2016 Chinese Grand Prix Preview
The 2016 Formula One World Championship continues this weekend with Round Three, the Chinese Grand Prix, from the Shanghai International Circuit
- Lewis: “I’m in the best place I’ve ever been”
- Nico: “I head into this weekend on a massive high”
- Toto: “Remaining energised is now more important than ever”
- Paddy: “We could see some interesting strategy calls”
- Featured This Week: Race Starts
- What’s New in China: “Enjoy the Future Now” with Qualcomm
It’s not been a smooth start to the season for me, so to be in the Championship position I’m in right now is actually pretty positive. If you can have two bad races and still come away with two podiums, that bodes pretty well. I’ve come back from worse, that’s for sure! People keep asking me if I’m worried – if there’s a downward trend emerging. But I’m feeling the complete opposite. There are no real flaws in our procedure and how we’re working, so I know it’s going to come good. On a personal level too, I’m in the best place I’ve ever been psychologically. There’s very little, if anything at all, that can penetrate that. There’s a long, long way to go, so I’ll just keep working as hard as I have been. Now we go to China for the next battle. It’s a track that’s been good to me over the years, with five poles and four wins, so hopefully this race can be the turning point.
It’s great to start the season in such a positive way. But I’m just taking things step by step, race by race and targeting a lot more wins to come. It’s important to enjoy times like these. I feel very privileged to drive the best car on the grid for the third year in a row and I intend to make the most of it. I’m going to China now knowing I can fight for the win, which is a great feeling to have. It’s especially good in this instance too, as Shanghai is a track with good memories for me. I took my first pole and win there back in 2012, so I head into this weekend on a massive high. I’m looking forward to the next battle. We haven’t seen the real Ferrari yet, so it could be a very exciting season ahead.
Toto Wolff, Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport
After two races, we find ourselves in a strong position. Our car has proven itself to be competitive in a range of conditions once again – but also reliable even at this early stage, which is a tremendous achievement. But there is a long way to go and we have by no means been flawless in every area so far. With Ferrari increasingly breathing down our necks, as we saw in Bahrain, there is zero room for error. Remaining energised is now more important than ever – and we all have plenty to keep us on our toes in that respect. With just two races down and nineteen to go, I wouldn’t say there is momentum on one side or the other. But what is clear – and very exciting for the team and the sport – is that we have two drivers high in confidence who will provide us with plenty of entertainment over the coming months.
Paddy Lowe, Executive Director (Technical)
The Shanghai circuit places an entirely different duty on tyres relative to Melbourne and Bahrain. However, we have the same three compounds available, so it will be interesting to see how the competitive order plays out. It’s the first time we’ll see the SuperSoft compound used at this track, thanks to the new regulations, and that will likely create a more extreme example of what we saw in Bahrain, where the best qualifying tyre is unlikely to be a great race tyre. Every team is bound to want to qualify on the SuperSoft – but if it grains in the race, we could see cars stopping in the first five laps. There will be plenty of analysis to do on Friday and we could see some interesting calls on qualifying and race strategy. What makes this all the more difficult for the teams is the unpredictability of the conditions. It can be quite warm in Shanghai – but it can also be as cool as Belgium. That variability can make life tricky in terms of both setup and strategy work, so it’s always a challenging weekend. We like going to Shanghai, however. It’s an interesting city and traditionally one of our stronger circuits, with four poles and three wins from the last four races. We look forward to another good battle between our drivers and with Ferrari once again.
Featured This Week: Race Starts
Starts have been a big talking point after the first couple of races. What is the main challenge for teams when it comes to making a clean getaway?
Ever since standing starts were implemented in Formula One, they have been extremely variable. The big challenge for teams is not simply to have the best starts on the grid – but to reduce that variability as much as possible.
How does the team measure a race start? And who has fared best thus far in 2016?
At Mercedes, we measure a race start in terms of distance covered in the first four seconds. Most teams will use a similar metric. According to that metric, on average, the Silver Arrows had the best starts on the grid in 2015. The problem is that, despite a strong average, variability meant that several of those starts were poor and resulted in a loss of position. Of the two races so far in 2016, Nico had the sixth best start on the grid in Melbourne – and the best in Bahrain. Conversely, of the five drivers who got a better launch than Nico in Melbourne, four were the worst starters in Bahrain – the exception being Vettel, who didn’t take the start at all. So, taking this sample of two races, you couldn’t have a better illustration of that variability. The best start in Melbourne was actually Pascal Wehrlein – a rookie on his Grand Prix debut, driving for the second least-experienced team on the grid!
What is the most challenging aspect of a race start inside the cockpit?
One of the main challenges for the drivers comes in the mid-phase of the launch, when they’re controlling the torque before reaching the power-limited phase. The team can help to a limited extent with the clutch, which controls the initial phase of the getaway. But once they drop the clutch, in the mid-phase, the driver is trying to balance on a pinnacle of perfect tyre slip. Drop one way, and they’ve got wheel spin. Drop the other, and they’re bogging down. With all the noise and activity of the other cars around them at this point, it’s very tricky to resolve the difference.
Rules governing clutch configurations have recently been amended. How big an impact has this had?
Variability has been deliberately increased by restrictions introduced during 2015 and extended for 2016. These restrictions have forced race starts to be more fully controlled by the driver himself, making them as close to fully ‘manual’ as possible. To be more specific, the team cannot instruct or coach the driver via radio communication – and the driver must control the clutch manually with only one lever. Performance now depends more than ever on driver skill – but not entirely. It is still up to the team to provide powerful and consistent equipment. This has added an extra dimension to the task at hand for all parties concerned, so it should come as no surprise to see even more variation across the grid this season.
So have the changes to the regulations achieved their objective?
These regulations have been introduced to make races more unpredictable. If race starts are more variable, then more drivers will find themselves out of position relative to their grid position and more interesting races will result. This is what happened in Melbourne and Bahrain, so the conclusion can reasonably be made that the regulations have been successful thus far. If “mixed-up grids” are the objective, then this is a much fairer way to achieve it, since the result is ultimately still achieved on the merit of team and driver. A more complete conclusion can be formed after half a season with a settled set of regulations.
Can the teams take measures to counter the variability of race starts?
Whatever the regulations might be, variability is simply part of the nature of race starts. It’s something that, despite decades of intensive research, development and practice, nobody has perfected. As a sport, Formula One has achieved a lot of very difficult and impressive things over the years, so if the entire technical competence of the paddock has failed to crack it, it must be pretty difficult!
So, it’s a case of accepting the inevitable and focusing on other things, then?
Teams will never give up the fight when it comes to a technical challenge. Everyone is constantly looking to improve – and there will be lessons learned from the first two races under these new rules that will have kicked off that process already. There doesn’t seem to be a magic solution on the horizon that will simply eliminate variability. But the real question is whether that’s necessarily a bad thing. On the basis of the first lap entertainment in Melbourne and Bahrain, one could argue it makes for a better spectacle…
What’s New in China: “Enjoy the Future Now” with Qualcomm
Throughout the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix weekend, the front wing end plates of both Mercedes-Benz F1 W07 Hybrid Formula One cars will carry special branding to celebrate a shared passion for innovation between China and Official Team Partner Qualcomm.
The Chinese characters translate directly as “Enjoy the Future Now” – illustrating the ambition of both China and Qualcomm to bring the future forward faster as essential accelerators of progress, unlocking what’s next for the entire mobile tech industry.