Will Sunday see a repeat of last year’s Chinese Grand Prix drama?

2012 Chinese Grand Prix preview

Start, Shanghai, 2011Last year’s Chinese Grand Prix was rated the best race of the season by F1 Fanatic readers.

In dry conditions the race showcased the best F1′s new tyres and rules changes had to offer, with the outcome in doubt until the end. Lewis Hamilton snatched victory from Sebastian Vettel late in the race while Mark Webber raced from 18th on the grid to finish third.

Will we see another race to remember this year?

The vast scale of the Shanghai International Circuit – built for the first Chinese Grand Prix in 2004 – dwarfs almost anything else on the F1 calendar.

But the track itself offers little to get excited about: “one of the pretty standard modern tracks,” says Heikki Kovalainen.

“It’s a mix of low and medium speed corners, a very long straight with a tight corner at the end that provides a natural point to overtake, and a couple of tight fiddly bits you never quite feel like you get completely right.”

He’s not the only driver left underwhelmed by the venue: “It?s not my favourite race of the year” admitted Nico Hulkenberg.

Shanghai circuit information

Lap length 5.451km (3.387 miles)
Distance 56 laps (305.1km/189.6 miles)
Lap record* 1’32.238 (Michael Schumacher, 2004)
Fastest lap 1’32.238 (Michael Schumacher, 2004)
Tyres Medium and Soft

*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix

Shanghai track data in full

However the track, which holds its ninth F1 race this year, has begun to acquire some character with the passage of time. The high-speed entry to turn one features one of the fiercest bumps in F1 that can easily catch the unwary.

Exiting turn 13 the drivers are hard on the throttle for a whisker under 1.4km before arriving at one of the hardest braking zones of the year. Deceleration peaks at 6G as they shed over 250kph (155mph) for the 68kph hairpin at the end.

The DRS zone is situated here in the race and is unchanged from what was used last year, when it tended to make overtaking rather too easy. The race saw 77 overtakes, more than half of which were the new breed of ‘motorway-style’ DRS passes.

Rain is often a feature at the Chinese round. Since the race was moved from the end of the calendar to the beginning, two of the three races held have been in wet conditions.

But as last year’s race showed, you don’t necessarily need rain for a great race here. Pirelli are bringing their soft and medium tyres – the same compounds used in Melbourne – which will take a pounding around Shanghai’s many fast corners. Last year’s race saw drivers adopt a range of different strategic approaches.

Red Bull

The RB8 has looked quick over a race distance. But it doesn’t have the edge in qualifying the team enjoyed last year, which was the cornerstone of much of their success.

The same goes for Sebastian Vettel, who has been fractionally slower than his team mate in the two qualifying sessions so far.

After a solid damage-limiting drive to second in Australia, Vettel was on course for a similar result in Malaysia. Then came that needless tangle with Narain Karthikeyan.

However the car isn’t far off the McLarens and they could well be back on form in China.

McLaren

McLaren won’t be disappointed with their start to the season but nor can they be entirely pleased at having turned a pair of qualifying one-twos into one win and a couple of third places.

China has been a happy hunting ground for them with three wins in the last four races.

Jenson Button, who won the 2010 race, expects to see teams converging on set-up after spending time analysing the data from the first two rounds: “There will be the usual set-up compromises: setting the car up to offer good downforce through some of the faster corners, but without sacrificing too much speed along the straights.

“We saw different teams address that balance in different ways over the first two races, so it will be interesting to see if things start to converge this weekend after a few weeks back in Europe.”

Ferrari

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Sepang, 2012That Fernando Alonso is leading the drivers’ championship is a tribute to his superlative skills rather than the performance of the F2012. The team admit their car is the best part of a second off the front runners.

The team have brought forward some updates for this race but even so they expect a weekend of damage limitation while they ready their major upgrade for the start of the European season.

Mercedes

The intrigue around the W03, and its controversial ‘front wing F-duct’, is far in excess of what the car has actually achieved so far this year: a single point inherited by Michael Schumacher after Pastor Maldonado retired in Malaysia.

The car’s superior straight-line performance will be a boon on Shanghai’s long straight in qualifying. But more important is whether the team can get to the bottom of their poor tyre degradation which is hurting them in races.

Nico Rosberg led the last two races here and finished on the podium in 2010. He said: “The track is quite different to the first two, as it demands more from the front tyres than the rears – in other words, what is termed a front-limited circuit.

“We know that we have a quick car, but we are looking to improve our long run pace in China next weekend and to have a better race performance.”

Lotus

The feeling at Lotus is that they have a car with considerable potential but have been unable to capitalise on it due to various setbacks in the opening races: particularly Kimi Raikkonen’s qualifying problems and Romain Grosjean’s inability to make it beyond lap three.

What they want in China is a “normal” weekend – no hiccups, no rain and no hospitality unit fires.

Raikkonen is also hoping to eradicated the power steering problems that have plagued him since the start of the year. “We?re almost there,” he said.

Force India

Paul di Resta, Force India, Melbourne, 2012Force India are in the thick of a fierce midfield battle. They started the season well and have already bagged nine points.

However they’re not in as comfortable a position as they were at the end of last year and will need to wring every last hundredth from the VJM05 to keep scoring.

The pair were closely matched in Malaysia – Paul di Resta finishing less than four seconds ahead of Hulkenberg. This weekend Jules Bianchi will drive di Resta’s car in first practice.

Sauber

Sergio Perez was the star of the Malaysian Grand Prix. But he had already demonstrated the C31′s potential Australia where he briefly ran second despite having front wing damage.

Looking ahead to Shanghai Perez said: “The high speed corners of the track should suit our car. I especially like turn one – it is a long and pretty difficult bend. The long straight will not be the easiest part for us, but, again, we have to maximise our potential.”

Toro Rosso

The battle of the rookies at Toro Rosso is shaping up nicely, with both Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne getting their first points on the board in the opening two races.

The STR7 wasn’t quite as competitive in Malaysia as it had been in Australia, and both will be keen to avoid elimination in Q1.

Williams

Pastor Maldonado, Williams, Sepang, 2012The team already seem to have made a significant step forward compared to last year. Had it not been for piston failure on Pastor Maldonado’s car they would have had a double points finish in Malaysia.

Valtteri Bottas will drive Bruno Senna’s car in first practice.

Caterham

Caterham appear to have fallen short of their goal of bringing the midfield in range but will continue to pursue them with some updates for the CT01 this weekend.

“We have bodywork updates targeted at increased load and more efficient cooling, given the lower ambient temperatures we will to see in Shanghai,” explained technical director Mark Smith.

HRT

HRT made it into the race in Malaysia – though Vettel and Button probably wished they hadn’t. Expect to see them most often when being lapped by the leaders.

Marussia

Timo Glock capitalised on problems for Heikki Kovalainen to split the Caterhams in Malaysia.

He’s not likely to repeat the feat without a bit of help, but the fact that the MR01 was capable of that much has come as something of a surprise given their lack of pre-season testing.

2012 driver form

Q avg R avg R best R worst Classified Form guide
Sebastian Vettel 5.5 6.5 2 11 2/2 Form guide
Mark Webber 4.5 4 4 4 2/2 Form guide
Jenson Button 2 7.5 1 14 2/2 Form guide
Lewis Hamilton 1 3 3 3 2/2 Form guide
Fernando Alonso 10 3 1 5 2/2 Form guide
Felipe Massa 14 15 15 15 1/2 Form guide
Michael Schumacher 3.5 10 10 10 1/2 Form guide
Nico Rosberg 7 12.5 12 13 2/2 Form guide
Kimi Raikkonen 13.5 6 5 7 2/2 Form guide
Romain Grosjean 4.5 0/2 Form guide
Paul di Resta 14.5 8.5 7 10 2/2 Form guide
Nico Hulkenberg 12.5 9 9 9 1/2 Form guide
Kamui Kobayashi 15 6 6 6 1/2 Form guide
Sergio Perez 15.5 5 2 8 2/2 Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo 12.5 10.5 9 12 2/2 Form guide
Jean-Eric Vergne 14.5 9.5 8 11 2/2 Form guide
Pastor Maldonado 9.5 16 13 19 2/2 Form guide
Bruno Senna 13.5 11 6 16 2/2 Form guide
Heikki Kovalainen 21 18 18 18 1/2 Form guide
Vitaly Petrov 19 16 16 16 1/2 Form guide
Pedro de la Rosa 22 21 21 21 1/1 Form guide
Narain Karthikeyan 23 22 22 22 1/1 Form guide
Timo Glock 20 15.5 14 17 2/2 Form guide
Charles Pic 21 17.5 15 20 2/2 Form guide

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Your view: 2012 Chinese Grand Prix

Who’s your tip for success in the Chinese Grand Prix? Will anyone break McLaren’s monopoly on the front row of the grid?

Have your say in the comments.

2012 Chinese Grand Prix

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Image ?? Pirelli/LAT, Ferrari/Ercole Colombo, Force India/Sutton, Williams/LAT

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59 comments on Will Sunday see a repeat of last year’s Chinese Grand Prix drama?

  1. Gluke said on 11th April 2012, 20:26

    F1 is the most stunning show in motor sport. Last year, the chinese GP, has been amazing. Hopefully, this year will be the same!

  2. MahavirShah (@mahavirshah) said on 11th April 2012, 21:25

    Could it be that as tracks get older the race quality on them gets better and there would be a point where the tracks we criticize today for lack of racing would actually produce good racing as the years go by. If that is the case then Herman Tilke would be getting a lot of flak for very little reason. Last years best race on a Tilke track with his typical modern layout. 10 years later maybe Yas Marina getting a 9 on 10 rating in our polls ? :) !

    • cg22me (@cg22me) said on 11th April 2012, 22:10

      Haha!
      We live in hope…
      XD

    • Toro Stevo (@toro-stevo) said on 12th April 2012, 0:43

      I’m pretty sure Melbourne was panned when it first came in, I certainly thought it was a step down from Adelaide. Now it’s considered (by some) to be one of the best races of the year. I’ve never been a fan of the Shanghai circuit, but for some reason it seems to be producing good races despite not having one corner I would call a classic (like Melbourne).

      I’m not sure if it’s the passage of time changing people’s opinions, or the general reduction in the quality of tracks with time. It’s probably a relative thing, while newer (usually more benign) circuits don’t do much for the bedded in fans, the car and aero developments also render good tracks average over time, and sometimes vice versa.

  3. Matt (@agentmulder) said on 11th April 2012, 22:26

    The site “The F1 Times” ran an article yesterday claiming the DRS zone had been shortened by 50m from the 2011 race.

    http://thef1times.com/news/display/05733#page_top

  4. Dizzy said on 11th April 2012, 23:13

    I actually didn’t think last year’s race was anything too special.
    There was a lot of boring DRS/Tyre related passing but not a lot of actual racing or real overtaking.

    DRS was far too effective & while everyone was going on about Mark Webber’s brilliant drive, Even he said it actually wasn’t that satisfying because of the effect DRS & the Pirelli’s had on it which made passing many cars quite easy.

    Like wise people talk about Hamilton’s pass on Vettel, However considering Vettel’s tyres were ‘falling off the cliff’ the pass was inevitable. It was blatently obvious as soon as LH started catching SV that he was going to get by & that took a lot of the excitement & tension out of it for me.

  5. F1_Dave said on 11th April 2012, 23:23

    If DRS makes passing too easy again im just going to turn off the TV.

    Can’t be bothered to sit through another race full of boring motorway passes, I’d rather watch a proper race. At least Indycar is on again this Sunday, Seems thats where the real racing is found now! The last race at Barber was miles better than any F1 race has been in the DRS/Pirelli Era.

  6. Grosjean needs to stop smiling so much, he probably wets himself at the start and ends up crashing, he needs to gain some of the ice cool determination his team mate has and get on with it, that is all.

  7. The DRS is too long for china, its going to obvious how easy overtaking is going to be, i think the DRS zone should be the start-finish straight.

    • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 12th April 2012, 13:50

      @um1234 I believe that China last year was the best possible use of DRS. I remember there still being a question of ‘will he, won’t he?’ as the drivers approached the hair-pin leading to the final corner.

      They’re not using the entire straight for DRS.

  8. AlonsoWDC (@alonsowdc) said on 12th April 2012, 1:31

    Despite Shanghai lighting up this site’s list of top-reviewed GPs and the fact that the only properly boring event here was in 2008, it is a little odd to see Tilkedrome complaints editorially shoe-horned into here from drivers who don’t exactly offer interesting opinions on the matter.

    The track races well, has more than one or two properly challenging bends, undulates, has banking (how’s that for adding something unique?), and this is without mentioning the turns one-two complex that, despite being such a unique challenge over any lap, from a practice out lap to the first GP lap, doesn’t even define the circuit.

    Maybe we could all stand a lesson in not berating Tilke’s tracks mindlessly at venues that hardly deserve it.

  9. topdowntoedown (@topdowntoedown) said on 12th April 2012, 11:09

    I’d like to predict that Lewis Hamilton will not be frequenting a nightclub in Shanghai after the race this year.

  10. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 12th April 2012, 13:48

    It has been a rather unusual start to the season so in some respects I’m seeing this as some sort of…second go?! That’s based on the fact that the teams had little idea where they were post-testing and no real time to evaluate and react after Australia, due to the next race being within 7 days.

    I’m desperate to see if Mercedes are going to be able to sort their tyre issues out and take advantage of the longest straight in F1. I really want to see how RBR will perform, particularly Vettel.

    I also want to see Grosjean finish a race, third time lucky eh?

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