Button eyes hat-trick at Shanghai (Chinese Grand Prix preview)

Championship leader Jenson Button aims to extend his winning streak

Championship leader Jenson Button aims to extend his winning streak

F1 returns to Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix just five races since its last visit.

The earlier appearance for the track on the schedule means the teams can expect cooler conditions – and a greater chance of rain.

They will also have to get to grips with the super-soft tyre which caused so many problems in Melbourne. And tomorrow’s ruling on the diffuser appeal could see changes in the balance of power at the front of the field.

The Chinese Grand Prix makes its sixth appearance on the F1 calendar and, for the first time, ever, the race is being held in April instead of its usual October slot.

April in Shanghai sees average temperatures around 4C cooler than in October. Perhaps more significantly, average rainfall in April is 90-95mm compared to 55-60mm in October. The 2006 and 2007 Chinese rounds were rain-affected.

Partly because of the cooler conditions, this year the teams have a radically softer selection of tyres to use. Last year Bridgestone brought their hard and medium compounds – this year the teams will use the medium and super-soft tyres.

This was the same selection the teams had in Melbourne, where they found the super-soft tyres degraded rapidly after just a few laps. If we see a repeat of this phenomenon in Shanghai the teams will be faced with a difficult strategic question: use the super-soft tyres in the first stint to get rid of them and hope to take advantage of a safety car period; or save them until the end when the extra rubber build-up on the circuit may help them last longer.

The Shanghai races comes after the teams’ first two-week break of the season, and it’s likely many of them will have new parts to test on Friday. If tomorrow’s appeal court hearing upholds the legality of the ‘double decker diffusers’ used by Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota, keep an eye out for which teams have their own versions ready to run. If the appeal goes against the ‘diffuser three’, all eyes will be on the times sheets to see how much of an effect it has on their performance.

Shanghai has the second-longest flat-out section of any F1 track on the calendar this year: the 1.37km blast from turn 13 to 14. This will likely hand a considerable advantage to any KERS-equipped cars when it comes to overtaking. Will any other drivers join the seven that have used the device so far?

Drivers to watch

Heikki Kovalainen – It’s easy to get distracted by the Lewis Hamilton Show, particularly when Kovalainen has failed to complete a racing lap so far this year. That can’t last forever though – remember Sebastian Vettel last year – and Kovalainen has shown promising pace in qualifying and practice. A surprise could be on the cards.

Fernando Alonso – Made a scintillating start at Sepang, watch for more of the same on Sunday.

Nico Rosberg – Fastest in five of the six pre-race practice sessions so far, can Rosberg finally translate promise into performance?

Rubens Barrichello – It’s two-nil to Button so far, and if Barrichello wants a crack at the championship this year he needs to get on terms with his team mate.

Shanghai International Circuit map and information (click to enlarge)

Shanghai International Circuit map and information (click to enlarge)

More on the Chinese Grand Prix

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