F1 2011 Round 03 – Chinese GP Preview


Welcome to Round 3 of the 2011 Formula 1 World Championship at the spectacular Shanghai International Circuit in China. The third and final flyaway race before the teams head to Europe and North America, the Chinese Grand Prix arrives just a week after the Malaysian GP. Since 2004, the circuit has been a regular fixture on the calendar, and has extended it’s contract, although its popularity has waned in recent years. Despite the lack of financial success, the circuit and the races have been faultless – the most expensive racing facility ever built has delivered some brilliant races over the last eight years.

The first ever race in 2004 ended with the top three finishers covered by just 1.5 seconds. In 2006, Schumacher delivered one of his outstanding drives, snatching an improbable win from the dominant Renaults with his wet-weather skills. The 2007 GP was a pivotal moment in the championship, when Hamilton went off the track on worn tyres and handed the championship to Raikkonen. The current world champions, Red Bull Racing, scored an emphatic 1-2 in 2009 to take their first win ever. Last year, Jenson Button used his tyre management skill to win and a rampant Lewis Hamilton overtook everyone else to end up second and McLaren took the lead in both championships.

This year, the situation is very different – Red Bull have made a scorching start to the season, well atleast one of its drivers has, and with the RB7 looking a lot more reliable than its predecessor, McLaren has its work cut out this time around. The progress they made in Malaysia was certainly encouraging, and it is safe to say that the Milton-Keynes team will not be allowed to run away with the race this weekend. Even Ferrari, who were so far away from Red Bull in Australia, closed the gap considerably at Sepang. Renault are very much among the front-runners, not only on pure pace, but also with their cars kinder to the tyres than most others.

The advantage that Ferrari and McLaren currently have over RBR is the reliability of their KERS technology – this is the first time Adrian Newey and his team are dealing with the design and production of their own system. Just as Ferrari and BMW struggled initially with getting KERS to work, Red Bull are now going through the learning process, although one must admit that with 72 points on the board already, it hasn’t really affected them as much as their rivals would’ve liked. But for one thing, it has allowed McLaren, Renault and Ferrari to make a race of it so far, and on the massively long back straight in Shanghai, it may cause further headaches for the reigning world champions.

Red Bull’s 2011 challenger is clearly producing more downforce than any other car in the field and therefore it is simply leagues ahead of the rest in the corners. But the downside of such a design is that the car produces a lot more drag on the straights, allowing its closest competitors to close in and surge past – the DRS rear wing makes it a lot more easier for the other cars now. We saw in both Australia and Malaysia how Webber struggled to overtake even midfield runners on equal tyres. Fortunately for Red Bull, not many circuits on the calendar have a straight long enough to turn them into sitting ducks, so this may be the last opportunity in a while for McLaren and Ferrari to take some points off RBR.

Mercedes have had a woeful start to the season, and will be looking to redeem themselves in Shanghai. For Rosberg to repeat his podium performance this year however, he will need a miracle. Michael Schumacher looks set for another year of qualifying troubles, and the prospect of race wins remain near-impossible. Williams too have been shocked by their own lack of speed and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the fired up Lotus team outpace them at the end of the year. Sauber, Force India and Toro Rosso are closely matched and will be fighting for the last couple of points in China.

Will the HRT qualify? The signs in Sepang were good – the team seems to have sorted out the car at long last. But one scorching lap at the front of the field could knock the cars out easily. With McLaren bullish about its chances, and Ferrari wounded and looking to fightback, every qualifying session will be gladiatorial from now on, as the teams know that the best way to beat the Bulls is to start ahead of them. It is almost impossible to hold back Sebastian Vettel when he charges off into the lead. With the possibility of rain disrupting a session at some point in the weekend, we’re set for a cracking Chinese GP as the championship fight starts to get hot.

Lets take a look at some of the details regarding the race :

Session Timings

Race Local Time :

Friday, 15th April

Practice 1 – 10:00 to 11:30

Practice 2 – 14:00 to 15:30

Saturday, 16th April

Practice 3 – 11:00 to 12:00

Qualifying – 14:00

Sunday, 17th April

Race – 15:00

Indian Standard Time :

Friday, 15th April

Practice 1 – 07:30 to 09:00

Practice 2 – 11:30 to 13:00

Saturday, 16th April

Practice 3 – 08:30 to 09:30

Qualifying – 11:30

Sunday, 17th April

Race – 12:30

Weather Forecast

Source : BBC Weather

Circuit Details

Race Date : 17 Apr 2011

Circuit Name : Shanghai International Circuit

Orientation : Clockwise

Number of Turns : 16 (9 Right, 7 Left)

Number of Laps : 56

Circuit Length : 3.387 miles (5.451 km)

Race Distance : 305.066 km

Lap Record : 1:32.238 – Michael Schumacher (2004)

Circuit Map

A lap of Shanghai International Circuit with Alexander Wurz

“The lap itself is fairly typical of a Herman Tilke design with a huge range of corners, starting with Turns 1 and 2 which combine to form what seems like a never-ending right-hander. You arrive in seventh gear at 300kph (186mph) and you only start to brake when you turn into the corner. You can’t brake very hard, so you’re braking for a long time as you slow the car down to second gear. To be quick around the whole circuit you need to have a neutral handling car, which generally results in oversteer through here.

“You approach Turn 3 over a little jump downhill. It’s a left-hander and can be first or second gear, depending on your gear ratios. At this point the tyres are still very stressed from the long first corner, so you’re sliding a lot and it’s difficult to make a good exit, which is very important because Turns 4 and 5 are flat-out kinks and are followed by a straight.

“Turn 6 is a hairpin, where the biggest challenge is getting the braking point right because you’re arriving at nearly 300kph (186mph). You want to clip the apex and get on the power as early as possible to carry as much speed as you can through the fast left-right chicane that follows. This is taken flat in sixth gear and you can really feel the car gripping the road.

“At the exit of this chicane you’re almost immediately into a double left-hander, Turns 9 and 10. These are very important corners and a lot can be gained on the entry to the first left, which you take in third gear. The second left is flat, but you have to be quite precise with your line and without traction control it will more tricky this year.

“You’re then up to sixth gear, before braking at around 90 metres into a tight left-hander. If you set your car up to ride this kerb, it will be too soft for the first part of the track, so I think it’s better to avoid the kerb and lose half a tenth, which will be more than compensated for elsewhere on the lap. This section reminds me of Club at Silverstone because the track goes immediately right and you have to steer the car with the throttle all the way to the exit.

“Turn 13 is a long, banked right-hander. It’s easy-flat, but you still need to concentrate because it’s easy to destroy your tyres if you apply too much steering lock. The longest straight on the track follows and you’re braking from 320kph (200mph) for the hairpin. This is the best overtaking point on the lap and it’s easy to lose 0.2s by getting your braking wrong, so you need to focus on getting the car into the apex.

“Turn 15 is a flat-out kink and suddenly you’re into the last corner, Turn 16. It’s a very interesting corner because you can carry a lot of speed at the apex if you can find the right rhythm. Then you’re back onto the start-finish straight to begin another lap.”

On-board lap of Shanghai International Circuit

Technical Requirements

The Shanghai International Circuit is one of the most impressive facilities on the Grand Prix calendar. Like most of the circuits designed by Hermann Tilke, it features a wide variety of corners, both fast and slow, as well as a long straight followed by a tight hairpin which provides an ideal overtaking opportunity.

Technically the circuit is a challenge for the drivers and engineers, not least the never-ending first corner which almost takes the cars through a full circle.

Aerodynamics

As with many modern circuits, Shanghai includes a mixture of high-speed corners and long straights which means the level of aerodynamic downforce has to be judged very carefully to protect position on the straights, without compromising grip in the corners. Turns 7 and 8 make up two of the high-speed corners and lead into the tricky double lefthander of turns 9 and 10.

Fernando Alonso explains: “Turns 7 and 8 are a fun part of the lap and you can really feel the performance of the cars here as we take these corners in 6th gear and there is plenty of grip. On the exit of turn 8 you’re straight into turn 9 where you have to be very precise as it’s a corner where you can find a lot of time. We take it in third gear and accelerate hard on the exit so that turn 10 is taken flat. Get it right and it’s a really rewarding section of the lap.”

Suspension

In mechanical terms, it will be important to find the correct compromise that gives the driver confidence in the car’s handling over the full race distance. Shanghai features a lot of braking from high speed, some fast corners and plenty of acceleration phases. Combined with a number of changes of direction at both high and low-speed, it means we generally run a stiffer, more reactive set-up at the front of the car – and then make the springing softer at the rear, for optimum traction and braking stability. In particular, we concentrate on making the car stable under heavy braking and on partial throttle openings, as the drivers often have to turn and brake/accelerate simultaneously, for example in turns 1 and 2 or turn 8.

Tyres

In general terms, Shanghai is a tough circuit for the tyres. Not only are the front tyres heavily loaded by corners such as turn 1 (left front), 7 (right front) and 8 (left front), but the numerous slow corners mean the rear tyres are worked hard under acceleration. Turn 1 in particular is a very challenging corner and demanding on the tyres because it tightens up as it progresses, as Fernando explains:

“You have to brake very deep into the corner, keeping the car on the limit and gradually lose enough speed to make it around and hit the apex. You need quite a neutral balance in the car as any oversteer will make it difficult through this first part of the lap and cost you time.”

Turn 13 also deserves a special mention where the front left tyre is heavily loaded through this 270° corner, all the while accelerating and putting high lateral and longitudinal loads through the rear tyres.

In terms of compounds, Pirelli will bring the hard and soft tyres to this event as was the case for the race last time around.

Engine Performance

Shanghai is not a particularly severe test for the engine with only 55% of the lap spent at full throttle. However, with a long back straight, good peak power is important as the approach to turn 14 offers the best overtaking opportunity of the lap. This will be a good opportunity to see the potential of the KERS-equipped cars, as Nelson Piquet Jr. explains:

“Turn 14 is easily the best place to overtake on the lap. We come off turn 13 which is a long right hander that can be taken flat-out and then hit the longest straight on the circuit where we reach well over 300 km/h. It can be difficult to follow a car closely through 13, but KERS should make it easier to get closer and pick up the slipstream. Braking for 14 is always tricky and you have to be careful not to outbrake yourself which can ruin you lap time and cost you a position.”

2010 Flashback : Alonso jumps the start, spectacular racing, Button takes second wet win of the year


By the time the F1 circus moved to Shanghai, it was clear that we were in for an epic season. The first three races had seen three different teams winning a race each, and Red Bull emerged as the fastest but also the most fragile contender. A fact that was proved emphatically when the Austrian team locked out the front row. The race was much more unpredictable than anyone had expected. Firstly, Alonso jumped the start by a tiny fraction of a second, landing him a drive through. He fought back splendidly, and finished a admirable fourth.

Once again, the timing of tyre change proved to be crucial, and Jenson rose to the occasion for the second time. Rosberg and Kubica also made inspired tyre choices and their third and fifth places were fully deserved. Hamilton charged to second place, with his usual aggression and potty mouth, and was involved in a spectacular pitlane battle with Vettel. There were some other chaotic moments with Alonso overtaking Massa on the way into the pits, Jenson slowing the pack to a halt at the end of the safety car stint, and plenty of wheel to wheel racing. One of the best races of the year. It remains to be seen if 2011 will prove to be even better.

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