Read more
2011 – A thrilling race which saw Lewis Hamilton emerge victorious to temporarily interrupt the early season dominance of Sebastian Vettel. Read more
The Porsche Carerra Cup Asia kicks off this weekend, and will provide the only racing outside of F1 trackside.
|2009||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|