The top six drivers on the grid for tomorrow’s Chinese Grand Prix are taking radically different approaches on strategy.
The lead trio of Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber are light on fuel and will probably start on the super-soft tyre. Behind them Rubens Barrichello, Jenson Button and Jarno Trulli are fuelled to go longer.
The start and opening stint will be all-important, and once again there’s a threat of rain. Here’s a look at how the race could pan out.
The drivers who start the race on the super-soft tyre should have a significant advantage at the start. This is likely to be the leading trio, plus perhaps Nico Rosberg in seventh. He made an excellent start at Sepang and could give the Brawns and Jarno Trulli some grief in the opening laps.
Further back, keep an eye on Robert Kubica and Timo Glock, who are starting low down the field on light fuel loads.
At Shanghai, like Sepang, the racing line crosses the start/finish straight. However it is not unusual to see the drivers on the pole sitters’ side of the grid get a better start. This could be crucial for Jenson Button, who above all needs to get past team mate Rubens Barrichello who out-qualified him with a better fuel load.
Starting 17th, Kubica may be ruing ditching KERS ahead of qualifying as it might have been very useful for making up places. Only the McLarens and Nick Heidfeld will be running it, the highest-starting of which is Hamilton in ninth.
The lead trio have got to try to build up enough of a lead over the next three that they can make their first pit stop without losing track position. The pit stop time loss at Shanghai is 23 seconds, plus the time taken to deliver fuel.
But if the drop-off in performance on the super-soft tyre is anything like as bad as we saw at Melbourne, they will have to pit as soon as they start to lose grip.
It’s easy to glance at Fernando Alonso’s astonishingly light fuel load and write off his qualifying performance as being entirely down to a light car. It certainly helped – but the new diffuser added to his R29 this morning has contributed too.
He is likely to have three laps’ less fuel than Vettel, so it is especially important for him to make a good start. A repeat of his phenomenal Sepang getaway is what he really needs, but he’ll have to do it without KERS this time.
Of course, all this goes out of the window if we get rain, which sources predict there is a 60% chance of.
In which case we have a very exciting race in prospect with two of the sport’s stand-out wet weather performers on the front row of the grid ready to duke it out.
Join us for the Chinese Grand Prix live blog tomorrow to see how the race unfolds.