Barely a week after a thrilling Grand Prix in Bahrain, the third round of the Formula 1 World Championship sees the field head to the Far East to Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix
|Shanghai International Circuit|
|Location||Jiading, Shanghai, China||Circuit Length||5.451 km / 3.388 mi|
|Opened||2004||First Grand Prix||2004|
|Lap Record||1:32.238 – Michael Schumscher (Ferrari, 2004)||2017 winner||Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)|
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.
|Formula 1 2018 Heineken Chinese Grand Prix – Schedule|
|Event Dates||13-15 April 2018||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|
|Qualifying||Sat 14:00-15:00||Race (56 laps)||Sun 14:10-16:10|
Session times quoted in China Standard Time (GMT + 08:00)
Rewind to 2017
Last year’s Chinese Grand Prix was the second round of the 2017 season. Following Sebastian Vettel’s victory in the opening race in Australia, Lewis Hamilton needed to rebound. The Englishman delivered with a crushing victory over his rivals – his fifth in Shanghai – by leading every lap in a wet/dry race.
Vettel finished six seconds behind in second place to ensure he and Hamilton were tied at the lead of the Drivers’ Championship standings. With the race starting on a still-damp but rapidly drying track, Vettel was called into the pits to switch from his Intermediate tyres on the second lap. Moments later the Safety Car was deployed when Sauber stand-in Antonio Giovinazzi crashed at the exit of the final corner for the second time in as many days.
That allowed Hamilton to make his own tyre swap and emerge comfortably in the lead, while Vettel was bumped down to fifth. His recovery drive was impressive, overtaking teammate Kimi Räikkönen on Lap 20 before putting an impressive move on former teammate Daniel Ricciardo. The pair banged wheels as the Australian tried to keep him back, but his Red Bull was no match for Vettel’s Ferrari.
Vettel’s final victim was Max Verstappen – who put in his own incredible charge from sixteenth on the grid – who overcooked his brakes at the penultimate corner which let Vettel slip through.
Verstappen completed the podium after his incredible drive, harried by teammate Ricciardo in the final laps. Räikkönen slipped to fifth place, finishing ahead of Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas who threw away his prospects of a podium finish with a clumsy spin behind the earlier Safety Car that dropped him to twelfth place.
Tyre Compound Selections
The Shanghai International Circuit is known for its contrasting mix of high-speed corners, long straights and twistier low-speed turns. Setting up the car is all about striking the right balance between downforce and drag.
A further complication is the circuit’s ‘front limited’ nature. While the previous venue in Bahrain is ‘rear limited’ (meaning it hammer the rear tyres under traction), the Shanghai Circuit puts major strain on the front tyres – particularly the front left – thanks to the seemingly never-ending high-speed right-handers at Turns 1-2 and Turns 12-13.
This weekend’s weather forecast of cooler conditions will make it even tougher to get the tyres up to operating temperature on the smooth track surface.
To help counter the typically cool conditions seen at this time of year, Pirelli is bringing its Ultrasoft compound to Shanghai for the first time ever alongside the Soft and Medium tyres. For the first time this season there’s a gap between the tyre compounds on offer, with the Supersoft skipped altogether. This will make strategy particularly critical, given there will be a significant lap time difference and wear rate between the Ultrasoft and Soft compounds.
This weekend marks the fifteenth Chinese Formula 1 Grand Prix, which made its debut on the calendar in 2004.
Lewis Hamilton is the current grid’s most successful driver at the Shanghai International Circuit. The four-time World Champion has won the event a staggering five times in 2008 and 2011 for McLaren and in 2014, 2015 and 2017 for Mercedes. Fernando Alonso has also won the Grand Prix twice in 2005 and 2013. Along with Nico Rosberg, the trio are the only multiple winners at the Shanghai International Circuit from the eight drivers who have won in total since 2004. Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel have also tasted success in this venue, winning in 2007 and 2009 respectively.
Victories scored by Hamilton and Rosberg over the years have made Mercedes the most successful constructors in China with five victories. Ferrari is almost just as successful with four total victories and McLaren with three.
Hamilton has also appeared the most on the podium out of any driver in Shanghai with a record eight visits to the podium. With his five wins, the Briton has come second twice and third-place twice. Only four other current drivers have appeared on the podium in China: Räikkönen, Alonso and Vettel with five visits apiece and Max Verstappen who finished third here last year.
Remarkably, Hamilton has also had the most pole positions here, claiming six with his first in his debut season in 2007 and his latest coming last year. Vettel has filled pole position three times in his career from 2009 to 2011.
Nine out of the fourteen times has the race been won from pole with the last four races being won from the front row. Michael Schumacher holds the record for winning from furthest back on the grid after starting sixth in 2006.
Red Bull Racing’s first win of the 54 it has earned to-date came in 2009 with Vettel starting on pole; the team finished 1-2 with Vettel joined on the podium by teammate Mark Webber.
Valteri Bottas will make his 100th Grand Prix start this weekend, one weekend after Vettel chalked up his 200th start in Bahrain. The Finn made his Formula 1 debut at the 2013 Australian Grand and since then has had three wins and four pole positions.
This weekend Hamilton could break Räikkönen’s impressive record of 27 consecutive points finishes. The Finn’s stretch of points finishes started at the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix and continued all the way out to the following year’s Hungarian Grand Prix. Hamilton’s last non-score came at the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix when his engine blew and caught fire, a pivotal moment in the Englishman’s ultimately unsuccessful battle against teammate Nico Rosberg for Drivers’ Championship honours.
The China Form Guide
Sebastian Vettel heads into the Chinese Grand Prix with the best start to his championship season since 2011. The Ferrari driver has won both the Australian and Bahrain Grands Prix and comfortably leads the Drivers’ Championship standings by 17 points over Lewis Hamilton.
The Englishman’s record at Shanghai, however, means he cannot be discounted – even if his Mercedes F1W09 it yet to prove itself to be a race-winner. This weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix could well change those fortunes, but much will depend on the car’s ability to get its tyres up to temperature.
Red Bull Racing should be a factor given the relative strengths of its RB14 chassis, however the circuit’s long back straight will find the team’s rebadged Renault engines under some pain. That might put the Milton Keynes team and its fellow Renault runners on the back foot and allow other teams to upset the form guide.
Look out for the Haas team this weekend. Armed with the same-spec Ferrari engines as its works partner, the American team should repeat the kind of pace is demonstrated in Australia and Bahrain. While those two circuits share nothing in common, Shanghai’s unique characteristics could really showcase how well the VF-18 works across all circuit types.
While Toro Rosso delivered an unexpected giant-killing performance last time out with Pierre Gasly finishing in fourth place – the team’s best result since Sebastian Vettel claimed the outfit’s only victory in 2008 at Monza. The Faenza team is upbeat about its prospects at another Hermann Tilke designed circuit, and it has steadily erased doubts about the perceived lack of horsepower from its Honda engines.
|2018 China Grand Prix Weather Forecast|
|Friday||17°C – 19°C||Saturday||11°C – 18°C||Sunday||8°C – 19°C|
Images via FIA, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1, Pirelli Motorsport, XPB Images