• Chinese Grand Prix - Preview

Rancour at Red Bull

Laurence Edmondson April 11, 2013
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Two races into 2013 and we have quite a season on our hands. Open and exciting races, tricky tyres, different winners and at least one bitter intra-team rivalry. The battle between the Red Bull drivers will be at the front of everyone's minds this weekend after we left Malaysia with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber at each others throats in the post-race press conference. Christian Horner insists everything is back to normal and Red Bull's PR department will be keen to paste over the cracks, but if the pair find themselves wheel to wheel then their true feelings will come out on the race track.

On Form

Amid all the rantings, ravings, wrongs and rights after the Malaysian Grand Prix, it should not be forgotten that Mark Webber drove a very accomplished race. By staying out longer on intermediate tyres he took first place from team-mate Sebastian Vettel, but once he was ahead he managed to maintain his lead through the remaining pit stops until the Multi 21 order was issued - and ignored - in the final stint. Had he won the race he would be leading the championship, which would have been an impressive start to the season considering the problems he had in Australia with his ECU. The Red Bull is clearly quick and all eyes will be on Webber this weekend to see if he can channel his frustration positively and take the fight to team-mate Vettel once more.

Out of form

McLaren's poor start to the year may have dominated the headlines but Williams has been equally disappointing. After initial optimism at the first test, the team has struggled to get the expected performance from its new car with the main problem area around the exhaust. The team had hoped to build on the solid platform of the FW34 this year and introduce a Coanda exhaust system similar to those on the Red Bull and Lotus but it clearly struggled in the opening rounds. A report in Auto Motor und Sport suggests plans to retrofit last year's exhaust to the car hit a dead end in the three-week break due to the extent of the changes that needed to be made. It remains to be seen whether the team has found an alternative solution.

Force India will be looking to bounce back from its double retirement in Malaysia © Sutton Images
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One to watch

After the disappointment of a double retirement in Malaysia, Force India thinks it has fixed the wheel nut problem that forced both cars out of the race. Without that issue the team was looking at another possible double points finish, underlining the promising pace it showed in Australia. The strengths of the VJM05 should put it in good stead again this weekend, although both Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil will have one eye in their mirrors for a resurgent McLaren performance. Nevertheless, capitalising on the car's early-season pace relative to its competitors will be crucial.

Talking points

Vettel v Webber
One story will dominate the news agenda at the start of this weekend. Despite Red Bull's insistence that the issue has been solved, the Malaysian GP team orders debacle has been festering away unresolved for the last three weeks. It will be fascinating to observe the body language between the two drivers this weekend, but even if they are on their best behaviour in the paddock the true feelings might not be so difficult to hide on track. Team boss Christian Horner says he has talked to his drivers behind closed doors, but it remains to be seen if that is enough to repair Webber's lost trust in the Red Bull hierarchy. As a one-off incident what happened in Sepang could be brushed under the carpet, but because of the poisonous history between the pair it's very unlikely we've seen the end of it.

Tyres, tyres, tyres
Pirelli must feel as though it can't win with its tyre choices in Formula One. At the start of each season it has been criticised for going too soft with its tyre compounds and by the end of the year it is lambasted for being too conservative when teams' understanding of the tyres result in one-stop races. Rather predictably those that struggle most complain the most, and after the first two races Red Bull was up in arms. That might seem surprising given the team's position at the top of the constructors' championship, but the pit wall's decision to impose the now infamous team orders at the end of the race was based on concerns about the state of the cars' tyres. The argument being thrown around the Sepang paddock was that the Red Bull's extra downforce was causing an even greater load on the tyres and resulting in degradation. However, there were few rivals that signed up to that theory and the problem is more likely down to the balance of downforce from front to rear. Given time there's little doubt the teams will improve their tyre management, but until then the best advice for fans is to sit back and enjoy the racing.

Bahrain
With just a week to go before the teams arrive in Bahrain the media has been keeping relatively quiet about the ongoing problems on the island state. Twelve months ago F1 was being criticised from all sides for visiting the country, and although there have been fewer reported incidents of violence in the build up to this year's race, little has changed in terms of the politics. A report from New York-based Human Rights Watch claims up to 20 members of the opposition have been arrested without warrants in order to ensure the situation remains calm, but authorities have denied the story. With the government keen to use the grand prix to portray an image of normality to the rest of the world and protesters wanting to air their grievances, F1 will once again be used for political means. However, just like last year, those running the sport appear to be happy to let the show to go on.

Mercedes' trick suspension system is the talk of the paddock © Sutton Images
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Suspension systems
What the frick is FRIC? The answer is front to rear interconnected suspension and it's the new must have technology at the front of the grid. The system is controlled by hydraulics and is designed to maintain ride height front-to-rear and side-to-side under braking and cornering. By doing so the car can maintain downforce from the underbody while also ensuring the car corners correctly. Mercedes and Lotus have been working on their own systems for some time while other top teams are believed to be looking into it. McLaren has already tested a system and will do so again. With tyre degradation such an important factor this year getting a suspension set up that maintains downforce and is easy on the tyres is crucial.

Trivia

  • The Zhuhai International Circuit was meant to host the first Chinese Grand Prix in 1999 and even made it on to the provisional calendar. However, when the circuit in the Southern province of Guangdong failed to meet standards set by the FIA, the race was dropped. The Shanghai International Circuit was then built with no expense spared to ensure Formula One came to the country in 2004
  • The circuit plan is designed to look like the Chinese character 'Shang', which means high or above
  • Chinese Grand Prix is written as 中国大奖赛 in simplified Chinese
  • A dislodged drain cover brought an end to Juan Pablo Montoya's race in 2005 and caused a safety car period while marshals welded it back in place. Just four months earlier a similar incident brought an end to Mark Winterbottom's race at the circuit in Australian V8s

Fast facts

  • This is the tenth Chinese Grand Prix to take place since it joined the calendar in 2004
  • There were 38 'normal' race overtakes in 2011, and a further 27 moves were made with the help of DRS
  • Drivers spend 15 seconds at full throttle on the straight between turns 13 and 14
  • The highest winning grid position is sixth achieved by Michael Schumacher in 2006 - his last victory in F1 - while half of the eight races have been won from pole position

Circuit

The Shanghai International Circuit is another new-generation F1 track designed by Hermann Tilke. Unlike some of his other creations, the track does have some in-built character, such as team offices on stilts and the mightily impressive bridges over the pit straight, but it all came at the very steep cost of $459 million. On track there is a mix of high speed corners, long straights and big stops, requiring medium to high downforce levels. Overtaking is possible and the most likely location is at turn 14 where the cars brake from 200mph to 45mph after a 0.7 mile straight. Another notable feature on the track includes the 270 degree turn one that requires the cars to hit two apexes before being spat out in the opposite direction in turn two. There will be two DRS zones this year - one on the long back straight and one on the pit straight - both with its own detection point.

FIA driver steward

Mark Blundell will be the driver steward in Shanghai this weekend. He raced for McLaren, Tyrrell, Ligier and Brabham during his 61-grand-prix F1 career and finished on the podium three times. He first appeared as a driver steward at the 2011 Spanish Grand Prix.

© ESPNF1
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Weather

According to the forecast there is a 0% chance of rain this weekend and sun is expected on all three days. Temperatures will still be relatively cool, peaking at 23C on Saturday to give the drivers favourable conditions for a straight fight in qualifying. Nevertheless, tyre management will still play a big part in Sunday's strategies and cloud cover could be the difference between a set-up working and a car struggling.

Betting

Sebastian Vettel is the predictable favourite with odds of 15/8, but it's his team-mate Mark Webber who's the most tempting bet with odds of 8/1. By rights he should have won in Malaysia and he tends to perform at his best when he's up against it, so a return of £80 from a £10 flutter is about as good as odds get in F1. Alternatives are Fernando Alonso at 10/3, Kimi Raikkonen at 7/1 and Lewis Hamilton at 15/2, while the odds of Nico Rosberg repeating his success of 12 months ago are set at 11/1. For those who still have faith in the McLaren technical department, Jenson Button has odds of 22/1 while Sergio Perez is an outsider at 50/1.

ESPN prediction

Red Bull is the team in form, but in the ESPN tradition of not plumping for the favourite we're going to put our faith in Ferrari's latest upgrades and go for Fernando Alonso. The F138 appears to be a good all-rounder and after the disappointment of Malaysia, Alonso will be determined to bounce back with the best possible result.

Laurence Edmondson is deputy editor of ESPNF1

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Laurence Edmondson is deputy editor of ESPNF1 Laurence Edmondson grew up on a Sunday afternoon diet of Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell and first stepped in the paddock as a Bridgestone competition finalist in 2005. He worked for ITV-F1 after graduating from university and has been ESPNF1's deputy editor since 2010