I’m off to China in a matter of hours – thankfully I decided not to fly via France – so it’s time to have a think about how it’s going to be there – with an eye on Bahrain as well. In many ways, they’re two very different Grand Prix and yet fairly similar.
Both countries, of course, are new to the championship or fairly new although China is now in its 12th year. Both have Herman Tilke-designed circuits, and both circuits are still trying to attract big crowds. Bahrain, of course, is a mere pimple in comparison to China’s massive population, and while Bahrain tries hard to publicise itself, China seems to struggle on that front – the grandstands may seem full but that’s because half of them are covered up with ads these days. The circuit is very far from full – although it is a massive facility and capable of taking well over 100,000 if necessary.
But as I say, they are also quite different. Bahrain will be a late race in the day and the weather can be pretty much guaranteed to be dry and warm, while China is likely to be cool – certainly at the start of the weekend – perhaps warming up to the low twenties for raceday. But early forecasts suggests that it will be dry, unlike last year when qualifying was wet. It’s also quite likely to be smoggy but that shouldn’t affect the racing.
Where will those weather conditions leave Mercedes and Ferrari? Lewis Hamilton has been on pole three times and won four times there in his 150 Grands Prix history. He’s been on the podium six times out of eight races, although he will still probably remember his first visit vividly when he spun off the pit road into a gravel trap…
The question remains: what sort of sleeping giant has been awoken by Ferrari’s win in Malaysia, and can Mercedes return to domination? And will the change in temperature once again favour Mercedes over Ferrari? Nico Rosberg has won here too, his first pole and first win coming in 2012.
But then both Ferrari drivers have won here, Raikkonen in 2007 and Vettel in 2009, the latter claiming three pole positions as well – but not in Ferraris. But Fernando Alonso has won here in a Ferrari. Both Ferrari drivers have been on the podium here five times but if the car’s not right and isn’t suited to the circuit, then they probably don’t have much of a hope, giving Mercedes’s previous domination.
The circuit has the longest straight in the championship at 1200m and that’s going to favour a good strong engine and excellent aerodynamics which just might push things Williams’s way. Felipe Massa finished second from third on the grid in 2008 and Valtteri Bottas finished seventh from the same grid position last year.
Can Red Bull bounce back here? Is the engine strong enough? Sure, they’ve had success in the past and the aero has worked well in the fast corners. Or will they be embarrassed by Toro Rosso’s rookie pair again. Neither of STR’s two drivers have been to Shanghai, so it will be completely new to them.
McLaren, of course, are trying to fight back, but I’m sure this will be too early for success and I can imagine that they will just be relieved to see lower temperatures than in Malaysia. Their drivers have impeccable records in Shanghai, both of them having finished all eleven races, with a total of nine podiums between them.
I think it’s going to be a bit of a wait-and-see race meeting, and I’m not sure one can predict with certainty what will happen. We’ve had good races there and some dull ones too. There are some quick corners and the front left tyre is very hard pushed through two corner sequences, so it’s not plain sailing but that long straight and the hard braking at the end gives as great a G-force as you can get in F1. Brembo say that it requires a braking force of 183 kilos on the pedal for 1.75s with nearly five Gs pushing the driver forward. But otherwise it isn’t a tough braking circuit.
The circuit is about an hour outside the sprawl that is Shanghai, with constantly busy traffic making progress slow. Foreigners have to take a Chinese driving test to drive there, so we are all at the mercy of the locals. Their aim, it seems, is to change up to top gear as quickly as possible, although that might be because we stay in an area 15 minutes from the circuit, which seems to be the transmission capital of China. But drivers get into top gear but the time they have reached about 20mph.
Otherwise, I find it fairly comfortable, although taxi rides can be a bit hairy. Hotel rooms are pretty spacious, the beer is OK, even a bottle of Great Wall red wine is acceptable. Having eaten Chinese mainly in Malaysia, we move on to Japanese in China! I’m afraid this is the story of our dining experiences. We’ll move on to Indian in Canada and Hungary; you have been warned!
But the driving is the hairiest thing in China. All the trucks seem to be painted blue and taxi rides are fairly cheap if slightly frightening. Well, got to go to the airport now. I shall report later in the weekend.
By Bob Constanduros