Circuit Length: 5.451 Km
Lap Record: 1:32.238 = 212.749 km/h - M. Schumacher (Ferrari) 2004
The Shanghai circuit is like Venice: it’s sinking! Well, not quite as dramatically as that, perhaps… But, like Brazil’s former Rio venue at Jacarepagua, the Shanghai circuit is built on reclaimed marshland. It’s said to be 300 metres deep in places, and there has been clear evidence of subsidence in places, meaning the track has had to be resurfaced here and there.
First used in 2004, when Rubens Barrichello won from pole for Ferrari, this is another Tilke track and his trademarks abound. Take the two tight sequences of corners: Turns 1-2-3-4, tightening up the deeper you go in, and Turns 11-12-13, the latter section crucial as it leads on to the main straight. There are sixteen corners, nine right, seven left; drivers make around 60 gear changes per lap. Pirelli will offer their P Zero White (medium) and Yellow (soft) tyres this weekend, but despite the furore over tyre wear this early in the year they say they will wait until after the next round in Bahrain to assess their options. Michael Schumacher holds the lap record of 1:32.238, set way back in `04. Top speed again is around 310 km/h.
Shanghai boasts the longest straight on the Formula 1 calendar, between Turns 13 and 14. More importantly, perhaps, the teams will welcome lower temperatures than they enjoyed/endured in Melbourne and especially last time out in Sepang.
First and foremost, Mark Webber – hot under the collar, that is, in the aftermath of the shambolic finish in Malaysia. Red Bull claim the incident, with Sebastian Vettel flouting team orders to ‘steal’ the race win from Webber, is now a thing of the past. Believe that when you see it…
Also in this category, for different reasons, is Mark’s teammate Vettel. The German has been on pole for both of the opening rounds, taking his career tally to 38; he was on the Melbourne podium and, as the whole world knows, on the top step in Sepang. The Malaysian mess is bound to have its effect on both drivers. Unfortunately it will probably serve to harden Vettel’s resolve and underline the slight edge in speed he has over his teammate. By the way, it was the Chinese race in 2009 that brought the pair’s first 1-2 finish together.
We can still include Mercedes in this list, especially as this race sees them return to the scene of their first victory of the modern era, and the first Grand Prix win for Nico Rosberg. Mercedes-powered cars have won the last three Shanghai races, in fact: McLaren’s Jenson Button (2010) and Lewis Hamilton (2011), followed by Rosberg last year. As Mercedes man Toto Wolff says, “Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games,” but new signing Hamilton’s early-season form is good, even if he felt it should have been Rosberg on the Sepang podium at the previous round.
Let’s also nod in the direction of Felipe Massa. The Brazilian may not be on fire, but he’s certainly in a hotter vein of form than in previous seasons: he out-qualified his Ferrari teammate in both Melbourne and Sepang and has finished fourth and fifth so far. This is a track where Felipe has neither won nor started from pole: he would underline his renaissance if he could do either this year, or at least be on the podium.
Two of the sport’s biggest names, that’s who. One is McLaren, already 62 points adrift of Red Bull with just four points on the board, two each to Button and Sergio Pérez. Undaunted, or pretending to be, team principal Martin Whitmarsh is also defiant: “Formula 1 is an unpredictable beast,” he insists. “We’ve enjoyed some very competitive weekends in Shanghai in the past – with some equally unexpected results – and I feel confident and excited that we head to China next week with the hope of making further progress and eating into the advantage currently held by the leading pack.”
The other under-performing big name is (again) Williams. Besides Caterham and Marussia, the current tail-end Charlies, Sir Frank’s is the only other team not to have scored a single point this year. Pastor Maldonado has yet to finish a race, Valtteri Bottas has been 14th and 11th; their highest grid placing so far is 16th.
And perhaps we should include the biggest name of all, at least where the drivers are concerned: Fernando Alonso had a hottish start in Australia but went very cold in Malaysia, losing his front wing and his Ferrari at the start of the second lap.
2012 ResultsPole Position: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team); 1:35.121 = 206.301 km/h
1st: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team) 1:36.26.929
2nd: Jenson Button (Vodafone McLaren Mercedes): gap 20.626s
3rd: Lewis Hamilton (Vodafone McLaren Mercedes): gap 26.012s
Fastest Lap: Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber F1 Team); 1:39.960 = 196.314 km/h on lap 40
Webber / Ricciardo Watch
Two seasons ago Mark produced one of his finest performances to come from 18th on the Shanghai grid to third place in the race. Otherwise he has had just one front-row start, in 2010, and one other podium finish when he was second in 2009. Last year was Dan’s first crack at Shanghai; he qualified 17th and finished in the same spot.