• Chinese Grand Prix preview

A clouded picture

Chris Medland April 12, 2012
The Shanghai International Circuit was the most expensive Formula One circuit when it was completed © Sutton Images
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After what felt like a whirlwind start to the season with back-to-back races in Australia and Malaysia, the teams have had an opportunity to catch their breath before the next pair of races. It's East that they will travel once again as the Shanghai International Circuit awaits, and it is another good test of each car's all-round performance. But has the three-week break allowed a change in the pecking order? And can the race live up to the drama of Sepang?

On Form

Far from being a case of just highlighting the last winner, but Fernando Alonso delivered (as he always seems to) for Ferrari in Malaysia. Handed a sniff of victory Alonso was both ruthless and faultless. Coming under pressure from the much faster Sauber of Sergio Perez late in the race he didn't put a wheel wrong and it was Perez who made the error which ensured victory. Despite an uncompetitive car Alonso still manages to find a way of being a threat in every race.

Out of form

While Felipe Massa clearly still is, one man who needs to put a race weekend together is Romain Grosjean. An impressive pre-season on the back of his dominant GP2 championship led to a buzz of expectancy around Grosjean, and that was heightened when he took third place on the grid at Melbourne. His inexperience has counted against him since then, however, as he's made errors in the opening stages of both races so far and is yet to get close to the tenth lap, let alone the chequered flag. With Kimi Raikkonen finding his feet quickly, Grosjean needs to get some points on the board.

Kamui Kobayashi has scored eight points so far this season © Sutton Images
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One to watch

Sergio Perez's outstanding result in Malaysia has completely overshadowed the fact that Kamui Kobayashi had a difficult race. While all of Perez's strategic calls paid off, it was the opposite for Kobayashi before he retired with a brake problem. Having emerged as Sauber's team leader in the early part of 2011, he has slowly seen Perez grabbing more and more of the limelight, and after the hype that has surrounded his team-mate's podium at Sepang Kobayashi will be keen to remind observers of his talents.

Talking points

Bahrain You'd be forgiven for having forgotten that the Chinese Grand Prix was still to take place due to all of the focus on Bahrain, but the situation surrounding the race in the island state has descended in to farce. Despite assurances that the ongoing unrest is not as bad as the media is portraying, the death of a protestor and a bomb attack tell a different story. Bernie Ecclestone insists the race will go ahead, the teams say they cannot make any decisions and that it is up to the FIA to rule on, and the FIA is saying nothing. While the race is little more than a week away, the consensus is that it could well be called off following meetings this weekend as the paddock reconvenes.

DRS The Mercedes innovation is another ongoing situation rolling over from the first two races. The FIA has deemed it legal so far, but the likes of Lotus and Red Bull had still asked for more clarity on whether it conforms to the regulations and will continue to be allowed. Things finally came to a head on Thursday in China when Lotus lodged an official protest, with Mercedes hoping the governing body does not change its stance and the other teams' manufacturing departments ready to push the button on their own designs of the final ruling allows the system.

Vettel's mindset For the first time since the Belgian Grand Prix last year we saw a chink in the armour of the world champion in Malaysia, when he lost his cool over an incident with Narain Karthikeyan. Although Karthikeyan was handed a penalty for the collision late in the race, it was widely acknowledged that if anyone was at fault it was Vettel but he didn't see it that way, branding the HRT driver an "idiot" and a "cucumber" (or gherkin depending on your German translation). Although far from in crisis, Vettel needs a strong performance in the face of the McLaren challenge.

Sergio Perez secured his first podium in Formula One at Sepang © Getty Images
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Ferrari and Perez While Felipe Massa's future alone was a major talking point in Malaysia, Sergio Perez picked the perfect time to remind Ferrari of the alternatives. When asked in the Shanghai paddock if Massa would definitely stay for the remainder of the season team principal Stefano Domenicali refused to confirm he would, stating only that it is important for the team to "stay close" to Massa at the moment. A switch may not be the best move for Perez at present as Sauber currently has the stronger car, but with rain possible a repeat performance on Sunday could prove too hard to ignore at Maranello.

Trivia

  • The shape of the Shanghai International Circuit (SIC) is designed to look like the Chinese character 'Shang' which means high or above
  • The track is built on reclaimed swampland and cost around $459 million to build in 2004
  • The Chinese Grand Prix was provisionally added to the 1999 calendar to be held at the Zhuhai International Circuit in the Guangdong Province, but logistical problems meant it never made it to the final calendar
  • The SIC is the scene of Michael Schumacher's last grand prix victory to date, his 91st win coming at the circuit for Ferrari in 2006

Fast facts

  • This is the ninth Chinese Grand Prix to take place since it joined the calendar in 2004
  • There were 30 'normal' race overtakes in 2011, and a further 37 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, while half of the eight races have been won from pole position

Circuit

Another Tilke-drome, the Shanghai International Circuit features his trademark long straight before the tight hairpin of turn 14. That offers an overtaking opportunity, with DRS also helping to facilitate passes in to the hairpin. The first sector features the challenging 270-degree turns one and two, while the test of a car's downforce comes in the high-speed change of direction through turns 7 and 8. Passing is also possible in to turns six and 11.

FIA driver steward

Former Benetton and Scuderia Italia driver Emanuele Pirro makes his third appearance as the driver steward, having previously fulfilled the role in Abu Dhabi in 2010 and last year's Chinese Grand Prix.

© ESPNF1
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Weather

We're yet to have a fully dry race weekend and China promises more rain. Friday's forecast threatens showers all day, which could really harm setups - especially for the likes of Red Bull attempting to compare exhaust layouts - while Saturday is set to be dry. Though the race should also take place after the predicted morning showers, the low temperatures could see the track remaining damp.

Betting

Following Lewis Hamilton's grid penalty it's Jenson Button who is favourite for victory at 2/1. Sebastian Vettel is longer odds at 7/2 but is a risk due to the uncertainty over Red Bull's exhaust layout. With McLaren expected to retain its advantage, Hamilton is attractive at 4/1. Steer clear of Sergio Perez if looking for a surprise result, but Bruno Senna is a good each-way bet at 250/1. Away from the obvious, Romain Grosjean is good odds at 28/1 to set the fastest lap after team-mate Kimi Raikkonen did so in Malaysia.

ESPN prediction

Having failed miserably with our last race-winning prediction - as everyone else did - we restored some pride by tipping Bruno Senna for a top six finish. Lewis Hamilton is yet to convert a pole in to victory, but his win here last year came from further back and less pressure could play in to his hands.

Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1

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Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1 Chris Medland, who in his youth even found the Pacific GPs entertaining, talked his way in to work at the British Grand Prix and was somehow retained for three years. He also worked on the BBC's F1 output prior to becoming assistant editor ahead of the 2011 season