• Chinese Grand Prix Preview

Favourites will emerge from Shanghai

Laurence Edmondson April 15, 2010
A virtual lap of the circuit

Looking at the championship standings after the first three races of 2010, you could be fooled into thinking that the cars have been incredibly evenly matched. Up until now Red Bull has had the fastest car but has failed to convert that in to anything close to maximum points. Ferrari and McLaren were quick to pounce on Red Bull's fragility in the first two races, but mistakes of their own in qualifying gave the pacesetters an easy ride in Malaysia. The upshot of this is that even a dull race in China will hold its own interest by giving a clearer impression of exactly how the top teams compare after two chaotic races.

In Form

McLaren claimed it shaved 0.3 seconds off its lap time in Malaysia and two weeks ago the team was keen confident of a repeat performance in Shanghai. But that was before the FIA clarified that ride height-control systems were most definitely illegal, and McLaren had to shelve its plans to bring modified suspension to the the Chinese round. Nevertheless, McLaren's F-duct, which worked wonders in increasing the MP4-25's straight-line speed in Malaysia, has an even longer straight to gain an advantage on in China. The track should suit the car, and judging by Lewis Hamilton's one lap pace during practice in Malaysia, he is likely to be the Red Bull's biggest concern in qualifying.

Out of Form

At the end of pre-season testing Sauber was a favourite to bridge the gap between the top four teams and the midfield. However, three races into the year and it looks more likely to find itself swallowed by the void between the midfield and F1's three newcomers. The logic behind the pre-season hype was that the team was still operating out of its high-spec Hinwill base, which had been heavily invested in under BMW ownership. But it's worth remembering that BMW pulled out of the sport in July, right about the time when a team's focus switches to the next year's car. It would not have been keen to pour good money after bad on the development of a 2010 car that, until as late as December, was not even confirmed on the grid. As a result the C29 lost out on four to five months of really dedicated development and that is starting to show.

Sebastain Vettel will be hoping to repeat his victory in 2009 © Sutton Images
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One to watch

Fernando Alonso has spent the last two races bottled up behind his team-mate Felipe Massa and then biting his tongue in the about the issue in the subsequent press conferences. He is clearly quick in the new F10 but after mistakes in Australia and Malaysia, there is still a question of just how quick. If qualifying goes to plan in China he is likely to start ahead of Massa on the grid and that should be give him a free run at the Red Bulls or whoever, if anybody, is in front of him. He's got a point to prove and will be desperate to move above Massa in the points standings, so he can start to focus the team's attention on his side of the garage.

Talking Points

Qualifying pace
Of the six Chinese Grands Prix that have taken place, four have been won by the man on pole. But that is not the only reason qualifying will draw the attention of F1 fans this weekend. It is rumoured that Red Bull has found a way to adjust its suspension without touching the car under Parc Ferme conditions, and by doing so, run the optimum ride height for both qualifying and the race. The team has denied the speculation and on the Sunday of the Malaysian Grand Prix the FIA clarified its position on the issue saying any sort of system, no matter the means, was most definitely illegal. Whether Red Bull was running the trick suspension should become apparent in qualifying in China; if they're equally as dominant as in the first three races then they probably weren't but if Ferrari and McLaren are nipping at their heels then it will be deducted that revised suspension is to blame.

Empty grandstands
Despite taking place in the most populous country in the world, the Chinese Grand Prix has never sold out its capacity 200,000 capacity at the Shanghai International Circuit. There are rumours that many of the tickets are sold on the cheap by corporate guests who are offered them for free. The attendance has dipped so low in recent years that the huge grandstands on the outside of turns 12 and 13 have been turned into a giant advertising hoarding. With no contract in place for 2011 the future of the event may depend on a good turnout on Sunday.

Cool temperatures
With hail in Shanghai mid-week, much colder temperatures than the teams have experienced so far this season with are expected this weekend. It shouldn't catch them off guard though, as all of pre-season testing took place in similar conditions. The only problem might be that Bridgestone is bringing a harder compound to the circuit than in recent years and some drivers might find themselves struggling for temperature. This was a crucial factor during the cool and cloudy qualifying session in Australia when Massa and Hamilton recorded times well off the pace of their team-mates.

Ferrari engines
Ferrari has elected not to use its fourth new engine in as many races on Fernando Alonso's car. Instead both Ferraris will run with the units they used during their one-two victory in Bahrain. The team experienced some overheating problems in that race, but insists the V8s will have no such problems in China, a circuit which is relatively easy on engines. The cooler temperatures will help, but a potential failure will still be at the back of Alonso's mind after his problem in Sepang.

Weekend Timings

  • Free practice 1 0200 GMT / 1000 Local
    Free practice 2 0600 GMT / 1400 Local
    Free practice 3 0300 GMT / 1100 Local
    Qualifying 0600 GMT / 1400 Local
    Race 0700 GMT / 1500 Local

Stat Attack

  • This will be the seventh Chinese Grand Prix, the first was held in 2004
  • No driver has won the Chinese Grand Prix more than once, although of the current drivers, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, and Rubens Barrichello have all won here before
  • Michael Schumacher holds the lap record with a 1:32.238 set in 2004
  • Red Bull is the only team to record a one-two finish in Shanghai
  • Four out of the six Chinese Grands Prix have been won from pole position

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.

© ESPNF1
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Circuit

The Shanghai International Circuit is another new-generation F1 track designed by the ubiquitous Hermann Tilke. Unlike some of his other creations, the track does have some in-built character, such as team offices built on stilts over water and the mightily impressive bridges over the pit straight, but it all came at the very steep cost of US$459 million. On track it has 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 13 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 apices before being spat out in the opposite direction in turn two.

© ESPNF1
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Weather

Far from the extremes of the recent rounds in Bahrain and Malaysia, China should offer up a forecast closer to the current European weather. Hail hit the city mid-week but it isn't likely over the weekend, with rain only a possibility on Sunday. More likely is smog-filtered sunshine and temperatures under 20 degrees Centigrade; not ideal for tyres but a bonus for the engines after the strains of the early races.

Betting

Sebastian Vettel is again the favourite with odds of 13/8 ahead of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton on 4/1. Jenson Button and Felipe Massa are relative outsiders with odds of 12/1 and 14/1 respectively. Further down the field Michael Schumacher's rocky start to the season is reflected by being only slightly favoured over Renault driver Robert Kubica. Click here for more details from Bet 365

ESPNF1 Prediction

Lewis Hamilton has put in two incredible performances at the last two races, only masked by poor qualifying and race strategy decisions. It would be foolhardy to underestimate Red Bull, but if it has been running trick suspension at the opening rounds and has had to ditch it for Shanghai, its qualifying dominance could be at an end. Either way, the McLaren looked very fast over one lap in Malaysia and China's long straight will offer one of the best opportunities all season for Hamilton to exploit the F-duct-induced straight line speed of the MP4-25.

Laurence Edmondson is an assistant editor on ESPNF1

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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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