5 Great Moments from Chinese Grand Prix History

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistApril 13, 2016

5 Great Moments from Chinese Grand Prix History

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    PETER PARKS/Getty Images

    The Shanghai International Circuit has hosted the Chinese Grand Prix every year since 2004, and it has seen plenty of firsts, lasts and special moments in that time.

    Michael Schumacher's victory in the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix was his last in Formula One; three years later, Sebastian Vettel's defeat of Jenson Button's Brawn marked the beginning of the Red Bull era.

    Mercedes also kicked off their path back to dominance with a Shanghai win, and few fans will ever forget the 2007 race, in which a strategic blunder by McLaren and a mistake by Lewis Hamilton allowed Kimi Raikkonen to remain in the title hunt as the teams headed for the season finale in Brazil.

    Here, we look back on and remember five key moments in Shanghai over the last 13 years, with a focus on the races that either marked a turning point in the season or held a special significance for the driver or team concerned.

Michael Schumacher's Final Win, 2006

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    CLARO CORTES IV/Associated Press

    Michael Schumacher announced he would retire from F1 at the end of the year immediately after winning the 2006 Italian Grand Prix.

    The victory took him to within two points of Fernando Alonso at the head of the drivers' championship with three races to go. Next up was the Chinese Grand Prix.

    Alonso got his weekend off to the best possible start by qualifying on pole, but Schumacher struggled. The Bridgestone intermediates were not as good as the Michelins on the damp Shanghai track, and the German could only manage the sixth-fastest time.

    But when race day arrived, everything changed.

    The track was wet at the start, but it quickly dried, favouring the Bridgestones, and Schumacher was able to cut through the field to challenge for the lead.

    He was second to Alonso's team-mate, Giancarlo Fisichella, when he made the switch to dry tyres on Lap 40. Fisichella remained out for a further lap and emerged from the pits ahead of Schumacher, but the Italian slid wide at Turn 1 on cold rubber.

    Schumacher swept through to seize a lead he never relinquished, won the race and stood on the top step of the podium for the 91st and final time. 

    Highlights of the race, provided by the official F1 YouTube account, are available here.

Lewis Hamilton and McLaren's Title-Losing Error, 2007

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    Lewis Hamilton headed into the 2007 Chinese Grand Prix with a 12-point lead over team-mate Fernando Alonso at the head of the drivers' standings. Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen was a further five points down.

    With just one race to go after China, Hamilton could have won the title in Shanghai. Any position ahead of Alonso would have put the Spaniard out of the reckoning, while just four points for Hamilton would have been enough to ensure Raikkonen could not catch up.

    Approaching Lap 30, the track conditions were incredibly difficult. The wet track at the start had forced everyone to begin on intermediate tyres and, though the tarmac was drying, it wasn't clear whether fresh inters or dry tyres were the right way to go.

    At the time, Hamilton was second to Raikkonen, a position that would have secured him the world title. However, his tyres were badly worn and had little grip left. He needed a stop, but McLaren delayedthey seemingly wanted to be certain the track was dry enough before switching their man to slicks.

    Eventually, they called him in as his lap times became slower and slower, but Hamilton, on tyres that were down to the canvas, misjudged the pit entry. He briefly lost the rear end as he turned into the sharp corner, corrected it and slid off into the tiny gravel trap at the outside.

    It initially looked like he would be able to safely drive back onto the tarmac, but his McLaren came to a halt—beached in the gravel—and his Chinese Grand Prix was over.

    Hamilton went on to lose the world title to Raikkonen by a single point.

Red Bull's 1st-Ever Pole and Win, 2009

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    Peter Fox/Getty Images

    Red Bull are now considered one of the established big teams, but prior to 2009, they hadn't won a single race.

    One of their cars hadSebastian Vettel won the 2008 Italian Grand Prix for Toro Rosso driving what was effectively a Red Bull RB4 with a Ferrari enginebut the actual Red Bull team's best result to that point had been third place, which they had achieved once in each of the 2006, 2007 and 2008 seasons.

    But the 2009 season saw significant and substantial changes to the technical regulations, and Red Bull started the year with a great package.

    The Brawn team had mastered the technical changes and started the year at the front of the field, but Red Bull were not far behindand in China, the third race of the season, they were ahead.

    Vettel took the team's first-ever pole position, beating Renault's Fernando Alonso by just two-tenths of a second. Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber started third.

    Heavy rain on race day meant the grand prix had to start behind the safety car, but after eight laps, it peeled off into the pits, and the action got under way for real.

    Rain continued to fall, and for a time, it looked like Jenson Button's Brawn might spoil Red Bull's party. But in the end, the RB5s were simply faster in the treacherous conditions. Vettel crossed the line in first to take the team's first F1 win, and Webber came home 10 seconds later to make it a famous one-two.

    Some race highlights are available on YouTube.

A 1st Win for Nico Rosberg and the New Mercedes, 2012

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    Sports Illustrated China/Getty Images

    The Mercedes-Benz F1 story has two distinct parts, separated by almost 60 years.

    The first Mercedes car of the world championship era, the W196, appeared in 1954, and in the hands of the great Juan Manuel Fangio, it was almost unbeatable. The Argentinian won four of the six races in each of the 1954 and 1955 seasons, and he claimed two world titles.

    But following the 1955 Le Mans disaster, in which 83 spectators and Mercedes driver Pierre Levegh were killed, the German marque withdrew from motorsport. It wouldn't be back in F1 as a full constructor until 2010.

    Success did not come easy for this new incarnation of the team, and they didn't even score a podium in 2011. But early in the 2012 season, all the pieces finally fell into placeor, at least, they did for one race.

    Nico Rosberg blitzed the field in qualifying and took pole by a margin of half a second, and a fine start saw him lead into the first corner. Team-mate Michael Schumacher, who started second on the grid, was close behind.

    Schumacher was forced out with wheel trouble on the 13th lap, but Rosberg, two-stopping while his closest rivals opted for three, remained at the front of the field. He crossed the line 20 seconds clear of Jenson Button's McLaren to take his first F1 winand Mercedes' first victory since 1955.

    The Silver Arrows didn't win again in 2012, but a return to dominance was not far away.

Max Verstappen's 'Arrival' on the Formula 1 Scene, 2015

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    Max Verstappen made his F1 debut at the age of 17 at the 2015 Australian Grand Prix, and at the following race in Malaysia, we got a hint that he could really be something special indeed.

    But it was at the third race of the 2015 seasonthe Chinese Grand Prixthat he really demonstrated what he could do, as he pulled off a string of exceptional overtaking moves.

    The first was a beautiful, late-braking attack on Marcus Ericsson. Verstappen's Renault-engined Toro Rosso lacked the grunt of Ericsson's Sauber, and even with DRS, the Dutchman was unable to really get close enough for a normal overtake into the hairpin of Turn 14.

    Verstappen didn't look close enough as the two cars entered the braking zone, but he went for it anyway and somehow got into and around the corner without locking up or running too wide.

    With Ericsson out of the way, Verstappen passed the other Sauber of Felipe Nasr before zipping down the inside of Sergio Perez at Turn 6 in another excellent move.

    He looked set to be rewarded for his efforts with eighth place; unfortunately, a power-unit failure put him out of the race a handful of laps from the end.

    But in the great scheme of things, it didn't really matter. Verstappen had proved his talent, and he went on to have one of the finest rookie years in recent F1 history. 

    The official F1 website is featuring its own 2015 race highlights video, in which snippets of Verstappen's moves can be seen.

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