Mark Webber, Red Bull, Shanghai, 2011

Webber needs to limit damage as Vettel eyes five-in-a-row

2011 Chinese GP pre-race analysisPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Mark Webber, Red Bull, Shanghai, 2011
Mark Webber, Red Bull, Shanghai, 2011

Sebastian Vettel could become the first driver in seven years to win five races in a row if he wins in China.

He’s in the perfect position to following a comfortable run to pole position.

Meanwhile for the second race in a row team mate Mark Webber finds himself needing to limit the damage.

The start

It’s a short run to the first corner at Shanghai – 260 metres, just 60 more than Melbourne – and when the drivers get there there isn’t a lot of braking to do.

As a result is it’s very rare for anyone other than the pole sitter to be leading at the end of lap one. Yes, Fernando Alonso leapt into the lead from the third on the grid last year – but that was only because he jumped the start.

But Sebastian Vettel will still have to fight off a pair of McLarens who are unlikely to have to worry about any fast-starting Renaults this time – unless Vitaly Petrov pulls off something really special from the fifth row.

Nico Rosberg started poorly in Sepang, losing four places. Ferrari showed the race pace to challenge McLaren there, but their opportunity to use it here will be limited if they can’t pass Rosberg at the start.

Similarly, Petrov needs a good getaway to clear the likes of Paul di Resta and the Toro Rossos. They’re likely to be slower than him in the race and he needs to take the fight to the Ferraris.

Strategy

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Shanghai, 2011
Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Shanghai, 2011

Lewis Hamilton had one eye on avoiding a repeat of his Sepang problems in qualifying.

He only used one set of new soft tyres in Q3, saving himself one more fresh set for the race than his team mate or Vettel have.

The fall in temperatures from Friday to Saturday has allowed the teams to eke out more life from their tyres. Conditions on Sunday look to be similar to Saturday, perhaps a few degrees warmer.

Strategies look more likely to follow Melbourne lines with most teams needing two stops, some making three and others – most likely the Saubers – trying to get away with just one.

The top nine drivers will all start on the soft tyres they qualified on. Tenth-placed Petrov, who did not set a time in Q3, will have a free choice of which compound he uses, as will everyone else behind him.

Then there is the question of Mark Webber, mired down in 18th. He showed in Malaysia that he can make up places even when deprived of KERS, but he will need some help from strategy to get him into the higher reaches of the top ten.

Unfortunately for him Webber has tended to need one pit stop more than his team mate. Jockeying for position in the thick of the midfield is not going to help his tyre life, nor offer him the space he needs to gain the benefit of running shorter stints and making an extra stop.

He should at least have DRS to help him out – though it may not prove as useful as he was counting on.

DRS

In the press conference Jenson Button indicated the DRS zone has been shortened from its previous length of 902m:

“The line has changed. When I woke up this morning and got in, I noticed that the DRS position has changed on the circuit. It was 900-odd meters, now it?s 750 before the last corner. 752 meters.”

The FIA have not confirmed this is the case and the graphic on their site still indicates it’s 902 metres. Any further updates on this will be posted here or on F1 Fanatic Live during the race.

It wouldn’t be a great surprise if the FIA have shortened the zone, as it was set to be similar in length to the one in Sepang, which we saw made overtaking quite easy.

Over to you

Do you think anyone can beat Vettel in tomorrow’s race? And where will Webber finish from 18th on the grid?

Have your say in the comments.

2011 Chinese Grand Prix

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Images ?? Red Bull/Getty images, McLaren