Shanghai International Circuit

As we approach the fourth round of the 2010 World Championship, let’s look at how the season has panned out so far: we have three different drivers having won the first three races of the season, each representing a different team. In the Drivers’ Championship standings, we have seven drivers within a 9-point spread at the top of the standings. And who’s saying F1 is getting predictable?

The last round in Malaysia spoiled the F1 fans with plenty of on-track action, courtesy of a mixed-up grid brought on by the changeable weather conditions during Saturday qualifying.

Are we to exist in the fear that totally dry weekends, such as Bahrain, are likely to prove to be ‘follow-my-leader’ processions? Here’s hoping not – we’ve had enough action and excitement in the last two rounds to go some way to assuaging those concerns, I’d hope.

The Circuit

2010 Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix
Date: 18 April 2010 No. Laps 56
Lap Length: 5.451km Race Distance: 305.066km

Lap Record: 1:32.238 – Michael Schumacher (2004, Ferrari)

After nine long years’ lobbying to get the Grand Prix in its country, China finally succeeded with the inaugural race being held in 2004.

It’s another Tilkedrome, and features his now customary fare of tight and fast corners, a ultra-wide track, and uber-modern facilities.

But while Shanghai has its challenging corners and plenty of passing opportunities, it doesn’t excite the same passion as his Istanbul creation.

What’s really incredible is how it was constructed. The site of the circuit was actually a deep swamp, and the entire track foundation is built on approximately 40,000 polystyrene piles, each some 40-80m deep!


The History Bit

While Rubens Barrichello won the inaugural race at Shanghai, it was his team-mate Michael Schumacher who appeared unable to get to grips with the circuit in his first two appearances in Shanghai, with a series of truly amateurish errors hardly befitting his seven-time World Championship status.

Fortunately, Schumi overcame the demons and took a brilliant victory in the wet-dry conditions to keep himself in the hunt for a eighth championship tilt in 2006.

The 2007 event again played host to plenty of action and high drama, with Lewis Hamilton’s clumsy slide into the pit lane gravel trap costing him valuable championship points, and Kimi Raikkonen’s victory for Ferrari allowing the Finn to get with sniffing distance of snatching the title from under the Briton’s nose. The Finn would duly deliver in the season finale at Brazil just a few weeks’ later.

Lewis would make amends in 2008, with a crushing victory en route to his maiden championship title.

And last year, the wet conditions returned as in 2006, and allowed the new rain specialist Sebastian Vettel to cruise to a comfortable victory ahead of his team-mate Mark Webber. It would be the first of many 1-2 finishes for the Austrian team.

With rain looking quite likely to feature this weekend, will we be seeing a repeat of the Vettel rain dance, or will we see a fourth driver take the spoils?

What to expect?

Are we to also fear that – not that he has managed to get his title campaign up and running in Malaysia after dominating the two rounds preceding it – Sebastian Vettel will start to take charge of the championship challenge and continue his dominance of qualifying and the race? Don’t forget, this was the circuit where he kicked off his (ultimately) unsuccessful tilt at the Drivers’ crown with an imperious win in the wet weather…

The questions remains as to whether the Red Bull can hold itself together long enough to allow the young German to see the chequered flag in first place.

Despite some appalling strategic blunders during qualifying at the last round, both Ferrari and McLaren look well-placed to capitalise on any issues for Red Bull. With both squads having to climb through the field after qualifying so poorly, their raw pace was somewhat masked. In a straight fights, it is quite likely that they could have given the Red Bull cars a proper run for their money in Malaysia.

McLaren’s controversial ‘F-duct’ system helped the team enormously at Malaysia, and the long back straight at Shanghai will again make the slippery MP4-25 a difficult prospect to pass.

While many of their rivals are looking at implementing the ‘F-duct’ system themselves (only Sauber has been brave enough to run it so far), none of the frontrunners has yet made a serious first of incorporating it onto the cars during a Grand Prix weekend.

Other technical innovations have been hogging the headlines in the downtime following the Malaysian race, with rumours of a trick suspension gimmick in the Red Bull prompting McLaren to look into developing a ride-height-altering concept it felt was within the regulations. Sensibly, the FIA took the decision to ban such a concept before a spending war broke out among the more cashed-up teams.

But just because the FIA has banned it won’t mean that the issue is dead and buried. Expect the grumbling to continue for awhile yet.

Beyond the top-three, the next rung seems to be a battle between Mercedes GP, Renault and Force India – perhaps the greatest surprise so far has been that Mercedes GP hasn’t yet been able to show front-running pace that many were hoping to see.

The massive anticipation over Michael Schumacher’s return has been tempered with question marks being raised over his form, which has not been sparkling to-date. The tabloid media, in particular, is going about their usual ill-informed manner and declaring his comeback already dead in the water, and further fanning the flames by suggesting that he won’t see out his three-year deal with the team.

There are many things to look forward to this weekend – in spite of the comparatively uninspiring venue – what questions will be answered in Shanghai?

[Image via Autoblog]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.