The three-week break since the thrilling Malaysian Grand Prix has felt like an eternity, but Formula 1 fans can rejoice once again as the racing action gets back underway this weekend with the Chinese Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit.
The event is meant to kick off what is scheduled to be the second double-header of Formula 1 racing, but with security concerns over next weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix showing no sign of abating, this would well be the last bit of F1 action we see for the next month.
So in the spirit of making the most of whatever we’re given, take a look at our bumper Chinese Grand Prix preview…
|2012 FORMULA 1 UBS CHINESE GRAND PRIX
|Date:||13-15 April 2012|
|Race Lap Record:||1:32.238, Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2004) – 2004|
|Event Schedule:||Free Practice Session 1||Fri 10:00-11:30|
|Free Practice Session 2||Fri 14:00-15:30|
|Free Practice Session 3||Sat 11:00-12:00|
|Race (56 laps, 305.066km)||Sun 15:00-17:00|
|Past 10 Years’ Winners:||Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes MP4-26)||2011|
|Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes MP4-25)||2010|
|Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault RB5)||2009|
|Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes MP4-23)||2008|
|Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari F2007)||2007|
|Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F248)||2006|
|Fernando Alonso (Renault R25)||2005|
|Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari F2004)||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.
Take a look at our Shanghai Circuit Guide:
Last year’s race at Shanghai saw Lewis Hamilton became the event’s first ever multiple race-winner, sensationally snatching the lead from Sebastian Vettel with just five laps of the Grand Prix to run.
The Englishman faced a stressful start to the race when his McLaren refused to fire up when the pit-lane opened for the grid to form up. Frantic work from his mechanics meant that he only just managed to sneak onto the starting grid before the pit lane was closed.
He drove a storming race on a three-stop strategy, passing team-mate Jenson Button for second place at Turn 1 halfway through the race, and then set about hunting down Vettel to claim a well-earned win.
Vettel’s team-mate Mark Webber staged an incredible charge through the field after qualifying dramas saw him start from a lowly 18th place. The Australian pushed hard all day and eventually finished an outstanding third.
So what have been some of the highlights from the races at Shanghai? Let’s relive a few of the better races…
2005: Reigning champion Michael Schumacher had an error-ridden weekend, 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.
2010: McLaren’s new signing Jenson Button claimed his second win for the team in just his fourth race appearance for the Woking squad. The Englishman brilliantly mastered the damp conditions, and made the brave decision not to pit for wet-weather tyres when the track was hit with a rain shower early in the race. By electing to remain out on track, he gave himself prime track position to waltz to victory over Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
Shanghai Talking Points
We believe this weekend’s race will really bring three talking points to the forefront:
What impact will Pirelli’s tyres have this weekend? With the temperatures likely to be cooler than the high heat and humidity experienced last time out at Sepang, tyre management might not be as great an issue here as it was in Malaysia. Some teams were really found wanting when it came to managing their tyre wear in race conditions – the likes of Mercedes have struggled big time, while Sauber seems to be able to manage its tyre wear in all conditions.
Will wet weather play a part? Fans might not immediately associate rain with the Chinese Grand Prix, four of the last six 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. While the rain has never been of the same intensity as Sepang (for example), its presence has always spiced up the action. The forecasters are predicting another wet weekend, which will play nicely into the hands of Ferrari and Sauber once again…
Some unusual statistics: Lewis Hamilton is the only driver in the field to have won here more than once, claiming his second Grand Prix victory here last year. His first win came in 2008, which was also the last time that the Shanghai race-winner went on to claim the championship title…
So what do the Richard’s F1 readers and contributors think will happen this weekend?
The Form Guide
Some commentators and writers are already suggesting that this season is shaping up to be a repeat of the 2003 season. That year saw the reigning champion struggle while a host of surprise results shook up the form guide.
This weekend promises more unpredictability with the impending threat of rain hitting the Shanghai circuit over the course of the weekend, which is yet another curveball the teams will have to face.
McLaren has shown at Australia and Malaysia that it currently has the best car in the field, although neither Lewis Hamilton nor Jenson Button has been able to fully harness that potential so far.
All things falling into place, it’s hard not to see the silver cars locking out the front row once again and then disappearing into the distance to claim the team’s first 1-2 since the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix (and even that result was earned off the back of the infamous Vettel-Webber collision late in the race).
Behind the leading pair, one should expect the Red Bulls and Lotus pairs to be scrapping for the final podium slot, and they could be joined by the Mercedes drivers if the Brackley team can get the W03 to stop destroying its tyres in a handful of laps.
As we saw at Sepang, Ferrari could also spring a surprise (but only if it’s wet), while Sauber is emerging as this year’s dark horse after its excellent start to the season.
But trying to make solid predictions heading into this weekend – and on the back of the wildly unpredictable race at Malaysia – is a black art. But here we go: the driver-team combos that can best extract car performance and handle the changes in conditions will finish at the pointy end of the field. The real question will be in who those special individuals will land up being…
Don’t forget to enter your F1 Predictions!
The third round of the 2012 RichardsF1.com F1 Predictions Competition is now open, and you can enter your predictions for the race right here to be in the running for some great prizes throughout the season and at the end of the year!
This week will see us offer the first of our one-off prizes that we’ll be giving away over the course of the year. The entrant who achieved the highest raw score (without ‘doubling up’) will win a copy of the outstanding Brabham Ralt Honda: The Ron Tauaranac Story, the biography of acclaimed Australian Formula 1 designer Ron Tauranac, which has been kindly donated by the very man himself!
The cut-off to submit your predictions is no later than five minutes before qualifying starts, so make sure you’re in it to win it!
As we have already seen in the first two rounds of tipping, some of our contestants elected to claim their ‘double up’ early on to give them a head start over the rest of the field. Are you confident enough in your predictions to use yours this weekend?
To enter your predictions, click here.
As always, RichardsF1.com 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 Malaysian Grand Prix fix!