If we’re to use last weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix as an indicator for how the rest of the 2011 championship season will pan out, then the new rules for this year have definitely worked to increase on-track action and ensure that there’s never a dull moment on-track.
With the outcomes of the races seemingly tougher to predict – unless your initials are ‘S. Vettel’, it would seem – the sport appears tougher for drivers and teams and more interesting for spectators. There is little reason to believe that the excitement level won’t be maintained at this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix.
Let’s have a look into the crystal ball for this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix…
|2011 Formula 1 UBS Chinese Grand Prix
|Date:||17 April 2011||No. Laps||56|
|Lap Length:||5.451km||Race Distance:||305.066km|
|Lap Record:||1:32.238, Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) – 2004|
To have the Formula 1 circus expand its reach into China was a long-term goal of Bernie Ecclestone, a feat he proudly ticked off in 2004 when the Shanghai International Circuit made its F1 debut.
Being another Hermann Tilke concept, the track features his trademark use of wide expanses, ultra-modern facilities, and the usual mix of tight corners, the occasional quick directional changes and a long straight fit for overtaking.
Built on what is now a drained swamp, the entire circuit is actually built on some 40,000 polystyrene piles as its foundation.
The circuit is not renowned for providing fans with edge-of-their-seat races, but its layout will be conducive to more wheel-to-wheel racing.
One of the circuit’s trickiest sections is its first corner complex where the track doubles back on itself in an ever-tightening right-hander that feeds into a sudden double-apex left-hander. Opening-lap contact is not uncommon through this corner as cars jostle for position.
Last year’s race saw Jenson Button take his second race victory of the 2010 season with a clever tactical drive in wet/dry conditions.
With light rain falling, Fernando Alonso blatantly jumped the start from the second row and led into Turn 1 before serving his drive-through penalty. A multi-car shunt on the opening lap saw the Safety Car deployed, and many drivers headed to the pits to switch their dry tyres for intermediate rubber, while the likes of Nico Rosberg, Button, Robert Kubica and Vitaly Petrov remained out on dry tyres.
The proved to be the right strategic decision, for the rain failed to intensify at that point, and those who had switched to intermediates were forced into the pits once again.
This saw Rosberg hold a lead from Button, but a mistake from the German allowed Button into a lead he wouldn’t surrender until the end of the race.
What were some of the highlights from previous races at Shanghai? Let’s relive a few of the better races…
2004: This year saw China make its debut on the Formula 1 calendar in a season where Michael Schumacher simply thrashed the opposition. But the German never got to grips with the new circuit on his first outing and suffered an oddly-poor weekend, while team-mate Rubens Barrichello cruised to victory.
2005: There were more schoolboy errors from Schumacher this year, crashing into Christijan Albers’ Minardi on his reconnaissance lap to the grid, and then later spinning into retirement during a safety car interruption. Despite McLaren looking the form team, Renault took an unexpected win to clinch the Constructors’ Championship, while McLaren’s Juan Pablo Montoya was lucky to avoid injury after his cockpit was pierced when he ran over a loose drain cover.
2006: Schumi finally mastered how to drive at Shanghai with a charging victory in wet conditions to keep his championship battle with Alonso alive for another race. It was the seven-time World Champion’s last F1 win to-date.
2007: Lewis Hamilton slips up in pit lane and retires after he had led in the early proceedings. A sterling drive from Kimi Räikkönen in the race nets him the win to keep his last-minute championship hopes alive, en route to clinching the crown by a single point at the final race of the year.
2009: With Brawn GP having led the way in the first three rounds of the championship, this was Red Bull’s first ever victory – and the team’s first ever 1-2 – after a sublime drive from Sebastian Vettel.
Shanghai Talking Points
This year’s event will really bring three talking points to the forefront:
What impact will DRS and Pirelli tyres have? With the temperatures likely to be cooler than the high heat and humidity experienced last weekend at Sepang, tyre management might not be as great an issue here as it was in Malaysia. The big question will be if KERS and the adjustable rear wing will be able to make up for this if we’re seeing less variation in race strategy.
How important are the KERS issues at Red Bull? Despite having encountered KERS issues at both Melbourne and Sepang, Red Bull has still managed to win both races – it certainly begs the question of what the team could achieve if it gets the device working properly. As Mark Webber’s tumble down the order showed, a race start without the power-boosting device might not be great fun, and the team will be hoping it has the matter sorted out this weekend, with Shanghai’s long back straight providing ample passing opportunties.
Will wet weather play a part? While fans might not immediately associate rain with the Chinese Grand Prix, four of the last five Grands Prix held here have been rain-affected, and the timing of the race – be it at the beginning or end of the season – seems to make little difference. The rain has never been of the same intensity as Sepang (for example), but it’s always spiced up the action. We’d certainly like to see Pirelli’s wet weather tyres in action sooner rather than later…
An unusual statistic: No one driver has won more than one Grand Prix at Shanghai, with the statistics suggesting Mark Webber is the most likely front-runner – who is yet to win here – to continue the trend.
So what do the Richard’s F1 readers and contributors think will happen this weekend?
Matt, Richard’s F1 IndyCar Correspondent
“Well, two Grands Prix in and Red Bull have used KERS once successfully and once not. With China another lifeless Tilkedrome, will they have rectified their KERS issues in time?
Will Ferrari and McLaren be able to exploit a very real Red Bull weakness?
Renault are impressing … can they keep it up and move further up the podium?”
David Hobbs, ex-F1 driver-turned-F1 commentator (exclusive to Richard’s F1)
“The event will once again be the top three, with Red Bull carrying the strong form they showed throughout winter testing. Ferrari have not done as well as we thought they would. I’m sure they will fix that soon enough. I really think poor Felipe Massa is going to have a very tough year, and your man Webber too.
“Vettel has always been the quicker of the two so far and with two wins under his belt he will only improve. McLaren had a horrible winter and a miraculous turnaround so far. Having gone back to a known set-up they may well be able to improve enough to be come a real threat, but Red Bull are going to be very strong again.”
Geoff, Richard’s F1 reader, Australia
“Love ’em or hate ’em, those working at Hispania Racing did a sensational job to prepare two cars that qualified for the race at Sepang – which is one of, if not the, most technically challenging circuits of the season. On the other hand, it’s also true that Colin Kolles’ team should never have been in such a position in the first place, but let’s not trash-talk the mechanics for their hard work.”
The Form Guide
Sebastian Vettel’s comfortable position at the top of the Drivers’ Championship standings says as much about his talent and his car as it does about his rivals’ lack of consistency. A look at the first two podiums of the 2011 season will show that Vettel has occupied the top step of the podium on both occasions, while four different drivers have shared the honour of being on the rostrum to-date this season.
In truth, the true form guide for the entire grid won’t be known until the circus hits Europe and the development ‘arms race’ really gets underway in earnest.
However, on the basis of their current form, two of the most disappointing outfits have to be Mercedes GP and Williams, whose poor results so far would certainly not have featured on the team’s radar.
At the front of the field, it would be a brave person who bets against Vettel from taking a fifth successive Grand Prix win, although it would seem that McLaren (and increasingly, Renault) are definitely in the hunt to punish Red Bull Racing should it stumble in any way.
If Ferrari could get its qualifying performance sorted, it would be right up there at the front of the field during the race, but when Alonso and Massa start down the order, it makes their task much tougher. A run to the podium would be a fine result indeed, although its prospects will be hugely improved if wet weather pays a visit on race day.
A contender for a finish in the lower realms of the points is undoubtedly Sauber, after Kamui Kobayashi proved that the Swiss team’s C30 is a neat little car with his first (legitimate) points finish of the season last weekend. The Ferrari-powered car is extremely gentle on its tyres, and the team could again opt for a race of fewer pit stops while challenging their rivals to pass them on the track.
The battle lower down the order will also present a few things to keep an eye on, such as whether a Team Lotus driver can harness the inherent pace in the T128 to break out of the first phase of qualifying on merit. Virgin Racing’s struggles look set to continue, and Shanghai could see its unadventurous MVR02 vulnerable to main rival Hispania Racing this weekend.
As always, Richard’s F1 will be bringing you the best of the on- and off-track action this weekend, so make sure we’re your first port of call for your Chinese Grand Prix fix!