Chinese GP: thoughts on the start

The top four started in the same order at last year\'s Chinese Grand Prix

The top four started in the same order at last year's Chinese Grand Prix

With a very similar top five on the grid, will we see a repeat of the Fuji chaos at the first corner at Shanghai?

Lewis Hamilton is on pole position but he has title rival Felipe Massa starting in his wheeltracks and the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen alongside him. The presence of Fernando Alonso in fourth on the grid serves to ratchet the tension up another notch.

On top of that, there is an increasing chance of a drizzle of rain in the run-up to the start.

The start

Hamilton has the benefit of the cleaner side of the grid, but how much of a difference that makes at Shanghai is a little hard to tell: the last two races here started in wet conditions. The top four lined up in the same order here last year, and Hamilton shot off into the lead, but that is not necessarily a strong indication of how things will go tomorrow.

The Ferraris have been getting away from the line especially well recently which the Fuji scenario typified: Raikkonen was easily able to pick off Hamilton from second on the grid. Hamilton knows he must not be flustered by a repeat of such a move. Whether he can sufficiently master his competitive instincts to put that caution into action is the big-money question.

What is very different at Shanghai compared to Fuji is the first corner: no ultra-slow hairpin here, instead the tracks curves right and tightens progressively, before screwing back in the opposite direction. It’s like a longer version of the first turn at Sepang, another of Herman Tilke’s track.

The lack of a sudden, sharp braking point tends to lessen the opportunity for first-corner lunges and passes. That said, GP2 Asia racer Earl Bamber managed to pick off a couple of his rivals by taking an unorthodox outside line in the right hander, and benefiting from the track turning left.

If Ferrari expect Raikkonen to beat Hamilton away from the line, perhaps he has been briefed to hug that inside line and back off in an attempt to delay Hamilton, giving Massa the chance to get by. Think back to how well Raikkonen’s little lift on the throttle in front of Hamilton worked out at the first corner at Interlagos last year.

The strategy

Hamilton has been very quick all weekend, so even a situation where he ends the first lap behind both Ferraris isn’t necessarily a disaster for him. It’s doubtful McLaren put him on an aggressively light strategy to take pole position: even though he claimed it by the fairly comfortable margin of 0.3s, he’s had roughly that amount in hand over the Ferraris all weekend.

For Ferrari they simply must get Raikkonen ahead of Hamilton at the start and then either hope Hamilton’s impulsiveness or the stewards’ randomness does the hard work for them. Otherwise they may find themselves having to contain a rapid McLaren.

If Massa pulls off a Hungaroring-style demon start and leads Raikkonen and Hamilton at the end of lap one, Ferrari will surely use Raikkonen to delay Hamilton.

The weather

Early forecasts suggested Sunday would see a sprinkling of rain and as we get closer to the start of the race that still seems likely. We’re not looking at a Silverstone-style downpour, more a light sprinkling.

Autosport has a good projection of the likely rainfall here.

So far this year we’ve seen McLaren stronger as rain falls on a track and when conditions are very wet. But Raikkonen has been the man to watch as the track moves from damp to dry – seemingly able to conjure up more grip using his F2008 than team mate Massa can.

More on the weather in the forum: 2008 Chinese Grand Prix weather watch

How do you think tomorrow’s race will unfold?

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32 comments on Chinese GP: thoughts on the start

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  1. Think back to how well Raikkonen’s little lift on the throttle in front of Hamilton worked out at the first corner at Interlagos last year.

    Wasn’t it Massa, who was in pole, did this for Raikkonen get past Lewis?

  2. I think Kimi will get the jump on Lewis to be honest. The more intresting battle will be Alonso and Massa – If I guess right Lewis will be 2nd and Alonso 3rd going into the first few corners. So can I predict
    Lewis DNF
    Alonso DNF
    at a guess??

  3. MacademiaNut said on 18th October 2008, 16:02

    You can pretty much expect how Lewis car will be positioned at the grid start. It will be tilted a bit towards the inside to cut off RAI. HAM has to be careful of MAS taking that outer line and being on the inside for the left-hander; we might expect a similar bump from MAS if HAM is going to hug the left-hander. As long as there is no incident involving the first five cars, it will be great fun.

    KOV still has to prove that he can help the team and his teammate win his WDC. Look at the performance of RAI to help MAS; and for that matter even ALO to go light just to qualify ahead to help MAS.

  4. Kimi has really improved over the last 3 races qualifying wise, so hats off to him…although its a bit too late.

    Hamilton I got a feeling won’t make the same mistake again in SHanghai…he will shoot off right at the start and if not he won’t be going crazy like in Fuji. He must have learnt his lesson from.

    I am a bit baffled by Massa…his qualifying in Q3 hasn’t been that impressive of late, or maybe they’re just fuelling his car heavier taking care of the long term prospects in the race. However, with a full tank he will be slow off the start but the again we all know Alonso wouldn’t bother him.

    I really can’t wait for the Grand Prix tomorrow..it will be very nerve racking at the start I am sure.

    Predictions:

    Kimi
    Hamilton
    Alonso…

    Don’t ask why I didn’t put Massa in there…I guess its just a gut feeling.

  5. Kimi and Hambone off track after turn two contact; Alonso and mASSa slide by; Kovy disappears as usual.

    Alonso
    mASSa
    Kimi

  6. David - DR said on 18th October 2008, 16:58

    Obviously everything depends on who gets the best start. But I’d factor Kovaleinen into the equation. If Lewis starts well and ahead, he won’t hopefully have much problem. But I expect Kovi to be ultra-aggressive off the grid: he needs to get up front a few places quickly to have some impact.

    If it’s rain, Lewis should start as well as possible without pushing overly, even if it means letting the Ferrari’s by. He’ll reel them in easily over the course of the race if he keeps his head.

    And Alonso? Will he go for the win and forget about helping Massa? Or does last year’s grudge/the future Ferrari contract talk louder than winning a GP?

  7. Robert McKay said on 18th October 2008, 17:00

    After Alonso’s nonsense comments it’d be ironic if he collected Massa at turn 1 or 2. Or even if Massa got a poor start and Alonso slotted by…what’s he going to do then?

    Hamilton needs to get a good start, something he’s been missing recently.

  8. Oliver said on 18th October 2008, 17:48

    I think Keith is already in “Kimi helping Massa” mode. Massa’s momentary lift of the throttle actually stalled, Hamilton’s momentum at the start of the Brazilian GP. Kimi is probably fueled a bit lighter, as he was in fuji, to enable him qualify in pole or get a very good start.

    If it does rain before the start, there will be no benefit from starting on the driving line, matter of fact, it may be better to start from the even numbered position on the grid.

    I expect a loose manhole will bring out the safety car at a very convenient time to wreck Hamilton’s race if he is in the lead.

  9. It is a short straight but starting corners go in opp direction, so even if Hamilton is beaten off the line it shouldn’t worry him one bit.

    It is highly unlikely that 20 cars would pass that corner without touching each other. So Hamilton should be careful not to end up in a situation where his car is pointing in a direction opp to traffic ( as was in Fuji)

    I believe Kimi should be able to beat him off the line or at least by the end of third corner and once he gets the heat in his tires he will be hard to beat so lets see what happens .

    Lastly I would recommend you, Keith to record the video of first three laps, and if possible with English commentary :) and then upload it on Metacafe or dailymotion . F1 guys wont let you play it on Youtube x-(

  10. martinb said on 18th October 2008, 18:52

    Both Ferraris deliberately start slowly. Kimi slots in between Hamilton and Massa. At the first corner Kimi nerfs Hamilton into the runoff area. Alonso shoots into the lead with Massa second. Later, Alonso has trouble with a pit stop and Massa wins. Hamilton pits for a new rear wing and maybe ends up getting a point or two after working his way through the field.

  11. Think back to how well Raikkonen’s little lift on the throttle in front of Hamilton worked out at the first corner at Interlagos last year.

    Wasn’t it Massa, who was in pole, did this for Raikkonen get past Lewis?

    on the straight yes, then Kimi did it to him, allowing Alonso past…. then Alonso did it

    He got brake tested 3 times in the first sector.

  12. @Keith: IDR said that he had mentioned his technique of finding driver’s fuel loads in one of the earlier posts. Do you remember where, and can you give a link to me?

    IDR’s predictions are pretty bold, I think. He reckons that Massa and Alonso are due to arrive together, surely ferrari have been slower; but as slow as Renault, I don’t think so

  13. Anyone thought of
    Alonso Massa hit?

  14. Sumed,

    The way I use to made the calculation is in this thread:

    http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2008/09/06/belgian-gp-driver-fuel-load-predictions/

    (Comment 11)

    But it seems to me everytime I post this forecast many people is little bit obsesed with it.

    Is so simple, not accurate at all, but gives a good indication of who is lighter and who is heavier, no more than that. As I repeated in several occassions, those figures doesn’t take in consideration the differences in performance each drivers could have between Q2 and Q3.

    In any case, I still thinking that Ferrari seems lighter than McLaren. I don’t believe they are 4 laps lighter, as this calculation shows, but at least one or two, surely.

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