Nobody has yet won the Chinese Grand Prix twice. Since its inauguration in 2004 the race at the Shanghai International Circuit has enjoyed the unusual distinction of having had a different winner each time. And as five of those six winners go for the double – Williams’ Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, Mercedes GP’s Michael Schumacher, McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel – McLaren’s Jenson Button, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, Red Bull’s Mark Webber and Mercedes GP’s Nico Rosberg will be doing their best to frustrate them.
All of the major teams will have significant upgrades on their cars this weekend, and as Mercedes strive to get on terms with Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren, they have Renault aiming to leapfrog them just as Force India aim to jump ahead of the French team. The development race has never been more intense.
Red Bull won here in the rain last year and arrive full of confidence after their one-two in Malaysia. McLaren and Ferrari each come determined not to repeat the mistakes they made in qualifying in Malaysia and, in the former’s case, with Lewis Hamilton in Australia too.
Their F-duct rear wing should again stand them in good stead on Shanghai’s long straights, and the team also believe that they have figured out how Red Bull seem able to run their car with low ride heights in qualifying to generate maximum downforce, yet suffer no associated penalty when it starts races with 160 kilograms of fuel aboard.
The FIA recently issued a statement confirming that any system which alters ride heights after qualifying would be illegal, however, and McLaren’s Paddy Lowe says that they have now dropped development of their own system of ‘clever’ suspension on the MP4-25.
“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,” McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said recently. But both drivers have said they love driving the car, and have confirmed its strong race potential.
Just as Red Bull seem to have cured their reliability issues, Ferrari will be hoping for greater engine reliability here. Both BMW Saubers suffered failures in Sepang, and Fernando Alonso’s motor broke towards the end of the race. However, Ferrari say that was a different problem, more likely a product of his gearbox/clutch problems, and that having inspected the two engines changed on race day morning in Bahrain, they can be used here without anxiety.
Ferrari engine chief Luca Marmorini said: “We have carried out an in-depth study into what happened and the two problems are not related. In Sepang, Fernando’s engine suffered a structural failure, of a type we had never seen during the winter.
“We believe there was a role played by the unusual way in which the driver had to use the engine during the race, because of the gear selection problems he experienced right from the start. Additionally, there is no connection with the problem the BMW Sauber team experienced on the engine front at the last race, which we believe was down to an issue with electronic sensors.”
Meanwhile, at Mercedes GP, team principal Ross Brawn said: “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.”
Bridgestone will bring their hard and soft compound Potenza tyres, as the Shanghai International Circuit is tough on rubber with two long straights and 16 corners of varying character. Heavy braking, extreme lateral loads and high demands on traction all take their toll. Graining is a possibility in Turns Two and Seven, while the high lateral G loadings generated through Turns Seven and Eight place strong demands on the tyres’ construction and heat durability.