2010 Sinopec Chinese Grand Prix Preview

After the wonderful win by Sebastian Vettel in Malaysia two long weeks ago, the F1 world arrives this week in China. Will Red Bull dominate again, or will Ferrari and McLaren overcome their respective engine and qualifying pace difficulties to take the win? Or could it even be a fairytale return to China for Nico Rosberg or Michael Schumacher? Here, forumula1.com provides its comprehensive preview of the fourth race of the season.

Date: Sunday, April 18 2010. 8am (BST) start
Site: Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China
Laps:56 (total distance 305.066km/189.568 miles)
Lap distance: 5.451km/3.387 miles
Race lap record: Michael Schumacher (Germany) 1:32.238 (Ferrari, 2004).
2009 Pole Sitter: Sebastian Vettel 1m 36.184s
2009 Race Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing)

Previous winners:
2009 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault
2008 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes
2007 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari
2006 Michael Schumacher Ferrari
2005 Fernando Alonso Renault
2004 Rubens Barrichello Ferrari

Tyres: from Hirohide Hamashima – Bridgestone Director of Motorsport Tyre Development
“Shanghai International Circuit is severe on tyres. There are very high lateral forces and we expect to see graining on the front left tyres, especially caused by the increasing radius turn two and the banked turn thirteen. We could also see graining on the rear tyres here too. We are a step harder in our allocation for this year compared to 2009 because of the heavier cars and the severity of this track. The circuit layout means that a medium downforce set-up will be used, as there are two long straights, but a large percentage of the track is also very twisty and technical. For the teams and drivers, finding the correct set-up to make the best use of their tyres will be a big challenge. Last year the challenge was the weather, and we saw our wet tyres used for most of the race. It was not the first time we have had wet conditions in China so the sky will be a strong consideration for this weekend.”

Felipe Massa believes that Ferrari will have a job on their hands keeping up with McLaren’s F-duct assisted MP4-25 on the long straights this track features. He might perhaps do better to worry about his own car’s engine situation – there have been worries all week concerning the lack of reliability Ferrari’s powerplant has shown. Massa and his team-mate Alonso will nevertheless be forces to be reckoned with, especially as it is near-unthinkable that Ferrari and McLaren will get qualifying as wrong as they did in Malaysia.

Red Bull are the team to beat, having as they do the fastest car on the grid. Somehow, and no-one else is quite sure how, they have amazing pace in qualifying and can repeat that in the race, a feat that no other team has been able to master, because of the huge discrepancy in fuel load. It emerged this week that McLaren have dropped an upgrade to their suspension to deal with the extra weight, supposedly because they thought that it would be declared illegal if they implemented it. Red Bull have no such concerns and are confident that what they are doing is within the rules. Until such time as they are told to dispense with whatever it is, or McLaren/Ferrari/Mercedes figure it out and copy it, the Milton Keynes squad should remain on top. If reliability gremlins do not return to haunt them, that is.

From the other runners, it is worth looking at what Renault are doing. The team are obviously benefiting from having a motivated and relaxed Robert Kubica at the helm, and young Petrov in the other seat seems to be right at home so far in the sport. They are a mere 14 points behind Mercedes GP in the standings and have a competitive enough package to challenge those above them.

Force India will also be going all out to repeat the excellent fourth place that Adrian Sutil claimed in Malaysia. Their chassis is every bit as good as last year’s and stand a creditable 12 points ahead of Williams in the constructors’ table. Nico Hulkenberg impressed for Williams last time out and will be champing at the bit.

More development work will be done by the new teams at this track, ahead of what is expected to be a big upgrade when they arrive in Barcelona in early May. But Lotus and HRT in particular will be encouraged by their showings so far, with the Spanish team obviously chuffed to have two cars finishing at Sepang.

Weather forecast (as of 14/5/10, with thanks to the Met Office):
Friday is set to be sunny, with clear skies and an air temperature of 15C. Some clouds will appear on Saturday morning, although the chances of rain are thought to be very slim. Sunday will probably see some rain, although it is as yet unclear when it will arrive.

Selected driver and team quotes:
Mercedes GP: ROSS BRAWN: “We hope to continue these signs of improvement in China and it would be particularly good for Michael to be able to have a clean race and show the progress that he has made since the start of the season. On an operational level, the team has performed very well over the three races and did a good job during Nico’s race in Malaysia to record one of the quickest pit stops of the season.

“Our car has been reliable, with the exception of the wheel nut problem in Malaysia, and I am very pleased with the performance of our drivers. We’ve achieved a reasonable set of results which are in line with the car’s current pace but we have to be realistic and acknowledge that we are not quick enough to compete right at the front at the moment. This is obviously not a situation that we are happy with and we are working as hard as possible to close the gap.”

“Shanghai is a good track which is an enjoyable challenge for the drivers. The two long straights provide some decent overtaking opportunities and there’s a great mix of corners, particularly the high-speed sections. The weather will be colder in Shanghai than at the previous three races and can be quite unpredictable so it should be an interesting weekend. The fans in China are so enthusiastic and Shanghai itself is a great city so I always enjoy our annual visit. Achieving my first podium with the team in Malaysia at the last race was fantastic and I’m looking forward to continuing our consistent run of good results in China next weekend.”

“The enthusiasm for Mercedes-Benz and the support of the fans is very big in China so we have an attractive race ahead of us in Shanghai next weekend. I am confident that the fans will not leave the race disappointed. We looked quite reasonable in Malaysia at the last race and maybe things will play into our hands again in Shanghai. I am looking forward to the race and fully enjoying the competition again. Admittedly the last two races have not been very fortunate for me but I am very much aware of the reasons for it. I know how things go in F1 and if you look into the detail of the two races, I think everything is still going according to plan. You can only improve step-by-step and I am confident that we are achieving this.”

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes:
Jenson Button
“Last year, they moved the race from the end of the season to the start, and the weekend was quite a bit colder and wetter than it had been before. The weather forecast doesn’t currently suggest this year’s event will be any different but I’m optimistic that we’ll have a dry weekend and a more straightforward race than we did last year.

“Nonetheless, it’s a track I enjoy: it’s a typical modern circuit it has a real mix of corners, but it manages to combine some quite precise and technical sections with some faster corners and long straights. It’s a good drivers’ circuit while also being a place that benefits from a well-balanced car.

“I think I’ve made some real progress in that area, though. I wasn’t completely happy with the balance of the car in Malaysia, so I spent a day back at the McLaren Technology Centre looking at how we could have done things differently in Sepang while also looking ahead to Shanghai.

“Along with my engineers, I think we’ve developed an even better understanding of the MP4-25. We know how to fine-tune the car’s balance and how to develop it over a race weekend. Of course, it’s a continuous process, but the overall feeling is that we’re moving forwards which, again, is always a positive.”

Lewis Hamilton
“It’s hard to believe that we’re heading into the fourth race of the year the races have gone by so quickly. After Malaysia, I had a little bit of time to reflect on the year so far, and I’m pleased with the results that Jenson and I have been able to achieve in some challenging circumstances. And I’m really looking forward to an uninterrupted weekend in China so we can focus on racing and competing with the other leading teams in the championship.

“I really enjoy driving here I drove one of my best races here in 2008, winning from pole position. After three races, we’ve been satisfied with our race pace, and we feel comfortable that we’ll be up at the front. Overtaking is possible at this circuit, particularly at the end of the long back straight, so I’m pretty confident we’ll have another competitive weekend.

“Finally, of all the places we visit around the world, I think the Chinese fans are some of the most passionate and dedicated. They’ve really supported me over the years and I look forward to meeting them again when I arrive in the city.”

Martin Whitmarsh
Team principal, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
“By our own very high standards, we’ve not fully met our very high expectations in the first three races, despite having what we feel is the necessary race pace to compete at the front and despite having won the Australian Grand Prix. That might sound overly self-critical, given that we are second in the constructors’ championship, and given that Jenson and Lewis are both close to the top of the drivers’ championship, but that’s merely a reflection of the fact that we at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes aim to excel at all times.

“So I regard that objective as a positive: it’s our desire to improve and to eliminate mistakes from the operation that will make us stronger championship contenders. There’s no denying that our successes Jenson’s integration into the team, his win in Melbourne, and some of the greatest drives of Lewis’s career have given us a great early-season boost. Now we are looking to establish ourselves as consistent challengers at the front, and to pick up the maximum available points on a regular basis.

“One of the greatest qualities of this team is its considerable strength in depth. After establishing a strong and solid start to the season, we’re confident that we’ll become an even more formidable contender as we head into China and then the start of the European season.”

Heikki Kovalainen, Lotus
“I feel really good coming into the Chinese Grand Prix – I’ve had a few days of solid training and a bit of golf since leaving Malaysia and I love coming to China. We have some great fans out here – they wait at the hotel all night just to get an autograph and always give us really good presents to take home. Last year some girls took a taxi and followed us to the hotel with a Finnish flag hanging out the window all the way! The country has great food and a deep culture; every time I come here I see something new. The Shanghai track itself is a good challenge for the drivers. The two straights both provide overtaking opportunities and there are some nice high speed sections. The hospitality area has a fantastic atmosphere and it looks like nowhere else on the calendar, so all in all I’m very excited about being out here.”

Jarno Trulli, Lotus
“China’s one of my favourite races on the calendar – I’ve not had the best luck at the track over the years, but I like it as it rewards a well balanced car and encourages you to push hard, particularly in the high speed corners. We’ve proved we have good reliability in the car so I’m looking forward to bringing it home and giving the Chinese fans something new to cheer for. The fans here are great – they’re very passionate and I’ve always had great support here, and now with Lotus Racing they have a British team with an Asian core to cheer for so I’m expecting even more support over the whole race weekend.”

Tony Fernandes, Lotus team principal
“I’m delighted we’ve arrived in China and can’t wait to see the fans’ reaction to us here. It’s an honour to be in Shanghai as China is the home of the new world and has been a very important market for AirAsia, so it’s somewhere I’m always excited about coming to. We are thrilled that we are bringing Lotus Racing, a uniquely Asian-British team, to the Shanghai Grand Prix, particularly as we have a number of people within the team with Chinese heritage who are very proud to see our team here for the first time. I know the whole team will work hard to put on a good show on and off track, and I hope that this demonstrates that we can provide a very good platform for universities, commercial partners and future drivers across China to work with a team whose heart beats close to our Asian home.”

Mike Gascoyne, Lotus chief technical officer
“It’s just a couple of weeks since Malaysia and the last of the early season fly-away races so we’re focusing on getting both cars across the finish line here before we turn our attention to the upgrade package we have planned for Barcelona. The guys back at the factory have worked very hard on the parts we sent back, and have done a great job to turn around everything in time and get it sent back out here. Our car’s race pace has been good so far, and I think we’ll see that again in Shanghai – it’s a technical circuit that will bring out the best in both our drivers, and I think their experience will see us build on the solid start we’ve had so far.”

Force India
Adrian Sutil, Force India
“The next race in China will be a bit different but there are some similarities to Malaysia as well. The circuit layout is different, of course, but you need a good top speed, which we have, and you need a little bit of downforce for the mid sector, for the slow corners so I think it should suit our car really well. I don’t think we should be concerned about our performance at the moment, we are strong and we can fight in the top 10, and that’s very encouraging at this point of the year. I’m confident, definitely. It was encouraging in Malaysia, and also the last races in Bahrain and Australia. I think we can show a very similar performance in China. Temperatures will be a bit cooler, but there is a long straight and you need to be very fast on that, and that’s what our car can do. It has also the downforce required for the slow speed corners. My feeling is that we can perform well again in Shanghai.”

Vitantonio Liuzzi, Force India
“We are pushing to try to bring some more steps forward for the car. I have been in the simulator and we are pushing to bring updates to China as we want to be ready to score points again and not let our momentum slip. For sure it’s one of the circuits that I like, and I’ve always had good results there. In fact my best result in F1 was at that circuit – in 2007 Sebastian Vettel and myself finished fourth and sixth for Toro Rosso. We go to China pretty positive about our potential. It was good to finally get into Q3 in Malaysia and from there we have to hope for a good race. In Malaysia we were quite comfortable in the car and I have to hope that the luck stays with me this time and we can get some more points. It’s pretty similar to Malaysia. There are a lot of high speed corners, and it’s quite technical, especially Turns One and Six and Seven. It’s got a flow as a circuit and there are some technical corners, and it’s always a crazy race because there can be some different weather conditions. So overall I’m looking forward to it! More points are the aim and we can do it, for sure.”

Paul di Resta, Force India third driver
“It went relatively well in Malaysia. It was always going to be a difficult task as I hadn’t had any running in the simulator beforehand so it completely new to me and very different conditions. With the high temperatures and the different behaviour of the tyres it was an uphill curve but I felt I moved forward, I improved and I got some good experience. I am now getting a feel for how Tonio or Adrian want their base set-ups, but in terms of the programme it is entirely the same as the race drivers. At the moment I’m still conscious it isn’t my car so I have to be careful to build up gradually, be controlled and constructive and get the data for weekend. The Shanghai International Circuit will be new again to me and I won’t have any simulator running beforehand so it will be starting from the bottom, learning the new track. At least I have now got some experience on this type of wide, Tilke track so it should just be a case of making steady progress again.”

Dr Vijay Mallya, Force India team principal
“At the start of the season I said we wanted to be regular points finishers and here we are, three races in, with three points’ finishes. It’s very pleasing when you see just how far we’ve come in one year: after three races in 2009 we had no points and were tenth. The difference, I believe, has been keeping the focus on what we want to do. We’ve kept our heads down, got on with the job and to a certain extent kept out of what the other teams are doing – we’ve focussed on our own game. It’s a real credit to Mark Smith and his team that we’ve got the points we have. The team at Brackley and Silverstone are tight-knit, efficient and the results are now coming through. The grid is very tight as we saw in Malaysia and Australia and there’s no clear delineation between the front and the midfield. The most important at this stage is that we are still up there fighting. Renault look very strong right now but there’s still a lot more races to go this year and we have a clear direction about where we are going that will keep us with them, or hopefully leapfrog them. The drivers are confident and the team is working well so I think fifth is still realistic.”

Bruno Senna, HRT
“I’m looking forward to the China Grand Prix and I am certain that I will enjoy China. But firstly, I need some laps there in free practice as I have never driven in China yet. The circuit looks smooth with a difficult first corner very similar to Malaysia’s first corner. So let’s see how I can build on our past results.”

Karun Chandhok, HRT
“I am looking for another great achievement for our team for our fourth Grand Prix start. I have never been to Shanghai before but raced in Zhuhai. After Melbourne, I am not too worried learning a circuit even if it will take a few laps to understand fully our car. I want to build on my good race with full fuel load in Malaysia. Hopefully we can get some more performance and gather good data for the start of the European season in Barcelona.”

Colin Kolles, HRT team principal
“We reached our next goal with our two cars making it to the finish in Malaysia after a tough race on a demanding track on our third ever race week-end. Now, not only HRT F1 Team, Hispania Racing want to hit a new target and finish again with both cars but we are also working to get reliability with the cars and get more experience including react in different conditions including possible wet weather. We will see good progress in consistent driving.”

Robert Kubica, Renault
“It’s not my favourite Grand Prix of the year, but all the races are just as important as each other with the same points available. The track is quite interesting because there are some unusual corners, such as turn one, which is almost a full circle and is quite difficult technically. The circuit has a similar layout to Sepang with both high and low speed corners, so I think we can be competitive there. And we will have some more updates for the car to help us continue closing the gap to the front.”

Vitaly Petrov, Renault
“I’ve raced there in GP2 so I don’t need to worry about learning the track. It’s a challenging circuit with a lot of different corners, which makes it a very technical circuit and difficult to find the right set-up. There are lots of long corners, such as turn 13, where your car understeers and it’s hard to get on the power, which always feels frustrating. Of course, I’ve only experienced the circuit in GP2 and I’m sure it will be even more challenging in an F1 car. The priority is to try and finish the race and get the experience of a race distance. I also want to get closer to the top ten and hopefully fight for points in the race. I also need to continue working hard on my qualifying performance so that I can make it through to Q2, and hopefully Q3.”

James Allison, Renault technical director
“The biggest difference we can expect in Shanghai is that it will bring much cooler conditions than Malaysia and Bahrain. We will have to ensure that we can make the tyres work well in the cool temperatures. We hope to take another small step towards the front in Shanghai and I think a realistic goal for the weekend is to get both drivers to bring home points.”

Cosworth, engine suppliers to Williams, Lotus, Virgin & HRT
“The Shanghai International Circuit is not one of the most severe on the engine, but does offer two notable straights which place a premium on outright engine power. Cars tend to run medium to high downforce settings to cope with the circuit’s combination of slow corners, which in turn puts greater loads on the engine along the two straights. Unusually, the back straight is the longer of the two at over 1km in length, leading into a slow speed hairpin which demands excellent braking stability as cars brake from close to 320km/h down to around 70km/h. Only a relatively low percentage of the lap is spent at full throttle with just over half of the lap demanding maximum power output from the engine. This means that the circuit is not too tough on fuel consumption. China is expected to be the coolest event of the year so far with ambient temperatures not likely to reach above 20°C and a distinct chance of rain, more akin to the conditions experienced in pre-season testing. This is beneficial from an engine cooling point of view. After three races of the season, there is now greater variety in individual team strategies when it comes to engine selection with different life cycles registered on the CA2010 units across Cosworth’s four teams. The fact that Shanghai is not too demanding on engines may prompt teams to run engines with higher mileage in the race.”

Rubens Barrichello, Williams
“Shanghai is a really interesting circuit. It has a good combination of corners and that really long straight at the end of the lap which is perfect for overtaking. To hook up a quick lap, the car requires more aero strength, rather than mechanical, but an exact blend of the two which is always quite difficult to achieve. Together with the fact that the lap is also quite long with lots of different variables, setting up the car perfectly is hard work. I won the first race at Shanghai which is very special for me. I will always remember that win as it makes me think I can always do it again.”

Nico Hulkenberg, Williams
“Like Malaysia, I’ve previously raced in China; two seasons ago in A1 GP. It’s good to go to a Grand Prix with experience of the track. You can do as much training in the simulator as you want, but it doesn’t beat real, on track experience. The circuit isn’t one of my favourites, it’s very impersonal, but it does have a very long back straight which will be a good place for overtaking. Keep an eye out for that during the race as there should be some good action round that part of the lap. I am flying out to China on Monday, there’s no need to go out to this race early to acclimatise, but I do want to check out some of the sights as the city is quite cool. I’ll definitely be taking a trip to the Bund and the Oriental Pearl tower in nearby Pudong Park.”

Sam Michael, Williams technical director
“After the issues we faced in Malaysia, we’re heading to China with a clear target of improving our performance. There are several key areas which we obviously need to concentrate on. Firstly, we need to ensure that both drivers make it into the top ten again in qualifying in order to give them the best possible chance of scoring some needed points in the race. We also need to work on our starts. We have resolved the problem that Rubens had on the grid, and we will be carrying out a series of starts practices during the Friday sessions. In terms of car developments, we have been working hard on producing some aero improvements for the front and rear wings for Shanghai.”

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