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
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
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?
Fernando 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 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.
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?óÔé¼Ôäót score any points,” he explained.
“Hopefully we?óÔé¼Ôäóll 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?óÔé¼Ôäós true, but we tried to carry on with our tyres for too long. They dropped off, and that was it.”
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.
After 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 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 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.
Daniel 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.”
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.
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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