The Formula One circus arrives at the Shanghai International Circuit from April 15-17 for the last round of the first Asian leg of the 2011 Formula One Season.
The circuit will host only its eighth race in history and has noticeably seen seven different winners in each of its previous editions. It also has the distinction of being the largest race track in Asia—measuring 5.451 kilometres over 56 laps—and has a capacity of over 200,000.
However, the race has seen attendances drop from a peak of 270,000 in 2005 to 155,000 last year. The return of Michael Schumacher last year—who set the fastest lap of 1:32.238 back in 2004—saw attendances increase from a paltry 120,000 in 2009.
Shanghai has extended its deal to host the Chinese GP for seven more years, with organizers ready to slash prices by almost 45 percent. The government has also agreed to keep open a subway line to the race track on the city's northern outskirts to boost spectator numbers.
So what can we expect at Shanghai?
TRACK AND CONDITIONS
The Shanghai International Circuit, designed by Hermann Tilke, is constructed on the site of ancient paddy fields and is inspired by the Chinese character “Shang” (meaning: above).
The circuit was designed to maximise spectator viewing and to push the drivers to their limits. Its challenging corners and long straights are sure to be both technically and physically demanding for drivers.
The trickiest aspects of the track are the two snail-shaped twists at Turns 1-2-3 and 11-12-13. They require a lot of speed while entering and tighten up towards the end.
The track lacks in atmosphere and is hard on tyres. Pirelli’s slicks will be thoroughly drilled here and a minimum of three stops in guaranteed.
The first word that comes to mind when asked to describe the conditions at the Shanghai International Circuit is “Rain.” Ever since the race moved from the end of the season to the beginning, the Chinese GP has produced enthralling races with lots of drama thanks to the wet conditions and tyre strategy will be the utmost priority on drawing board.
LAST YEAR’S STRATEGY
The 2010 Chinese GP stood out for Jenson Button’s ingenious tyre strategy. In a thrilling race which swung from dry to wet a number of times, Button called the shots. He opted to remain on the slicks through the first rain shower while other runners, including teammate Lewis Hamilton and the two Red Bulls, found themselves caught between the slicks and the intermediates. Button finally switched to the intermediates during the second shower spell and was able to conserve his tyres on a drying track on his way to leading a McLaren 1-2.
THIS YEAR’S STRATEGY
Pirelli have said that they are pleased with the tests carried out for their wet and intermediate compounds. McLaren and Red Bull are the front-runners when it comes to strategy and Shanghai will provide them ample opportunity to put their grey cells in overdrive.
Come rain or not, the SIC’s combination of narrowing turns and straight lines with rising and falling gradients will offer drivers opportunities to overtake which is certain to add to the excitement of the event. KERS and DRS are bound to play their part. It is to be noted that DRS will be deactivated in case of wet conditions.
Lewis Hamilton is Controversy King when it comes to the Chinese GP.
In the 2007 Chinese GP, which was the penultimate race of the season, Hamilton needed to finish within one point of his teammate Fernando Alonso and within six points of Kimi Räikkönen. From race day morning, conditions at Shanghai were wet, forcing all drivers to use intermediate tyres. As the track dried Hamilton began to suffer from tyre wear. However, McLaren decided to keep Hamilton out and stick to their original strategy. This turned out to be an awful idea, and by lap 31 Räikkönen had out-braked him into the hairpin to take the lead.
Hamilton finally headed for the pits. However, as he entered the pit lane, he failed to negotiate the sharp left-hander into the pits, thereby beaching his car in the gravel. Despite the marshal's efforts to get him back into the race, he suffered the first retirement of his career. Räikkönen went on to win the title at the season-ending Brazilian GP, denying Hamilton the opportunity to become Formula One’s first rookie champion.
Prior to the 2008 edition, Lewis Hamilton once again led the Drivers’ Championship on 84 points, with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa second on 79. Hamilton started from pole followed by the Ferrari’s of Räikkönen and Massa, and the order remained the same for almost the entire race. However, during the closing stages, Räikkönen allowed Massa to pass him. The incident was downplayed.
Also, prior to the race, Renault’s Fernando Alonso had infamously declared that he would allow Massa to win if given the opportunity. Alonso and Hamilton’s partnership in 2007 at McLaren had ended bitterly and Alonso’s dislike for the Brit was well documented.
Last year’s Chinese GP saw a pit lane battle between Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. The duo nearly collided in the pit lane after they were released at the same time by the McLaren and Red Bull pit crews. Coming in for new tyres, Hamilton and Vettel left their pit boxes at the exact same time and promptly raced one another—at the speed limit—down the pit lane. The duo exited with Vettel just getting ahead of Hamilton and it wasn't long before the stewards informed both teams that Hamilton and Vettel were under investigation. Eventually, both walked away without any penalties.
Last year’s edition also saw Fernando Alonso make his first false start of his career, a mistake which earned the Spaniard a drive-through.
Red Bull Racing
Seven years, seven different champions. However, three of them were employed by Ferrari. So, trust the Scuderia to come out all guns blazing in Shanghai. Felipe Massa hasn’t won here yet, but he isn’t exactly the best driver in rain.
Nico Rosberg topped the time sheets on the final day of the Barcelona testing which was interrupted by rain, so the German is another contender provided Mercedes provide him with the right car.
Mark Webber, another decent driver in wet conditions, hasn’t won at Shanghai either. This writer’s best wishes, if not money, is on the Australian.
Over to Shanghai!
(This article is also featured in Chequered Flag India magazine).