It feels like an eternity since Formula 1 has enjoyed a truly epic – and clean – scrap between teammates, but last fortnight’s Bahrain Grand Prix has given fans a taste of what could be a potential repeat when the field heads east to Shanghai for this weekend’s Chinese Formula One Grand Prix.
While Mercedes’ dominance was clear for all to see, that was almost a side story when you look at the great race-long battle between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, not to mention some other outstanding intra-team battles throughout the field.
|2014 FORMULA 1 UBS CHINESE GRAND PRIX||Date:||18-20 April 2014|
|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)||Sun 15:00-17:00|
|Lap Record||1:32.238 (2004)|
|2013 Winner||Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)|
* All session times are quoted in China Standard Time (GMT +08:00 hrs)
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 is very conducive to good wheel-to-wheel racing and overtaking, particularly at the end of the long back straight, which feeds into a tight right-hand hairpin that has been the site of many an accident.
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 complex as cars jostle for position.
Take a look at our Shanghai International Circuit guide:
The History Bit
While Ferrari has been dominating the headlines this week following the resignation of its Team Principal, Stefano Domenicali, last year’s race in China provided the team with a rare highlight: a comfortable victory for Fernando Alonso.
Hamilton landed pole position on Saturday, but found himself unable to resist either Alonso or teammate Felipe Massa as they blasted past the Mercedes at the start.
Alonso skipped off into the distance and had an untroubled run to victory, but behind him there was plenty of action. Kimi Räikkönen – despite front wing damaging contact with Sergio Pérez – came through to finish a fine second in his Lotus, while the battle for the final podium position delivered plenty of excitement.
Hamilton had been struggling with rear tyre wear and found his third place under serious threat from a fast-closing Sebastian Vettel, whose Red Bull Racing team had opted to compromise qualifying and conserve tyre sets for the race. The German’s fresh rubber brought him right up to the back of Hamilton, but the defending champion was unable to find a way past the Mercedes; they crossed the line just 0.2 seconds apart.
Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber had a nightmare weekend. After a fuel feed issue wrecked his qualifying, the Australian’s hopes of another charge through the field stalled when a wheel worked its way loose and he had to retire.
So what have been some of the other Shanghai highlights? Here are a few of our favourites:
- 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.
- 2011: 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 ahead of getting onto the grid; 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. The other highlight was Mark Webber’s barnstorming charge to finish third, after a disastrous qualifying session that saw him line up 18th.
The Form Guide
Formula One’s last hit-out in Bahrain was a thriller, and much of it came down to the brilliant duel between Hamilton and Rosberg, with the Englishman repeatedly rebuffing the attempts of his German teammate to hold on for his first victory in Sakhir. It was an outstanding response to criticism from some quarters that the new rules had dulled the on-track action.
Since that race, the teams all had a further two days of in-season testing before packing up and heading to China. That seemed to indicate that the chasing pack had made some small gains on the Silver Arrows, although the championship leaders still showed the trademark pace and reliability of the F1W05.
With the longest straight on the Formula One calendar, the Shanghai International Circuit should favour the Mercedes power units, but Renault – in particular – has made some great strides in eking out more performance and reliability from its units, and it could be a dark horse.
Hamilton – along with Alonso – is the event’s only multiple winner, and after back-to-back victories in Malaysia and Bahrain, three in a row looks like a distinct possibility. His greatest challenge will come from the other side of the Mercedes garage, with Rosberg distinctly unhappy at being shown the way when he was the quicker driver when it counted.
The surprise performer to-date has been Force India, which currently sits second in the Constructors’ Championship standings with five points’ finishes to-date – including that popular Bahrain podium – between its two drivers. The Silverstone-based team’s car has shown excellent pace and reliability, and it wouldn’t be unexpected to see Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Pérez in the mix once again.
In conjunction with engine partner Renault, Red Bull Racing has chipped away in its battle to get back to the front of the pack, and if it’s late race pace was anything to go by, it’s certainly on track for another healthy points haul this weekend. The FIA’s rejection of its appeal against Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification will be a hit, but the team and its Australian driver will be doubly keen to make up for lost ground and deliver him that first podium finish.
Adding to that, the team also had no issue in asking Sebastian Vettel to move aside for the quicker Ricciardo in Bahrain, which certainly had plenty of tongues wagging.
A management reshuffle at Ferrari – with Domenicali out, and a relative unknown coming in – isn’t going to make the troublesome F14T and quicker, at least in the short term. The red cars will hit the lower reaches of the points at best, and look unlikely to challenge the likes of Force India, Red Bull, McLaren or Williams until the European rounds start in May.
After two warm weather races in Malaysia and Bahrain, the stint in Shanghai is likely to mirror the cooler conditions seen at the season-opener in Melbourne. The weather forecasts suggest that ambient temperatures won’t get further north than 21ºC, while there’s also the threat of rain in the all-important qualifying session.
Don’t forget to enter your Chinese Grand Prix Predictions!
The fourth round of our 2014 RichardsF1.com F1 Predictions Competition is now open for business, and you can enter and edit your predictions for the race right up until five minutes before qualifying!
Entry is open to all of our readers, and it’s so easy to submit your predictions!
All you’ll need to do is predict:
- which driver will win pole position and the race
- which two teams will earn the best finishes in the race
- which eight drivers will finish in the top-eight positions
- who will post the fastest lap of the race
- who will gain the most positions relative to their starting position
You can also choose to ‘double up’ your points tally for the Chinese Grand Prix – but be careful, you can only do this twice per season! Click here to see the current points’ standings.
To enter your predictions, click here!
Images via Sutton Images