Will Shanghai continue its streak of great races?

2013 Chinese Grand Prix preview

Start, Shanghai, 2012The Shanghai International Circuit has seen some of the most popular F1 races of recent years.

The last three Chinese Grand Prix all ranked within the top 15 races on F1 Fanatic’s Rate the Race, which has been running since 2008. Whether that’s been down to changes in the tyres, DRS, KERS or the nature of the track is a matter of opinion.

But it does raise hopes that the tenth running of the Chinese Grand Prix will produce more excitement.

The simmering tensions left over from the past race will do nothing to hurt that. Red Bull and Mercedes – the teams at the heart of the acrimonious end to the Malaysian Grand Prix – have had the best part of three weeks to get their house in order.

But they can expect to face further questions in the build-up to the race. Particularly Red Bull, as Mark Webber has kept himself out of the headlines while spending time in Australia mulling his options. The passage of time appears to have made Sebastian Vettel less remorseful about his actions.

Once the serious business begins on the track, the first question is whether we will finally get a dry qualifying session and a clearer picture of the true one-lap performance of each of the cars.

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

Nestling in an industrial area outside Shanghai the track itself looks like a factory product, little different in concept from any other modern circuit. Its main distinguishing features are a huge back straight, corners that are on the slow side of the average and a surface which is little-used and hence low on grip.

That plus the fairly low temperatures seen at this time of year makes life difficult for the front tyres and graining can be a particular problem. They will play a big role in Sunday race as well but it remains to be seen if team orders will be as prevalent as they were in Malaysia.

Chinese Grand Prix team-by-team preview

Red Bull

It’s remarkable to think that it was at this race four years ago that Red Bull scored their first win. Such has been the scale of their success since then.

On that occasion they scored a one-two with Sebastian Vettel leading home Webber. But their latest such result has plunged the team into crisis.

Christian Horner needs to steady his ship as Malaysia demonstrated Red Bull are capable of further championship success this year. But having struggled to get both his drivers to obey orders in two of the last three races, can he rely on them to do as they’re told?

Ferrari

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Sepang, 2013Fernando Alonso has never qualified behind his team mate in five consecutive races. And 12 months ago the suggestion that Felipe Massa might might inflict that kind of defeat on him would have been laughable.

But that’s exactly what he stands to do if he beats Alonso again in qualifying on Saturday. It’s been a truly remarkable turnaround for Massa, who is also ahead of Alonso in the points standings. Will that still be the case on Sunday evening?

McLaren

McLaren are going to be busy in the build-up to the race as they strive to transform their MP4-28 into a front-runner before their biggest rivals get too far ahead in the points standings.

A crucial question for them is how much work they will be able to get done on Friday given the expected short lifespan of the tyres.

Lotus

When it comes to looking after tyres the Lotus E20 has been one of the best cars so far. The team used it to their advantage in Australia but compromised qualifying positions in Malaysia spoiled their race. Saturday will be extra-important for them.

Kimi Raikkonen tried and failed to stretch out the life of his tyres in the race last year, leading to his only no-score of the season: “There was some good racing and it looked like a strong result could have been possible, but we ran out of rubber during the final stint and didn?t score any points,” he explained.

“Hopefully we?ll be a little bit more lucky with the tyre performance this time and well prepared from a strategy point of view. We had the race pace in 2012, that?s true, but we tried to carry on with our tyres for too long. They dropped off, and that was it.”

Mercedes

The Shanghai International Circuit is clearly Nico Rosberg’s strongest track – he’s led 78 of the last 168 racing laps here (46%), culminating in his breakthrough F1 race victory last year.

Mercedes have naturally played down their chances of victory at the track where they also locked out the front row of the grid last year. But Malaysia showed the potential in their W04 – Hamilton might have been able to go after the Red Bulls had he been fuelled more realistically, and Rosberg could have done too had he not been so biddable.

Sauber

Nico Hulkenberg, Sauber, Sepang, 2013After the disappointment of Australia Nico Hulkenberg enjoyed a feisty race in Malaysia, going wheel-to-wheel with Raikkonen. He believed he could have finished higher had he not picked up rear wing damage early on.

Hulkenberg admits Shanghai is “not particularly one of my favourite tracks” but his team had one of their strongest qualifying performances at this race last year.

Force India

Force India have confirmed they will continue to use the captive wheel nut system in China. The team believe they understand what caused it to fail in Malaysia, leading to the retirement of both their cars.

Adrian Sutil can expect to be under greater scrutiny this weekend following the events of his last appearance at the Chinese Grand Prix. He was given a suspended prison sentence following an incident in a nightclub.

Williams

Williams are in a holding pattern until their major upgrade package arrives at the Spanish Grand Prix but Valtteri Bottas showed in Malaysia they have the chance to finish in the lower reaches of the points.

This will be their first race with Claire Willimas serving as deputy team principal.

Toro Rosso

Daniel Ricciardo, Toro Rosso, Sepang, 2013Daniel Ricciardo believes the team still have work to do to discover what the STR8 is capable of: “Jean-Eric [Vergne's] race pace has been pretty good, obviously [he] scored the point in Malaysia. There’s definitely some positives there in the car but we’ve still got to unlock all of it.

“That’s a good thing, its that we haven’t found everything yet and there’s more to come. But obviously we want to find it as soon as possible. We’ve definitely still got some work to do but I think we’ve got a better base to work from.”

Caterham

Charles Pic is hoping to find improvements in the car’s set-up during practice but he will miss the first session as local driver Ma Qing Hua will be given the chance to drive at his home race weekend.

Marussia

After an encouraging start to his first season Jules Bianchi said “it was almost a shame to have to stop for a few weeks”.

“But for the team it is very important to have the time to look at what we have achieved and how to continue moving forward,” he added. The product of that reflection has been some new upgrades including revised brake ducts and suspension.

2013 driver form

Driver G avg R avg R best R worst Classified Form guide
Sebastian Vettel 1 2 1 3 2/2 Form guide
Mark Webber 3.5 4 2 6 2/2 Form guide
Fernando Alonso 4 2 2 2 1/2 Form guide
Felipe Massa 3 4.5 4 5 2/2 Form guide
Jenson Button 8.5 13 9 17 2/2 Form guide
Sergio Perez 12 10 9 11 2/2 Form guide
Kimi Raikkonen 8.5 4 1 7 2/2 Form guide
Romain Grosjean 9.5 8 6 10 2/2 Form guide
Nico Rosberg 6 4 4 4 1/2 Form guide
Lewis Hamilton 3.5 4 3 5 2/2 Form guide
Nico Hulkenberg 11.5 8 8 8 1/1 Form guide
Esteban Gutierrez 16 12.5 12 13 2/2 Form guide
Paul di Resta 12 8 8 8 1/2 Form guide
Adrian Sutil 10 7 7 7 1/2 Form guide
Pastor Maldonado 16.5 0/2 Form guide
Valtteri Bottas 17 12.5 11 14 2/2 Form guide
Jean-Eric Vergne 15 11 10 12 2/2 Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo 13.5 18 18 18 1/2 Form guide
Charles Pic 21 15 14 16 2/2 Form guide
Giedo van der Garde 21.5 16.5 15 18 2/2 Form guide
Jules Bianchi 19 14 13 15 2/2 Form guide
Max Chilton 20.5 16.5 16 17 2/2 Form guide

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34 comments on Will Shanghai continue its streak of great races?

  1. wsrgo (@wsrgo) said on 10th April 2013, 17:56

    Massa has yet to show that he can be a strong no.1. His quali performances suggest that he really has it in him, but it is his overall race-craft where improvements can still be made. Until his final pitstop at Sepang, he was largely anonymous. Starting on the front row gave him a good opportunity to lead the race, but he baulked his start.

  2. OmarR-Pepper (@omarr-pepper) said on 10th April 2013, 18:38

    How’s the possible forecast these days? Dry or mixed up?

  3. Kingshark (@kingshark) said on 10th April 2013, 18:58

    Shanghai is the most under-appreciated track and race of the season IMO.

    • Enigma (@enigma) said on 10th April 2013, 19:28

      Agreed. Last four races there have been very good, and 2011 was one of the very best I’ve seen.

      • Dizzy said on 10th April 2013, 21:18

        2011 was one of the very best I’ve seen.

        I thought 2011 was one of the worse races I’ve ever seen thanks to DRS.

        85 passes that day, Most of them in the DRS zone & all of those were made so easy that there was nothing exciting about them.
        Next race at Istanbul that year was even worse.

        • +1 totally agree.

          Id actually been neutral on drs when it was announced, china 2011 was the 1st race that made me think it was probably a bad thing for the sport & my opinion of it has just continued dropping since.

          i recall mark webber flying through the field from the back to finish 3rd & then calling it the most unsatisfying drive of his career because of how easy drs made things.

        • craig-o (@craig-o) said on 10th April 2013, 23:15

          I think Lewis Hamilton will disagree with that comment. He didn’t need DRS to overtake Button nor Vettel that day.

          • Dizzy said on 10th April 2013, 23:47

            True, They were 2 of the few Non-DRS passes that day & 2 of the only overtakes worth watching or getting even half excited about.

            Actually proves a point regarding DRS. We all remember the Non-DRS stuff because its actually exciting to watch. However how many DRS passes are memorable or looked back on as been great passing moves?
            None because there all too easy & therefore unexciting & unmemorable.

            I can look back over the last 35+yrs & remember hundreds of great bits of racing & a lot of the great overtaking because it was exciting. In 35yrs time the DRS racing/passing will all be forgotten because the DRS doesn’t produce anything exciting or memorable & that just proves how utterly absurd it is.

    • R.J. O'Connell (@rjoconnell) said on 10th April 2013, 20:53

      If any other architect put their name on it and this track was settled somewhere in Europe, it’d get the appreciation.

      • Roger2013 said on 10th April 2013, 21:51

        agree.

        everyone always goes on about the portimao circuit been great (which it is), however when you actually look at it the layout it shares many characteristics with several of tilke’s designs & it also has tons of tarmac runoff which is something tilke is constantly bashed for.

        while istanbul got a lot of praise, i think it would have been hailed as a classic if it had been designed by anyone else. drivers certainly all loved it & i’ve heard a few talk about how they would love to have it back.

    • craig-o (@craig-o) said on 10th April 2013, 21:20

      I agree also. It’s one of the more fun tracks to drive on the games and has some unique aspects to it. 2011 and 2012 were both amazing races to add to that!

    • matt90 (@matt90) said on 10th April 2013, 21:26

      It produces fantastic races, and for that I don’t want to criticize it too much. But it doesn’t mean it’s a wonderful track. And a lot of the reasons for it producing good races has nothing to do with the track layout itself, and more to do with its location and timing, as well as for the last couple of years being early enough in the season to coincide with teams being unfamiliar with the best way to handle the tyres. It is still too typical of other Tilke tracks. The first corners feel a little awkward, although at least its an interesting novelty feature. The back straight feels too long, and turns 9 to 12 aren’t great.

    • Max Jacobson (@vettel1) said on 11th April 2013, 0:04

      @kingshark – race possibty, track not so much! I loathe driving it on the F1 games: there are far too many braking zones, the back straight is unnecessarily long and the first turn is awful! It just gets progressively slower and feels like it never ends!

      Of course that’s just my inion though, you are entitled to yours :P

  4. Last years races was a pit stop strategy /tyre management race, and with this years rubber this race should be even more so.

    Last year Kimi was running in second on a two-stopper when his tyres lost grip and he finished 14th.

    • mnmracer (@mnmracer) said on 10th April 2013, 22:38

      Yeah, tires will be the big thing this year, because of what happened last year. It will make sure that -at least when one of the ‘tire eating cars’ is in front- we can probably hold out on winner predictions until the last lap.

  5. this tyre debate is getting boring, DRS is far worse a problem and no one seems to be complaining. The driver in front has no chance to defend because of the sheer speed of the driver behind and theres nothing he can do about it. This will become obvious in china on the long back straight. Pirelli were asked in 2011 to spicen up the racing and thats what they have done. The teams asked them to do this and now the teams and drivers are complaining. Personally i think banning refuelling could have an influence on the pirelli tires. Seriously hoping tyres dont dominate this weekend and make the winner look like he won only because of the tires.
    that said, hoping for a good race and i think we will see one, Alonso and Raikkonen looking to bounce back, the RBR and merc team orders and massa could outqualify alonso 5 times in a row! I love this new era of Formula 1, if you’re complaining go back to the 2004 season where the championship was over mid season break and think again…

    • mike-e (@mike-e) said on 10th April 2013, 23:52

      Or go back to 94 where the championship was decided at the final race by a point under controversial circumstances. Or 90 when it was decided at the final race by half a point was it? Again controversially. Or any other time before the 2000 season when the racing was good. The futher back you go, the better it gets.

      • David-A (@david-a) said on 11th April 2013, 1:00

        Or 90 when it was decided at the final race by half a point was it?

        1990 was controversial, but not at the final round, where Senna and Prost crashed.

        1984 was decided by half a point, between Prost and Lauda.

    • StefMeister (@stefmeister) said on 10th April 2013, 23:55

      DRS is far worse a problem and no one seems to be complaining.

      There’s complaints about DRS after practically every race amongst fans & you do hear drivers complain about it on occasion.

      Remember Vettel at Austin last year ‘What is it with these stupid overtakes’ or whatever he said. Webber’s complained about DRS a bunch of times & other drivers have also made the odd comment about it.
      I remember Button at Brazil 2011 saying he wished it hadn’t made his pass on Alonso as easy as it was because it was no fun passing someone like that.

      I also think the drivers complain about the Pirelli’s more because the DRS doesn’t really alter the way you drive the car while the tyres are forcing them all to drive around well off the pace to conserve them & are having a far bigger impact on how the drivers race.

    • StefMeister (@stefmeister) said on 11th April 2013, 0:06

      if you’re complaining go back to the 2004 season where the championship was over mid season break and think again…

      Its a bit unfair to use 2004 as an example of what the racing was like before because the sort of dominance seen by Schumacher/Ferrari that year was an exception.

      Also consider that the gap Ferrari had & Schumacher clinching the WDC as early as he did was amplified by the fact that Williams/McLaren started the year with poor cars.

      2000/2003/2005/2006/2007/2008/2009 & even 2010 all featured good racing with competitive championship battles which went down to the final 2-3 races.
      Even in 2001/2002 where the championship ended earlier in the year there was still some great racing through the field.

      • StefMeister (@stefmeister) said on 11th April 2013, 0:11

        Also consider that in the 1st year of the current DRS/Pirelli era in 2011 saw Red Bull/Vettel enjoy a year of dominance.
        Vettel had 15 poles & 11 wins & won the championship by 122 points with 4 races to go.

    • G Breese (@breesegp) said on 11th April 2013, 0:07

      I agree that china is probably one of the tracks on the calender that doesn’t really benefit from drs, however, this year the lead driver isn’t in such a powerless position as we have seen in the last 2 years as there is also drs down the pit straight, so as long as they can stay with them in the very short piece of track between the two drs zones it should be a fair fight. Also they only get drs halfway down the back straight so it isn’t as effective as they are already approaching top speeds.

      • StefMeister (@stefmeister) said on 11th April 2013, 0:17

        Also they only get drs halfway down the back straight so it isn’t as effective as they are already approaching top speeds.

        DRS was also only activated halfway down the back straght in 2011/2012 (Detection/Activation points have not been changed) & it was extremely effective.

  6. Adam Blocker (@blockwall2) said on 11th April 2013, 3:37

    For me, Hermann Tilke never receives the praise he deserves. He has built some seriously good tracks for the drivers, some tracks that consistently put on good performances and some other all around world-class tracks.
    My only issue with him is his and the FIA’s preference for concrete run-off as opposed to classic gravel traps. That’s it for my complaints.
    You have to give the man credit for designing tracks like Istanbul (turn-eight), Bahrain, India, Austin (a future classic), Shanghai (a personal favourite), along with his best creation: the Sepang Int’l Circuit.
    The problem is people think they can do his job better than he can, but they are wrong. When you think of all of the various constraints he has on all of the different projects he has to tackle, he does a splendid job. Overall Tilke and F1 are a good fit.

  7. The only reason why I liked last years race was because Mercedes won, that said I don’t like anything about this GP.

  8. BasCB (@bascb) said on 11th April 2013, 9:16

    Lots to look forward to this weekend. I think Webber’s performance at the press conference showed all is not fine, as the team has been trying to portrait.

    But I am really looking forward to see how it goes between both Massa vs Alonso – Massa has been doing well, and it does seem that Alonso is not quite on top of it. And both Rosberg and Hamilton as both do well on this track and Rosberg has a point to make if he does not want to find himself in the same situation as Webber is in a year or 2 from now.

  9. Bendanarama (@bendana) said on 11th April 2013, 9:31

    One of my work colleagues has made the point that the biggest problem with the Chinese grand prix is that half and hour later you feel the need to watch it all over again.

  10. Atticus (@atticus-2) said on 11th April 2013, 11:54

    This picture of Vettel’s track walk just begs for a caption competition:

    http://www.formula1.com/wi/gi/enlarge/1226×503/popup/kerz/sutton/2013/d13chn20.jpg

    :D

  11. Force Maikel (@force-maikel) said on 11th April 2013, 12:12

    The only thing I don’t like about Shanghai is the smog. Seeing cars drive around a track covered in it does not well for the sports image as wanting to become more Eco-friendly.

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