Rain may fall on Vettel’s parade in Shanghai (Chinese GP pre-race analysis)

Will Vettel win his second race in a row?
Will Vettel win his second race in a row?

Sebastian Vettel has the best possible starting position for the Chinese Grand Prix.

But with his team mate out for revenge, a string of quick rivals behind him and rain threatening, he may not have things all his own way in the race.

The start

At Sepang Sebastian Vettel worked his way up from third on the grid to pass his pole-sitting team mate going into the first corner. So, can Mark Webber return the favour as he shares the front row with Vettel tomorrow?

It’s probably Webber’s best shot of beating Vettel to victory. But unless the Australian gets off the line much quicker than his team mate it’s going to be a big ask. The long, sweeping first turn tends to funnel the pack into single-file quite quickly and doesn’t encourage changes of position the way the opening corners at Sepang do.

And Red Bull will be loath to sacrifice their advantage on the starting grid as their immediate championship rivals are queued up right behind them.

Fernando Alonso, especially, will know that picking off Webber on the first lap is crucial to getting a shot at Vettel later in the race.

The McLaren duo must be disappointed with lining up only fifth and sixth. Particularly Lewis Hamilton, who was one of few drivers not to improve on his Q2 time in Q3. If he had, he could easily have been third or second on the grid – the margins for error in qualifying are punishingly small this year.

They will most likely be worried about Nico Rosberg, who did a sterling job in qualifying for Mercedes once again, but could serve to delay the McLarens if the W01 can’t hack the leaders’ pace. Watch out for the MP4-25s mounting attacks on him down the long back straight on the opening lap.

Like Hamilton, Felipe Massa discovered how many grid places the smallest mistake can cost a driver in qualifying. An error on his lap left him only seventh on the grid – a position from which he’s not likely to still be leading the drivers’ championship come Sunday evening.

All the drivers in the top ten will start the race on the soft tyres, assuming it stays dry.

The weather

Jenson Button has been talking up his car’s wet weather set-up and he’s not the only driver preparing for rain tomorrow.

Toro Rosso have split their strategies with Sebastien Buemi running a compromise set-up in anticipation of rain falling and Jaime Alguersuari sticking with dry-weather settings.

Other teams may well have chosen a similar option. There’s no firm prediction on exactly when rain will arrive in Shanghai tomorrow, other than it’s likely to come at some point during the race. Rather than the kind of heavy rain we saw last year, showers more like those seen in 2006 and 2007 are expected.

If the rain does arrive, the timing will be crucial. At Sepang the widely-predicted rain never arrived, but several drivers delayed their first pit stops expecting the rain to arrive, hoping to save themselves making an extra pit stop.

We could see more of those tactics tomorrow – particularly from teams starting outside the top ten who may start the race on the hard tyres and pit later in the race.

First among them is 11th-placed Rubens Barrichello, who will not be running the ‘stalling rear wing’ the team tested in practice this morning. Nor are either of the Ferrari running their similar device which Alonso tested yesterday.


Come rain or shine, traffic is likely to be a problem whatever the conditions. Every session so far this weekend has seen some drivers gesticulating angrily at slower cars, usually the HRTs.

It seems to be a particular problem at Shanghai because the long corner sequences make it tricky for a backmarker to let a leading car by cleanly.

If Vettel finds himself with Alonso or an F-duct equipped McLaren breathing down his neck he’ll be hoping he catches Chandhok and Senna on the straights – and not halfway around the sequences that form turns one/two/three, seven/eight/nine or 11/12/13.

How do you expect the Chinese Grand Prix to unfold? Will the Red Bulls romp to victory or can the Ferraris and McLarens make life difficult for them? Have your say in the comments.

And don’t forget to join us for live commenting during the Chinese Grand Prix from one hour before the start of the race tomorrow.

2010 Chinese Grand Prix

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89 comments on “Rain may fall on Vettel’s parade in Shanghai (Chinese GP pre-race analysis)”

          1. (TommyB I am of course, fully aware, that luck had EVERYTHING to do with it and was just thumping my chest there.)

            He certainly can drive a car fast in mucky weather. What a champion!

        1. If Eddie Jordan had his way last year everyone would have thrown away their cars.

          My neighbour hates him with a passion, but I don’t see FOM telling EJ that he’s not welcome and being left outside the gates.

          1. So, an Englishman, a Scotsman and an Irishman walk into a Welsh pub. The bar steward says:”What can I get you?”

            The Scotsman says:”Drunk!”


  1. I’m convinced Webber isn’t a good starter, which is a major problem for this race. Although, with that first corner complex being an almost carbon-copy of Malaysia, if he can keep up with Vettel off the line he can do exactly what Seb did to him in KL. I’m sure he’s watched that move multiple times since, he’ll know exactly how to pull it off.

    But i do think Vettel will get the jump, and it doesn’t matter what the conditions are he’ll dominate this race.

    I’m half expecting Nico to do something heroic on Alfonso at the first corner too.

      1. yeah, rather than slow tricky corners that prompt a mistake and can encourage attacking, here we have a corner which will usually see cars go into single file, except for the 5 which go off the track wide that is…

    1. Both Nico and webber acc to me are bad starters while Vettel and Hammy have been too awesome. waiting for our bernando alfonso to do something against the front row or else just ride a train on the ‘wouldbe’ snorefest

  2. If it rains when the lights go out then Seb will runaway like he did in Melbourne.

    A bit frustrated with Hamilton performance in qualy today. He probabaly cooked up his tyres so in the last sector he lost massive time. Anyway, together with the other matador from Ferrari hopefully he put up the bull fight during the race tomorrow

  3. Speaking of F-duct, what about Saubers?
    They were among the fastest on straight line speed on Friday’s sessions but after the qualifying they got the slowest, did they decide not to use it?
    If so, it seems they have problems perfecting the system even though they were the first one to copy it.

    1. probably added more wing to try and help themselves with the rest of the lap. If your not very fast it’s better to try and get a better lap time than a setup that might allow you to overtake.

  4. All the drivers in the top ten will start the race on the soft tyres, assuming it stays dry.

    Whitmarsh said:

    “As for Jenson, he put in a very good lap in Q3 on used Option tyres – but, again, so close were the times of the drivers who qualified between P2 and P8, that a tenth or two would have made a significant difference to his grid slot.

    If the race starts dry, I´m fearing that this could compromises Jenson´s first stint.

    By the way, someone notice that Red Bull and Ferrari made some adjusts in their cars into the garage to run the last hot lap?

    Mclaren didn´t do that…

    1. They were fuelling the cars, which can only be done in the garage. McLaren just pitted, probably because of their issues with tyres over the practice sessions.

  5. Could be an interesting race this one. I don’t see why the Red Bulls would be worried about rain, to be honest – in fact they’d probably welcome it because they have a massive mechanical grip advantage over their rivals, and Vettel’s got no problems driving in the rain.

    Button seems to be acknowledging he lacks Hamilton’s outright pace and is relying on out-thinking him on strategy and pitstops. Given Hamilton’s performace at that sort of thing over the last few years, that’s not a bad idea either. Last year he had the benefit of occasional poor qualifying compared to his teammate but superior race speed. This year, he is beating his teammate in quali but is getting caught out in the race. Still, he leads Lewis and that’s got to be sweet.

    Alonso is starting to show Massa a much cleaner pair of heels and I can only see that increasing over the course of the year.

    But down the field Alguersari is again ahead of Buemi and showing much better promise. Perhaps the traditional mid-season “pointless sacking” from TR won’t be who we assumed it would be.

    1. “But down the field Alguersari is again ahead of Buemi and showing much better promise. Perhaps the traditional mid-season “pointless sacking” from TR won’t be who we assumed it would be.”
      Jaime is looking better but Buemi was more geared towards a wet race in terms of set up so that probably goes some way to explaining why he is behind Alg.

    2. “Button seems to be acknowledging he lacks Hamilton’s outright pace and is relying on out-thinking him on strategy and pitstops.”

      When did he admit to that!? LOL

      1. He’s constantly worried by lack of balance on the car and his failure to get softer sets of tyres to last. Equally, he’s been passed out by his teammate early on in two races in a row. He’s not commenting that he has the speed to beat Lewis, his comments are all about strategy, pitstops, timing, and getting the car “fixed”. In a way, that’s reflective of the way he drives the car so it’s barely worth commenting on. In another way, Lewis’s aggressive drive in the races themselves is showing a weakness for Button that wasn’t there last year, and the nature of his comments reflect that.

        1. I’m not sure mechanical grip is exactly the thing in the rain, though of course it can’t do any harm.

          The Redbulls will love the rain because they have downforce comming out of their ears, pushing the car into the ground when mechanical grip fails due to a slippery track.

          McLaren are being out played this season, while it’s true Hamiltons car may have gone off in Q3, The Redbulls an Ferrari’s arn’t revealing their hands right up untill Q3, McLaren must be worried about their car, because McLaren haven’t been fantastic conceptually since they lost Newey the team is suffering greatly under the changing regulations. The Mp23 was just a continually developed 22 which in turn looked rather simular in some ways to the 21. Mclaren thought they could develop to the end of the season because they underestimaited the time needed to develop their new car. Ferrari realised that a good concept just isn’t good enough against the pace of modern developent, an so they started developing massivley early, Redbull are so far ahead because they are the only team to sucsessfully evolve a concept an therfore have been able to bring all of last years developments straight onto the new car. Plus what they did over the winter an after Singapore.

        2. It seems to me that Lewis is more non-plussed about how his car is handling these days.

          Also, Lewis’s comments: “I just wasn’t fast enough” and “That was me on the limit so I don’t know where the time is.”, don’t sound like someone who has the upperhand over his team mate just yet.

    3. But strangely, despite finishing behind him, Buemi’s best lap in Malaysia was nearly 1.9 seconds faster than Alguesari’s. that’s a pretty big gap. Without proper TV coverage hard to know what’s really happening in the midfield sometimes, I reckon they’re both doing a pretty decent job for young guys, don’t expect any sackings there. I think Liuzzi is the one who’s got cause for worry, Sutil is killing him.

    1. Yet they dramatically improved their laptimes.

      On friday their qualifying runs were terribly slow while their topspeed as high. Too high probably. So they changed the setup to add more downforce and then they went faster.

  6. I’m reposting this as I don’t think anyones looking at the qualifying results page….Can anyone explain why the Mclaren was bottoming out with no fuel in it ?…have Mclaren figured out what redbull are doing and got it a little wrong ???

  7. If it rains after the race starts, then mclaren stand to benefit the most. mclarens(esp hammy) generate heat into the tires quicker( and hence deteriorate quicker ) than others and when it rains, and drivers are struggling for grip, the mclarens will have a relatively easier time, because atleast till they pit, their tires are a little hotter than their rivals around and hence less vulnerable… those extra few tenths of a second they can make up before the teams’ indecision to pit or wait is clarified will help them close or overtake at least the merc or maybe even the horse. The bulls may be difficult to overtake, but then with the long straights, they would have atleast given themselves the chance. Moreover, rain does not necessarily affect the straight-line speeds of the cars, only the way they take the corners, so the f-duct and the tire heat shud act to their advantage.
    However, if it’s alrdy raining before the start, i dont think there would be any stopping the bulls.

    BTW keith, any info on what compound for intermediates, is BS using in china ?

  8. One question to Keith or anyone else who has read the Rule Book very finely.

    1) How many hours/minutes before the race start are the cars fueled up?

    The reason I ask is if the time is say just 4 – 5 minutes and it is raining heavily, perhaps some teams may take the gamble of not putting as much fuel as much they would for a dry race if it is 100% sure that it will rain throughout the race, since fuel consumption is significantly lower when wet, isn’t it?

    I can see Ferrari thinking along these lines given their high fuel consumption.

    About the race, looking at how only 2nd row drivers have won races so far, I am thinking Alonso might do the same again, but Shanghai has rarely seen the drivers on the dirty side suffer as much as on other tracks. Should be a Red Bull procession if it doesn’t rain IMO

    1. 1) How many hours/minutes before the race start are the cars fueled up?

      FIA sporting regulation

      29.1 a) Refuelling is only permitted in the team’s designated garage area.

      b)No car may be refuelled after it has left the pit lane for the first time whilst the pit exit is open for the race.

      Just before they leave the pits to line up on the grid I would have thought.

  9. Let’s not forget that Vettel also retired from the previous two races in which he qualified pole… Lightning cant strike a third time, surely…

      1. The camera never lies, it’s clear as day. They move up and down depending on load a good few centimeters, particularly evident at the end of the back straight. This is illegal as has been demonstrated over the last yew seasons.

        1. You sure it wasn`t just the frong wing adjuster?. All wings are load tested for movement, plus a flexible front wing would be of little use, Imagine 130R at Suzuka.

          1. I added the red horizontal lines to aid comparison between the relative positions of the wing vs the monocoque. There should be no movement but evidently there is. The loading should only affect the wheels and suspension.

          2. I can see were your coming from. The whole wing assembly is moving in respect to the braking suspension loading, I thought it was only wing elements that were allowed to move 6 degrees relative to the front wing racing plane…

            PS. It demostrates the changes in tyre dynamics by showing the changing shape off the trye..Keep them coming!

  10. Just back to civilisation, been in Scottish highlands for the last few days, so catching up with news, was EJ stranded in Britain because the aeriplanes aren’t allowed to fly or was it something else?

    Anyway, pretty standard grid, RBR followed by quite even ferraris and mclarens.

        1. Once the Airways are closed only emergancy flights are allowed and as they have a 1-2 on the grid its hardly one of them :-). But Ive heard this Volcano could go on for months, could it put a spanner in the works for the approaching European phase?.

          1. Sorry, must go to specsavers, I read it as Didn`t manage to get the parts out, that must of been a mad dash in an 18 wheeler across Europe to find an open airport.

          2. Well, the teams and their equipment have got a week and a half to get back to Europe before the Spanish GP. I guess it could be done – just – overland by rail (although I hate to imagine the bureaucracy involved in transporting all of that lot through Russia), but the probability is that the winds will change and this volcano will cease to be an issue in a few days, so the teams will be fine.

          3. Well this volcano will stop in few days I think, but another volcano in Iceland might errupt because of the first one, and flights won’t be allowed to fly for a month. But once they manage to get to Europe, until the Canadian GP it can be transported on the ground.

        2. I wonder if they allow the French equivalent of BAA’s finest to handle these parts or do they go on as hand-luggage?

          Imagine carrying a front wing onto a plane! :-D

          1. imagine being on that plane, opening up the overhead compartment to put your bag in and finding a Red Bull front nose staring back at you……

            And yeah, if they can’t fly the gear back into England they’ll probably fly it to Italy and then put it on trains or send the transporters down to bring it back home from there.

        3. Airplanes won’t be allowed to fly for a month was what I ment. And the teams can transport all the things without airplanes once they’re in Europe, so not much of a problem there.

  11. I hope it´s not the case, but I could almost bet that there will be a first corner crash involving Webber… there is so much at stake in the first corner…

  12. I must say, great job done by Seb; i am more impressed with the youth each time I see him. I think however, the Mclarens, particularly Hamilton’s, will be quickest in the first 1/3 of the race. I expect him to pick off off his team mate and at least one other driver. It should be a great race and terrific action particularly if wet.

  13. I can t belive that this chinese track is still on the calendar. Terrible track and Monza has been cancelled together with many historic track. All in the name of the holy $$$$$$ thanks FIA

  14. Does anyone know the speed trap times during qualifying or any of the Shanghai sessions?
    With this F-duct and the long straights, I would have thought McLaren would be able to overtake even the Red Bulls, rain or not.

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