The F1 paddock is heading east to China for round 3 this weekend with Nico Rosberg looking to extend his early dominance.
The Shanghai International Circuit was designed by Herman Tilke who drew inspiration for the layout by the Chinese character ‘shang’, which stands for ‘high’ or ‘above’.
The 5.451 kilometre track opened in 2004 and has developed a reputation for being amongst the most challenging on the F1 calendar.
With long straights leading into expansive turns, the aerodynamic performance of the cars are tested as drivers juggle fast speeds and heavy breaking.
Expect plenty of action leading into Turn 1 on the opening lap. The long straight gives way to a 270° corner before quickly changing direction.
“Turn 1 is what everybody talks about and it’s my favourite part of the lap. It’s such an unusual corner and you have to judge your speed perfectly because you can lose a lot of time if you don’t attack it enough,” commented Force India’s Sergio Perez.
The first and third sectors comprise two long straights each with DRS sections. The 1 kilometre long back straight leads into Turn14 which is renowned for its uneven track surface and being tough to judge – creating plenty of overtaking opportunities. The second sector mixes tight corners with sweeping bends putting wear on the tyres.
Expect Aggressive Tyre Strategies
Pirelli’s red-walled supersoft tyres will come to China for the first time and many are tipping some aggressive tyre strategies on the abrasive Shanghai track.
“The Shanghai circuit places an entirely different duty on tyres relative to Melbourne and Bahrain,” said Paddy Lowe, Executive Director at Mercedes.
“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.”
This means that most teams will likely adopt a three stop strategy unlike in previous years where the main contenders mostly came into the pits twice.
Paddy Lowe also noted that the weather in Shanghai could impact on strategies.
“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.”
With rain expected on Saturday for qualifying and sunny conditions on Sunday, the teams will be working hard to get a strong grid position and then perfect their race setup.
Qualifying Returns to 2015 Format
After much debate in the paddock and lots of frustration among the fans, the FIA has finally agreed to revert to the 2015 qualifying format.
The format used in the opening two rounds saw drivers eliminated every 90 seconds through three sessions of qualifying. But it was heavily criticised with the track empty for the long periods during qualifying as teams either saved their tyres for the race or they simply didn’t have enough time to turn-around the car for another quick lap.
The format that will be used this weekend involves two knock-out sessions, at the end of which the slowest six cars are eliminated, before a shoot-out between the 10 remaining cars for the highest positions on the grid.
Will We See Sauber On The Grid?
The Sauber Formula 1 team has been dogged with problems recently – ranging from missed test dates and lack of development to financial problems. More recently, there have been rumours that the Sauber did not pay its staff on time in February because of cash flow problems and it happened again in March.
It is reported that Sauber has secured a sponsorship advance to pay March staff salaries and to compete in China. But that has not stopped other rumours that Ferrari may sweep in to acquire the troubled Swiss team so they can become a “junior” member with Alfa Romeo badging – muck like Toro Rosso’s relationship with Red Bull.
Meanwhile, asked about his prospects in China, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson said, “I feel confident that we can build up our performance from Bahrain and make another step forward there.”
The race will start at 14:00 local time and will run over 56 laps.