PREVIEW: 2019 Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix – Shanghai International Circuit

by Sudha Sundararaj

The Shanghai International Circuit will host the third round of the 2019 FIA Formula 1 World Championship this weekend. This circuit built on marshlands is characterized by enormous paddocks which are perched on top of a lake. The track at the Chinese Grand Prix always produces interesting races.

It is a venue that matches the size of the host country with the stands having a seating capacity of 200,000 spectators. This will be the sixteenth running of the Chinese Grand Prix at the Hermann Tilke-designed Shanghai International Circuit.

The Chinese Grand Prix was first added to the F1 calendar in 2004. The inaugural race was won by Rubens Barrichello for Ferrari. The Grand Prix has taken root in China over the last decade. The teams initially complained about the pollution levels in China and the restrictions on internet access to the outside world. But, they are now comfortable going to this race in the “Land of the Dragons”.

What happened at the Bahrain Grand Prix?

The second race of the season at the Sakhir International Circuit saw Lewis Hamilton inherit a win. The race leader Charles Leclerc hit trouble during the final laps of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Valtteri Bottas sealed an unexpected 1-2 finish for the Silver Arrows on a weekend where Ferrari had dominated all the sessions.

The Ferrari drivers, Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel, made the superior speed of the SF90 count as they qualified on the front row of the grid. For Leclerc, it was the first pole of his young Formula 1 career.

The Monégasque driver fell to third place after he made a bad start. Team-mate Vettel led Leclerc and the Mercedes drivers into Turn 1. But the inexperienced Leclerc kept his cool and took the lead back from his more experienced rivals by lap 6.

Leclerc then reeled of consistently fast laps to build a commanding lead in front. Hamilton recovered from his second bad start in a row to take third-place from team-mate Bottas. After a poor second stint on the soft-compound tyres, Hamilton picked up the pace after his second pit stop.

The Briton soon challenged Vettel for second-place in a tough wheel-to-wheel battle. As Hamilton overtook on the outside, Vettel spun and damaged his tyres. The vibrations of the flat-spotted tyres broke his front-wing and forced Vettel to pit for new tyres and a front wing.

Ferrari Drivers Hit Trouble

Vettel fell to ninth position and climbed back the order to finish in fifth position. Meanwhile, Leclerc had built a commanding ten-second lead over Hamilton in front. But on lap 46 of the 57 lap race, he hit trouble. An engine issue saw Leclerc slow down dramatically and Hamilton and Bottas passed him.

Leclerc was able to hold on to third-place and clinch the first podium of his Formula 1 career as a Safety Car was deployed on lap 54. The race ended under the Safety Car and Leclerc was able to hold back the fast-advancing Max Verstappen.

The Safety Car was deployed as both Renault drivers, Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo, stopped seconds apart, on lap 54 at Turn 1, with reliability issues. Both drivers were running in the points and it was a cruel blow to the French team.

Young Lando Norris finished in sixth position for the first points of his Formula 1 career and for McLaren this season. Kimi Räikkönen finished in seventh position for Alfa Romeo Racing. Pierre Gasly finished in eighth position for his first points in his Red Bull Racing career.

Alexander Albon capped a good race with ninth position and opened his account in his Formula 1 career. Sergio Perez clinched the final point-scoring position as he finished in tenth position for the Racing Point team.

Carlos Sainz Jr, Romain Grosjean, and Daniel Ricciardo had another disappointing race and are still looking for their first points of the season.

In conclusion, Ferrari bounced back after a disappointing season-opener in Australia and rediscovered the strong form they displayed in winter testing. Mercedes clinched an opportunistic 1-2 finish, but clearly have a big challenge on their hands. The Red Bull Racing drivers finished in the points, but the team is still in third-place with a significant gap in performance to the top two teams.

The midfield teams are in a tight battle with Alfa Romeo Racing leading the way on the back of consistent performances from Räikkönen. Williams still bring up the rear and are yet to open their account in the new season.

What happened in the 2018 Chinese Grand Prix?

The second Ferrari front row lockout in a row saw Vettel on pole and Räikkönen just behind him at the 2018 Chinese Grand Prix. Vettel had secured two wins in the first two races of the season. The two Mercedes drivers, Bottas and Hamilton, were on the second row. Verstappen and Ricciardo lined up on the third row.

Vettel made a great start. Bottas got past Räikkönen to take second place. Verstappen from fifth got past both Räikkönen and Hamilton to take third place. So the order was Vettel, Bottas, Verstappen, Räikkönen, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Sainz, Grosjean and Magnussen at the end of lap 1.

On lap 31, Gasly tagged his teammate Brendon Hartley and there was a lot of debris on the track.  The Safety Car (SC) was deployed and had a major impact on how the rest of the race unfolded. Red bull double stacked their drivers under the SC. Verstappen and Ricciardo put on a fresh set of soft tyres.

Overtaking Moves Galore

Now the order was Bottas, Vettel, Hamilton, Verstappen, Räikkönen and Ricciardo, with Verstappen and Ricciardo on fresh new tyres. The restart on lap 35 saw the same order at the top. Bottas had a great restart and led Vettel by 1.686 seconds. Vettel-Hamilton-Verstappen-Ricciardo-Räikkönen were now in a very close duel.

Verstappen tried an overtaking move on Hamilton and went off the track. Ricciardo got past him and was now behind Hamilton. On lap 40, with another great move, Ricciardo on fresher tyres overtook Hamilton. At the same time, Verstappen’s overtake of Vettel went wrong and dropped them to fifth and sixth position. Vettel suffered damage to his car and dropped another place.

On lap 45, Ricciardo overtook Bottas for the race lead. The great Red Bull strategy had paid off with the Australian taking the lead on his fresher soft compound tyres. Verstappen dropped to fifth position after the ten-second penalty was applied for his collision with Vettel. So Ricciardo, Bottas, Räikkönen, Hamilton, Verstappen, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Vettel, Sainz and Magnussen finished in the points.

The 2018 Chinese Grand Prix was a frantic race with some great overtaking moves up and down the grid. Ricciardo at his opportunistic best won the race. Verstappen with his dare-devil moves made the race as interesting as ever. Vettel seemed on track for a third win in a row, but ended in eighth position. This was Formula 1 at its best on a track that allowed overtakes. Anything can happen during a race and it did happen in this race.

Circuit Guide

The 5.451 km Shanghai International Circuit located in Jiading province was developed from bleak, reclaimed marshlands. The track is underpinned and artificially elevated by 40,000 pillars which are 40-80 meters high. Some of these pillars had to be repaired in 2011, as parts of Turn 1, 8 and 14 started sinking.

The imposing size and structure of the paddock and the grandstands has been matched equally by a well-designed and technically challenging track. The track is designed in the shape of the Chinese letter “shang”, the first letter of the host city Shanghai.

The track features a series of sixteen slow and medium corners with two very long straights. The circuit demands a medium to high downforce setup. The cars are on full throttle 55% of the time and the fuel consumption is medium. The brake wear is medium with the engines under less stress in the cooler conditions in China.

Sectors, Corners, DRS Zones

Sector 1 (Turn 1 to Turn 5) offers good overtaking opportunities and will see the drivers jostling for positions at the start of the race. There are a set of two ‘snail’ sections – Turns 1-2-3 and Turns 11-12-13 (Sector 3) which are a set of tight corners that curl back on each other.

Sector 2 (Turn 6 to Turn 10) features a pair of high-speed Turns 7 and 8 and a pair of low-speed Turns 9 and 10.

Sector 3 (Turn 11 to Turn 16) has the tight snail section and also features the two very long straights. The 1.175 kilometer back straight is the longest straight of all the current Formula 1 circuits and ends with a heavy braking right hairpin on Turn 14.

There are two DRS zones for the race before Turns 1 and 14. The second DRS Zone is the longest DRS zone and the most likely overtaking point because the cars slow down for the hairpin. The previous races have been won by starters on the first three rows of the grid. Michael Schumacher (2006) and Daniel Ricciardo (2018) won from sixth position which has been the lowest starting position.

Tyre Strategy

The white-striped hard tyres (C2), the yellow-striped medium tyres (C3) and the red-striped soft tyres (C4) nominated for this race comes from the middle of the Pirelli range of tyres. It is one-step softer in compound to the tyres used in the last race.

The track has a medium abrasive surface and is front-limited. A mix of one or two pit stop strategies is possible. Last year’s race was won by Ricciardo who stopped twice, albeit the second time under Safety Car.

The drivers have chosen seven or more sets of the soft compound tyres (C4) in the thirteen sets allocated to them.  The team-mates in the top three teams have chosen different sets of tyres for this race.

The cold track temperatures leads to graining of the tyres.

Credit: Pirelli Media

What should we look out for this year?

The Shanghai International Circuit offers many overtaking opportunities and we saw a lot of exciting wheel-to-wheel racing last year. The new regulations for this season has made following a car in close proximity easier. This is a landmark Grand Prix as it is the 1000th race of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. There is potential for a very exciting race for this big occasion.

Ferrari was dominant in Bahrain though the final points tally did not reflect this. Leclerc’s performance drew praise across the paddock. All eyes are on the young challenger. He could clinch that first win that was so cruelly taken from his grasp in the last race at this milestone race for Formula 1.

Vettel will be looking for redemption after his error in Bahrain. There are a few other drivers like Ricciardo, Sainz and Grosjean looking to score their first points of the season.

Mercedes has taken six straight pole positions at this track starting in 2012, until Vettel stopped the streak with his pole position last season. Hamilton has five wins (2008, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2017) at the Chinese Grand Prix. Ricciardo (2018), Vettel (2009), and Räikkönen (2007) are the only other drivers on the current grid with a win here.

The long straights at this track should favour the Ferrari engine which has exhibited superior top speeds on the straights in Bahrain. If the form in Bahrain continues here, the Ferrari drivers will be on top at this race.

What’s the schedule?

Friday 12 April

2:00 GMT / 10:00 Local Time – Free Practice One
6:00 GMT / 14:00 Local Time – Free Practice Two

Saturday 13 April

3:00 GMT / 11:00 Local Time – Free Practice Three
6:00 GMT / 14:00 Local Time – Qualifying

Sunday 14 April

6:10 GMT / 14:10 Local Time – Race

How can I keep up with the action?

Follow all the action at the Checkered Flag with our extensive coverage, quotes and analysis of every session of the Chinese Grand Prix. 

 

Related articles

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More