After an exciting Grand Prix in Bahrain, the third round of the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship sees the field head to the Far East to Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix. This weekend’s event will mark a major milestone as the sport celebrates its 1,000th 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 Schumacher – 2004||2017 winner||Daniel Ricciardo|
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 Heineken Chinese Grand Prix 2019 – Schedule|
|Event Dates||12-14 April 2019||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 2018
Just when it looked like the 2018 Formula 1 World Championship season was going to be all about the resurgence of Ferrari following back-to-back victories for the Scuderia in Australia and Bahrain, Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo pulled a masterful drive out of the bag to win an exciting Chinese Grand Prix.
The Australian’s prospects for the weekend looked dead and buried by early Saturday afternoon when his RB14 suffered a spectacular turbo failure in FP3. Heroics from his mechanics got his repaired car into qualifying, while sheer talent got the five-time Grand Prix winner into Q3 and a sixth-placed position on the grid.
A combination of lucky Safety Car timing, canny strategy and some eye-watering overtaking maneuvers did the rest, with fans around the world able to celebrate a truly popular victory.
Pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel looked to be in the pound seats until he was jumped at the pit stop cycle by Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, who looked a strong prospect to claim the win at his 100th Grand Prix start.
But the race turned on its head when the two Toro Rossos of Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley clumsily collided at the hairpin, resulting in the Safety Car being deployed to clean up the mess.
The timing of the Safety Car call was seconds too late for Bottas and Vettel, but perfect for Red Bull Racing, which called both Max Verstappen and Ricciardo into the pits to make a second pit stop for fresh tyres. It was a case of high profit for little cost, helped further by Mercedes’ rather inexplicable decision not to pit Lewis Hamilton, who was running between the two Red Bulls at the time.
With abundantly more grip than those ahead of them, Verstappen and Ricciardo looked to slice their way up the field and into a potential 1-2 finish few would have predicted midway through this weekend.
Verstappen – having successfully forced an apology out of Hamilton for their collision in Bahrain for which the Englishman was not to blame – showed next to no lessons had been learned from a week ago with a rather too forceful drive. He ran onto the marbles trying to overtake Hamilton and in turn off the circuit, which allowed Ricciardo to slip by.
As Ricciardo moved by Hamilton, Kimi Räikkönen, Vettel and then Bottas with a succession of blinding passing attempts to move into the lead on Lap 45, Verstappen’s race fell apart with a clumsy hit on Vettel at the hairpin that spun the championship leader down the order and rightly earned him a 10-second time penalty to be added post-race.
Ricciardo would celebrate his sixth Grand Prix win, elated and similarly in disbelief that he and the team had turned their fortunes around in such dramatic style. Bottas and Räikkönen completed the podium, while Hamilton crossed the line in fifth behind Verstappen and was subsequently promoted to fourth thanks to the youngster’s penalty.
Vettel’s spin and lack of tyre grip meant he finished eighth behind Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, meaning his 17-point lead over Hamilton was cut to 9 points.
Carlos Sainz Jr. claimed ninth place in the second Renault to move the Enstone outfit within three points of fourth-placed McLaren, while Haas’ Kevin Magnussen claimed the final point with tenth.
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 hammers the rear tyres under traction), the Shanghai Circuit puts a 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.
Pirelli is offering its C2 (Hard), C3 (Medium) and C4 (Soft) dry-weather compounds this weekend, right in the middle of its five-compound range.
Speaking ahead of the Grand Prix, Pirelli’s Head of F1 Mario Isola talked up the prospect of another exciting race in Shanghai.
“Last year, China was the first Grand Prix where there was a ‘jump’ in the tyre nominations, contributing to an exciting race with an emphasis on strategy. Our C2, C3 and C4 hard, medium and soft nominations this time are roughly equivalent to the Medium, Soft and Ultrasoft compounds we had in China last year. We are hoping that this choice will result in the same sort of entertaining action and a good mix of strategies. Shanghai is quite a complete track that contains a bit of everything, so it makes a solid all-round test of car and tyre performance. With plenty of overtaking opportunities as well, and the celebrations for the 1000th Grand Prix, it should be a very memorable weekend.”
The China Form Guide
It would be a brave fan who would bet against Lewis Hamilton being the favourite to claim victory at this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix. Granted, the Mercedes not the quickest car in Bahrain – yet the team still finished 1-2 – but the Shanghai circuit is just one of those venues where Hamilton seems to excel as his five victories here will attest.
The Mercedes team also has a fantastic record here. The Brackley squad took its first victory in its current incarnation here in 2012 before going on to lock out the top step of the podium between 2014-2017. The team probably should have continued that run last year but found themselves outfoxed by Red Bull Racing with a sudden Safety Car.
After reliability woes robbed Charles Leclerc of a richly deserved first victory in Bahrain, Ferrari will be out for revenge this weekend. Leclerc and Vettel will take the fight all the way to Mercedes, meaning fans can once again expect a great scrap at the front of the field.
Beyond the top-two teams, Red Bull Racing should be challenging for the podium and continue their run of finishing on the podium in Shanghai every year since 2016. Max Verstappen almost managed a top-three result last time out in Bahrain and at the moment seems to easily have the speed over new teammate Pierre Gasly.
The busy and tightly bunched midfield will be another group to watch this weekend, although it would take a disaster among several top-three runners in order for any to be a serious podium threat.
Of the group, McLaren looks to be leading the pack on the back of its significant pre-season pace and early speed in Australia and Bahrain. Team newcomer Carlos Sainz Jr. has finished in the points in Shanghai in his previous three races, while teammate Lando Norris will have a steep learning curve on a track he’s never raced at.
The identically powered factory Renaults have had a horror run since the start of the season and will be desperate to atone for the simultaneous retirements of Nico Hülkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo last time out in Bahrain. Ricciardo will definitely not be repeating his run to victory from last year, but having failed to finish either of his two Grands Prix in Renault colours, the Australian will be happy just to complete a race distance.
|2019 Chinese Grand Prix Weather Forecast|
|Friday||9°C – 21°C||Saturday||13°C – 21°C||Sunday||8°C – 21°C|
Images via FIA, Pirelli Motorsport, Red Bull Racing