The Formula 1 field heads from the searing heat and humidity of Malaysia to the considerably cooler climate of China for the third Grand Prix of the 2015 season, but the on- and off-track action promises to be as hot as ever at the Shanghai International Circuit.
|2015 Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix|
|Date||10-12 April 2015||Lap Length||5.541km|
|Free Practice Session 1||Fri 10:00-11:30||Free Practice Session 2||Fri 14:00-15:30|
|Free Practice Session 3||Sat 12:00-13:00||Qualifying||Sat 15:00-16:00|
|Race (56 laps)||Sun 14:00-16:00||2014 Winner||Lewis Hamilton|
Session times quoted in China Standard Time (GMT + 08:00)
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 1.17-kilometre 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.
The Form Guide
After Mercedes dominated the pre-season testing and the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, there were plenty of concerns that we would once again face another season-long rout by the Silver Arrows.
But then Ferrari came up trumps and inflicted Mercedes’ first dry-weather ‘pure racing’ beating since the start of the V6 power unit era. Few may have believed Sebastian Vettel when he boldly predicted he would win the race at Sepang, but that’s precisely what he did, thanks in combination to a bold strategy call by his team (by not pitting him during the early Safety Car period) and the strong pace of the SF15-T.
The car seems well suited to the respective driving styles of Vettel and teammate Kimi Räikkönen (who charged through to finish fourth after copping a puncture early in the race), and it also seemed to enjoy the hotter track temperatures. Shanghai won’t deliver a repeat of the same weather conditions, but given it was one of the few venues where the team ran strongly in a shocking 2014 campaign, perhaps they can be a force again this weekend?
Over in the Mercedes camp, it will look at the last race in Malaysia as a missed opportunity, and the spotlight will once again look at how it tries to manage the rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. In its effort to give both drivers equal pegging, the decision not to run one of them on an alternate strategy to cover Ferrari’s decision not to pit Vettel cost them dearly.
The concern will particularly be shone on Rosberg, who claimed a breakthrough maiden victory here in 2012. The German is already 10 points behind his championship-leading teammate and has not enjoyed a strong start to his 2015 campaign after being beaten in both races by the Englishman. Rosberg’s ace – his one-lap qualifying speed – has been largely negated by a motivated Hamilton, and his racecraft has been lacking. This could be a defining race for the German.
Also looking to stage a recovery of sorts will be the Williams and Red Bull Racing teams, who both had underwhelming outings in Malaysia for various reasons. Despite a strong pre-season, the Williams FW37 seems to be lacking in outright race speed and the entire outfit will need to course-correct this issue quickly before it finds itself too far behind the Mercedes/Ferrari battle.
Over at Red Bull Racing, a strong qualifying performance – claiming fourth- and fifth-fastest – failed to deliver in Sepang, where Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo finished a lapped ninth and tenth, respectively. Even more galling was that it was beaten by both ‘B’ team cars of Scuderia Toro Rosso, whose rookie pairing of Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr continue to impress. While there’s plenty of behind-the-scenes work from engine partner Renault to unlock more power from its V6 power unit, the RB11 chassis is worryingly lacking in balance and speed as well.
Their troubles are nothing compared to the ongoing dramas at McLaren and Manor Marussia, however…
A once-great racing team will ultimately look back at the start of its 2015 campaign as one of the lowest points in its long history. The results, speed and reliability of the Honda-powered MP4-30 has been nothing short of disastrous, but progress is being made and the feeling inside the Woking camp is that there’s a lot more to come.
On a positive note, both Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso were competing in the lower reaches of the midfield early on in Malaysia, which was itself a major improvement from a pre-season where the car couldn’t run quickly or reliably for more than a few laps without breaking down. Cooler conditions will help the reliability of the Honda power units, but the power-dependent nature of the Shanghai circuit will probably count against them being able to avoid being knocked out in Q1.
There’s plenty of wild rumour-mongering going on around the Manor Marussia squad as well. That the team has even managed to get itself into the paddock is a monumental effort in itself, but memories are short and it will be on-track performance that ultimately counts.
Neither car could get fired up in Australia, but in Malaysia both Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi managed to get some running. Worryingly, however, neither driver was ever on the track at the same time, and Stevens couldn’t take in part at all in qualifying or the race. This prompted suggestions that the team doesn’t have the parts of resources to have both cars running at once.
The team’s CEO, Graeme Lowdon, dismissed the gossip as “utter nonsense”, but the team will have to get both cars going in order to ward off critics – and possibly the FIA – from suggesting that its ambitions are not entirely honest.
While the Australian Grand Prix was a very dull affair, we had a different story in Malaysia with epic scraps and wheel-to-wheel racing throughout the field. History has shown the racing in China to be a bit hit-or-miss, but there’s hope that the momentum can continue this weekend.
Images via Daimler AG