The Formula 1 World Championship moves on to China for the second round of the 2017 season, hot on the heels of Ferrari’s inspired win at the season-opener in Australia. Can the Prancing Horse prove that it genuinely does have the pace to stay at the front, or will Mercedes return to its winning ways in Shanghai?
|Shanghai International Circuit|
|Location||Jiading, Shanghai, China||Circuit Length||5.541 km / 3.388 mi|
|Opened||2004||First Grand Prix||2004|
|Turns||16||Lap Record||1:32.238 – Michael Schumacher (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 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 through the opening complex of corners 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 as cars jostle for position.
The drivers then run through a mix of low- and high-speed corners, and after the slow Turn 11 left-hander, they steadily build speed through the banked Turns 12 and 13 onto the 1.2-kilometre back straight – the second longest straight on the calendar. Then it’s hard on the brakes for the Turn 14 hairpin, which is the site of the majority of overtaking attempts.
|2017 Formula 1 Heineken Chinese Grand Prix|
|Event Dates||07-09 April 2017||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|
|2016 Pole Winner||Nico Rosberg||2016 Race Winner||Nico Rosberg (pictured above)|
Session times quoted in China Standard Time (GMT + 08:00)
Rewind to 2016
Last year’s Chinese Grand Prix was the third of the season, and the field came into Shanghai with Nico Rosberg enjoying a solid lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings thanks to back-to-back wins in Australia and Bahrain.
With the universally panned ‘elimination qualifying’ format dropped after two rounds, the German promptly put his car on pole position for the first time this season. His cause was helped by misfortune hitting teammate Lewis Hamilton, who suffered a power unit problem at the start of qualifying and failed to set a time.
At the start of the race, however, Rosberg was jumped off the line by fellow front-row starter Daniel Ricciardo, who swept into an early lead. Behind the leading two, there was chaos as Ricciardo’s teammate Daniil Kvyat triggered first-corner contact between the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen, with both sustaining damage. Further back, Hamilton’s woes weren’t over when he damaged his front wing after contact with Felipe Nasr’s Sauber.
Ricciardo held the lead until Lap 3, when his left-rear tyre let go on the back straight. The Australian limped to the pits, leaving Rosberg to assume a lead he wouldn’t surrender. The German’s victory – his sixth in a row thanks to winning the last three Grands Prix of 2016 as well – gave him a healthy 36-point lead in the Drivers’ Championship, with Hamilton finishing a frustrating seventh.
The podium was completed by Vettel and his Turn 1 assailant, Kvyat. The pair exchanged barbs after the race, with each blaming the other for their Lap 1 incident. Two weeks later, the pair would be at it again…
The Form Guide
Mercedes AMG Petronas has been the form team since the sport’s switch to 1.6-litre turbo-hybrid V6 power units in 2014, winning 51 of the 59 races held until the end of 2016.
The 2017 season has, however, ushered in a radically overhauled set of technical regulations with major aerodynamic changes and wider Pirelli tyres. With this fresh technical and engineering challenge to overcome, Ferrari proved that its pre-season testing pace was indeed genuine by taking the fight to the defending champions.
Sebastian Vettel qualified on the front row and pushed Lewis Hamilton hard in the early stages of the Australian Grand Prix, pressuring the Englishman into pitting early. With Hamilton emerging from the pits in traffic, Vettel used a clear track to his full advantage and leapfrogged the Mercedes driver when he pitted. It was the kind of racecraft and pit strategy that has long been missing at the Scuderia, with the team claiming its first victory since 2015.
Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit is, however, not a great form guide indicator. Its layout rewards mechanical grip over aerodynamic grip, and its high-speed flowing nature meant it featured little in the way of overtaking.
By contrast, the Shanghai International Circuit is a haven for passing – last year’s event featured 181 overtaking moves alone! – and it will prove whether Ferrari has both the chassis and the horsepower to take the fight to Mercedes, or whether its Melbourne marvel was merely a flash in the pan.
The home of the Chinese Grand Prix has been something of a Mercedes and Hamilton benefit in the past: the three-time World Champion has four victories to his credit, while the Silver Arrows has won seven of the last nine Grands Prix here.
By contrast, the Chinese Grand Prix is expected to show the true shortcomings of the McLaren-Honda package. While Fernando Alonso flattered the MCL32 by running in the top-ten at the Australian Grand Prix until being forced to retire, the car’s underpowered engine is going to struggle on the circuit’s two long straights.
Wet weather could throw an added curve ball into the mix, with a slight chance of showers on Friday and a more likely appearance of rain showers on race day. The teams only had one day of wet-weather pre-season testing – Williams and McLaren didn’t even run at all – and will therefore have very little knowledge of how the wider Pirelli tyres will cope on a crowded, damp track.
|Chinese Grand Prix Weather Forecast|
|Friday||14°C – 21°C||Saturday||12°C – 19°C||Sunday||11°C – 16°C|
Images via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, Red Bull Content Pool