2015: Chinese Grand Prix Preview

Following Mercedes’ routine 1-2 in Australia, the tables turned in Malaysia when Sebastian Vettel made the most of a different strategy to take a convincing victory. The Ferrari driver finished eight seconds clear of Lewis Hamilton with Vettel favouring a two stop strategy over Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s three.

Now all eyes turn to China to see if Ferrari’s win means there is a genuine threat to Mercedes’ domination or if circumstances on the day helped the Scuderia on their way to victory. While Vettel was winning, team-mate Kimi Raikkonen recovered from qualifying 11th to finish in fourth place. The rest of the top ten read like Noah’s Ark, with the two Williams drivers finishing next to each other ahead of two Toro Rossos and two Red Bulls. At the other end of the spectrum, Ferrari’s sparring partner of days gone past McLaren suffered a double DNF although Ron Dennis revealed last week that both engines would be used again in China. McLaren were buoyed during the race, however, to be fighting with other cars in the midfield. Roberto Merhi got the Manor car to the end of its first race but was the sole representative following a fuel pump problem on team-mate Will Stevens’ car.  Following the much depleted grid in Australia, Malaysia was a much better showing with 19 out of 20 cars making the start of the race – 15 of them made it to the chequered flag.

Circuit: Shanghai International Circuit
Number of Laps: 56
Circuit Length: 5.451km
Number of Corners: 16
Lap Record: 1:32.239 Michael Schumacher (2004)
Previous China winners still on the grid: 6
Most Successful Team: Ferrari (4 wins)
DRS Zones: 2
Pirelli Tyres: Medium and Soft

From the heat and humidity of Malaysia, Formula One moves on to the cooler climes of Shanghai. The Chinese Grand Prix has been on the F1 calendar since 2004 and provides teams the challenge of setting their cars up for long straights punctuated by a mixture of slow, medium and high speed corners. The track can also be particularly tough on the tyres and Pirelli have brought the soft and medium compound this weekend. In its 11 year history the race has been won by eight different drivers with just Hamilton and Fernando Alonso winning it more than once. Last year saw Hamilton lead from lights to flag, finishing ahead of his team-mate and Alonso in the Ferrari. It wouldn’t be wrong to suggest we could see Mercedes return to their winning ways this weekend but Ferrari have certainly put a cat amongst the pigeons by winning last time out. The championship is finely poised after two races – Hamilton leads by just three points from Vettel – but can Ferrari prevent another Silver Arrows 1-2 on Sunday?

2014: Chinese Grand Prix Preview

Following an entertaining Bahrain Grand Prix, the Chinese Grand Prix has a lot to live up to. Being held for the eleventh time, the Chinese Grand Prix has been won by both Mercedes drivers – Nico Rosberg in 2012 and Lewis Hamilton in 2011 and 2008 – and on the form they have been in in 2014, it is not unlikely that one of them could add another win to their tally. The pair of them went wheel-to-wheel in Bahrain but it was Hamilton who came out on top. Sergio Perez also finished on the podium  – for the first time since 2012 – demonstrating Force India’s current form.

Circuit: Shanghai International Circuit
Number of Laps: 56
Circuit Length: 5.451km
Number of Corners: 16
Lap Record: 1:32.238 Michael Schumacher (2004)
Previous Australian Grand Prix winners still on the grid: Fernando Alonso (2013 & 2005), Nico Rosberg (2012), Lewis Hamilton (2011 & 2007), Jenson Button (2010), Sebastian Vettel (2009) and Kimi Raikkonen (2007).
Most Successful Team: Ferrari (4 wins)
DRS Zones: 2    
Pirelli Tyres: Medium and Soft

The Shanghai International Circuit provides a different challenge for teams and drivers, as there are two long straights and a mixture of slow, medium and high-speed corners. It is also a track that can be tough on tyres, as Hamilton found out in 2007. It has the longest straight in Formula One and the weather can often be mixed, with the cooler climes bringing some rain.

2012: Chinese GP: Qualifying

* Lewis Hamilton will take a five place grid drop for gear-box change

It will be Nico Rosberg starting the Chinese GP on pole after the Mercedes driver blitzed the rest of the top ten to qualify half a second faster than Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher. After his grid drop for changing his gearbox Hamilton will start the race from seventh, meaning that it will be an all Mercedes front row. Going into qualifying it looked like we could be in for a repeat of the past two races as Hamilton led a McLaren 1-2 in the third and final free practice session. It was once again Jean-Eric Vergne who ended up dropping out after Q3, joining the ‘usual suspects’ as Heikki Kovalainen once again out-qualified team-mate Vitaly Petrov, Timo Glock ahead of Charles Pic and Pedro de la Rosa ahead of Narain Karthikeyan, who all qualified well within the 107% rule.

In Q1 drivers initially set times using the harder compound tyres but towards the end of the session some drivers were forced to take on the soft tyres, particularly the likes of Felipe Massa who continually finds himself under pressure to perform. As he slipped down the order he became one of the first to swap tyre compounds and instantly went fastest. Sebastian Vettel completed his flying lap and confirmed with his engineer that they thought that was enough to get him through. As the chequered flag came out at the end of Q1 it became clear that he was safe – but not before he dropped right down the order to 15th. It came down to Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne as to who would be the one to drop out and it was Vergne who improved his time on his final run, but not enough to get into Q2. Pastor Maldonado and Heikki Kovalainen were involved in an investigation for impeding and after qualifying Kovalainen suggested that Maldonado should be penalised as he had blocked him during one of his fast laps. Bruno Senna and de la Rosa were also investigated for impeding.

Q2 was even closer as drivers battled to get a spot in the pole position shoot out. Mark Webber topped the times ahead of the two Mercedes drivers but team-mate Sebastian Vettel was unlucky to miss out on Q3 by mere hundredths of a second. Massa was only three tenths off his team-mate but Alonso made it through while the Brazilian did not as he qualified 12th. Behind him the rest of the grid lines up in two-by-two formation with Pastor Maldonado ahead of Bruno Senna, Paul di Resta ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, and Ricciardo ahead of Vergne. This meant that going through to the shoot-out would be Webber, both Mercedes drivers, both McLaren drivers, both Lotus drivers, both Sauber drivers, and Fernando Alonso. They were separated by just three tenths of a second!

Kimi Räikkönen was the first out on track for Q3 closely followed by both Mercedes drivers. The track had started to cool during the duration of qualifying meaning that it would be harder for teams to warm their tyres. Räikkönen’s first attempt was a 1:38.898 which was quickly beaten by a blisteringly quick Rosberg who set a 1:38.121, which turned out to be the pole lap time as nobody else could get close. His team-mate was the first to attempt to beat it but was a huge five tenths slower – huge in relation to how close the times had been in Q2. Hamilton was next up but the pole-sitter for the previous two races couldn’t better Rosberg’s time but was able to slip into second. Rosberg clearly thought he had done enough, or at least as much as he could do as he got out of his car with eight minutes remaining. It came down to the rest of the drivers to fight over who would start in second position down but it appeared that track conditions meant that nobody could improve, apart from Kamui Kobayashi who put in a late flyer to qualify in fourth, which becomes third when Hamilton takes his penalty. This means an all Mercedes front row ahead of Kobayashi, Räikkönen, Button, Webber, Hamilton, Sergio Perez, Alonso and Romain Grosjean (who set no time).

There are a lot of questions waiting to be answered like can the Mercedes hold on at the front or will their race pace let them down again? Can Kobayashi secure another podium, or even a win, for the ever present Sauber? What can Hamilton do from seventh and will Vettel progress quickly from 11th? Also watch out for Räikkönen and Grosjean, who hopes to complete more than a handful of laps.

You can check how team-mates stack up against each other in qualifying head-to-heads here

Roll on the race!

2012: Chinese GP: FP3

Free Practice 3

The third and final practice session for the Chinese GP was held in warmer conditions than the first two had been. Teams took full advantage of this by sending their drivers out early to complete their installation laps. Heikki Kovalainen reported that the front grip on his car was much better feeling than it had been on Friday, while Michael Schumacher struggled with the handling of his Mercedes in Turns 9 and 10. Lewis Hamilton started the session with his new gearbox meaning that he will definitely be taking a five place grid drop after qualifying. The order of the day was runs on the harder compound tyre (mediums) before completing qualifying simulations on the soft tyres towards the end of the session. It was once again Lewis Hamilton, who topped the first free practice session, quickest ahead of team-mate Jenson Button and the two Mercedes drivers who also looked strong. The field spread was five and a half seconds but down to Felipe Massa in 18th was covered by under two seconds, suggesting that qualifying will be close. Apart from the odd lock-up, although not as many as had happened on Friday, nothing out of the ordinary happened.

2012: Chinese GP: FP1 + FP2

Free Practice 1

The first practice session for this weekend’s Chinese GP at the Shanghai International circuit started with damp conditions. Heikki Kovalainen was the first man out on track followed by Giedo van der Garde, the team’s reserve driver, and Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi. Van der Garde was not the only test driver out on track as Valtteri Bottas and Jules Bianchi were also out for Williams and Force India respectively. Bruno Senna and Paul di Resta sat out the morning session before returning in the afternoon. A number of teams have brought updates for this weekend including Red Bull who are running different exhaust layouts on their cars, McLaren had modified front and rear wings and a new floor, while Ferrari have brought five new updates which they hope will move them a step closer to the leading teams. HRT have made “small” adjustments to their cars, Caterham have a new engine cover and floor, while the Lotus team hope their new parts will give the team up to two tenths of a second. Mercedes once again faced protest from Lotus about the legality of their ‘f duct’ type device, however it was again deemed to be legal by the FIA.

Drivers spent the first half of the session completing system checks and installation laps and just after light rain started to fall it was Mark Webber who set the first fastest lap time of a 1:40.647 and after that times started to fall as more drivers ventured out. Felipe Massa appeared to struggle to get heat into his tyres as he locked up, while team-mate Fernando Alonso waited until the closing stages of the session before setting a lap time as the track conditions improved. Both McLaren drivers did the same. Kimi Räikkönen had DRS problems throughout and the team chose to cut short his session and he finished at the bottom of the times. As the track continued to dry the Mercedes of Michael Schumacher went fastest before losing out to both his team-mate and Lewis Hamilton, who went over a second faster. Hamilton will face a five place grid drop after the team change his gearbox which has developed a fault.

Free Practice 2

The second practice session started in drier conditions albeit still cold. Heikki Kovalainen was once again first out on track followed by Narain Karthikeyan and Bruno Senna, who took over from test driver Valtteri Bottas. As the first practice session had taken place in difficult conditions, drivers wasted no time in getting out on track to set lap times. Sergio Perez, who claimed a surprise podium in Malaysia, was the first man to set a time with a 1:38.785. A number of drivers, including Felipe Massa, Perez and Lewis Hamilton, struggled with braking as they locked up heavily and flat-spotted their tyres. Massa was also receiving tips from his race engineer, Rob Smedley, as he was advised that Fernando Alonso was not braking at Turn 3.  Paul di Resta spun on the pit straight with other drivers such as Kovalainen going wide at the same place. Timo Glock’s session came to a premature end as his nose fell off and he had a heavy side on impact with the barriers. He initially complained of hand pain but is thankfully alright. It was an incident similar to Sebastian Buemi’s in 2010 when the Swiss driver’s front suspension broke and both wheels came completely free.

Daniel Ricciardo complained to his engineers that his steering was heavy, to which they replied that it would take about three months to fix, but he still ended the session in twelfth. Kamui Kobayashi had a slide in his Sauber, which would not have done his tyres any favours while Kimi Räikkönen got onto the wet astro turf but was able to control his car and stay on track. After he returned to the pits he spent a lengthy period of time sat in his car awaiting further instruction from the team. The Red Bull duo of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber lapped at the front until Hamilton got himself in between the pair after going fastest in the first two sectors but losing out in the third sector. In the latter stages of the session drivers focused on long runs as they fuelled up the cars. In the end it was Michael Schumacher who topped the times, ahead of morning pacesetter Lewis Hamilton.

2012: Chinese GP: Preview

Fernando Alonso leads the drivers championship with team-mate Felipe Massa down in 19th behind both Marussia drivers. Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel is down in sixth, behind Sauber’s Sergio Perez who secured his first podium last time out. And Romain Grosjean is last having only completed four laps in the two races so far. Hands up if you predicted any of that before the season started? Three weeks after the Malaysian GP it is time to go racing once again.

Chinese GP Stats

Circuit Name: Shanghai International Circuit
Number of laps: 56
Circuit Length: 5.451km
Lap Record: 1:32.238 M Schumacher (2004)
2011 Results: 1.Lewis Hamilton 2.Sebastian Vettel 3.Mark Webber

There are six previous Chinese GP winners on the grid: Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Räikkönen, Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso.

Rubens Barrichello is the only other driver to have won the Chinese GP, while Lewis Hamilton is the only driver to have won it more than once in its eight races so far.

Last Time Out

Lewis Hamilton once again qualified on pole position with team-mate Jenson Button making sure McLaren secured another front row lock-out. This time, however, this was not converted into a race win for the team as Fernando Alonso took advantage of a rain interrupted race to take an unexpected win ahead of Sergio Perez. Hamilton finished the race in third. Button and Sebastian Vettel were unlucky to both be involved with collisions with Narain Karthikeyan – Button accepted responsibility for misjudging his position while racing the HRT driver (who had shot up the order due to an inspired choice to start the race on full wets) while Vettel responded angrily in post-race interviews. Karthikeyan was handed a 20s penalty after the race for his incident with Vettel. Both drivers finished up outside the points. After only nine laps after the initial start, the race was red flagged as the rain intensified and did not restart for an hour. Alonso and Perez found themselves in prime positions while Hamilton suffered from a couple of botched pit-stops and lack of pace in the rain. Kimi Räikkönen showed what he could achieve as he gained five positions from 10th on the grid while his team-mate only completed two laps – one more than in Australia.   Due to the wet conditions it was difficult to judge exactly where cars were in relation to each other.

Pat Fry, Ferrari’s Technical Director, has admitted that Ferrari are still about 8 tenths of a second off the pace while the damp conditions flattered their car. McLaren will be hoping to make it three out of three lock-outs, although without mistakes Lotus could be up there challenging, if not for pole definitely for high grid positions. The circuit features two long straights which could once again play to the Mercedes’ strengths, despite continuing calls for their ‘f duct’ to be deemed illegal. Sauber impressed and should be able to keep up that form to at least remain towards the front of the midfield. Bruno Senna and Pastor Maldonado put in another strong showing for Williams last time out with Senna taking points and Maldonado unfortunate to retire again. The current weather forecast suggests rain for the weekend – so could we be in for another surprise result?

Schedule

Chinese time

Free Practice 1: 10:00 Friday
Free Practice 2: 14:00 Friday
Free Practice 3: 11:00 Saturday
Qualifying: 14:00 Saturday
Race: 15:00 Sunday

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