The Big Preview: Chinese Grand Prix at Shanghai International Circuit

After a two-week hiatus, Formula One fires up again as China and the Shanghai International Circuit play host to the third round of the 2013 FIA F1 World Championship.

The tenth year of the Chinese Grand Prix sees teams arriving at the expansive SIC paddock with as many questions as answers generated by the first two grands prix of 2013.

Uppermost in many minds is the perennial early-season issue of tyre degradation. In recent years race strategies here have been on the cusp between two and three stops, leading to out-of-sequence racing and grands prix that remain tense right up until the closing laps.

Chinese GP grid girls
Chinese GP grid girls

As was the case in 2012, Pirelli will bring the white-banded medium and yellow-banded soft compounds to Shanghai. While the medium tyre has been used already this year both in Malaysia and Australia, this weekend is the first time the new soft compound has been seen at a race. While this tyre was used extensively during testing, the differences of temperature, track configuration and surface construction render that data largely irrelevent: teams will need to develop their understanding over the weekend.

Even without that particular complication, SIC has the capacity to deliver captivating grands prix. Its long start-finish and back straights, in combination with the hairpin and tight ‘snail’ corner complexes, provide great overtaking opportunities, with or without the assistance of DRS.

The opening two rounds of the 2013 Championship have provided intrigue rather than a definitive form guide for the season ahead. Kimi Räikkönen’s win for Lotus in Australia was an assured performance but the much different conditions of track and temperature in Malaysia saw Red Bull return to dominance.

(L to R): Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren, Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1, Norbert Haug (GER) Mercedes Sporting Director, and Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren celebrates on the podium. Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai, China, Sunday 15 April 2012.
2012 Chinese GP podium

The Shanghai International Circuit will be different again, equally capable of providing a strong indication of form or shuffling the pack further.

Shanghai International Circuit Data

  • Length of lap: 5.451km
  • Lap record 1:32.238 (Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, 2004)
  • Total number of race laps: 56
  • Total race distance: 305.066km
  • Pitlane speed limits: 60km/h during practice and qualifying; 100km/h during race

Changes to the circuit since 2012

  • The final kerb section at the exit to turn 13 (a beveled section, after a serrated negative part) has a 400mm chamfer added to the rear.
  • The top and back edge of all exit kerbs have been rounded and chamfered with the intention of preventing tyre damage.
  • Grass around the outside of turns one, two, three, six and eight has been replaced with Grass-Crete (similar to that around the outside of turn 11) and then painted green (with non-slip paint).

DRS Zone

  • The Shanghai International Circuit will feature DRS zones on the back straight and the start-finish straight. They will have individual detection points.
Lewis Hamilton is a two times winner in Shanghai
Lewis Hamilton is a two times winner in Shanghai

Chinese Grand Prix Fast Facts

  • The nine Chinese Grands Prix held to date at the Shanghai International Circuit have produced eight different winners. Only Lewis Hamilton (2008 and 2011) has triumphed more than once.
  • Only three times has the winning constructor in China gone on to lift the Constructors’ Championship trophy at the end of the season (Ferrari 2004, 2007, Renault 2005), and only three times has the winning driver gone on to win the Drivers’ Championship (Fernando Alonso 2005, Kimi Räikkönen 2007, Hamilton, 2008).
  • Defending champions have faired even worse: McLaren’s Jenson Button is the only driver to win in China with the number one on his car; Ferrari (2004) are the only defending constructors’ champion to win the race.
  • Ferrari (2004, 2006, 2007) and McLaren (2008, 2010, 2011) share the honours as constructors, they have each won three times in Shanghai. Red Bull (2009), Renault (2005) and Mercedes (2012) have each won the race on a single occasion.
  • Nico Rosberg’s maiden pole and first victory were the standout performances of the 2012 race. Rosberg became the third Mercedes works driver to win in the F1 World Championship, following in the footsteps of Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss. It was Mercedes’ first (and to date only) victory since returning as a manufacturer in 2010, and therefore their solitary F1 win since 1955.
  • Rosberg was the first new entry for three seasons on the list of grand prix winners. For the previous top-step debutant one has to look back to the German Grand Prix of 2009, won by Mark Webber. Both Webber and Rosberg took their first victory from their first pole position, a distinction shared in the current field by Sebastian Vettel (Italy 2008), Hamilton (Canada 2007), Felipe Massa (Turkey 2006) and Pastor Maldonado, the latter joining this select group in Spain, two races after Rosberg – albeit thanks to Hamilton’s demotion to the back of the grid.
  • Despite SIC providing good overtaking opportunities, only once has a podium finisher started from outside the top ten (2011, Webber 18th to third).
  • The braking zone for the hairpin at turn 14 sees drivers experience the highest g-forces of the year. With around three seconds on the brakes, the cars decelerate from maximum speed down to around 60kph for the slow corner.
  • SIC is built on reclaimed marshland. It is supported by a buoyant polystyrene sandwich, which sits atop more than 40,000 concrete pilings, some of which go 80m deep into the soft earth.The circuit has been vulnerable to subsidence, requiring extensive resurfacing work over the years to even out bumps in the track.
Sebastian Vettel after scoring Red Bull racing's first ever F1 victory at the 2009 Chinese GP
Sebastian Vettel after scoring Red Bull Racing’s first ever F1 victory at the 2009 Chinese GP

Reuters statistics for the Chinese Grand Prix

  • Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso (30 victories) has won the most races of active drivers. Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel has 27, Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton 21, Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen 20 and McLaren’s Jenson Button 15.
  • Another win for Alonso would take him level with Britain’s 1992 champion Nigel Mansell as fourth equal in the all-time list. Vettel’s win in Malaysia pulled him level with triple champion Jackie Stewart.
  • One more win for Raikkonen would make him the most successful Finnish driver in terms of race wins.
  • Ferrari have won 219 races since the championship started in 1950, McLaren 182, Williams 114 and Red Bull 35.
  • Red Bull are now fifth equal and level with Brabham in the all-time lists.
  • Vettel has 38 poles to his credit, putting him third in the all-time list (Schumacher had 68 and Ayrton Senna 65). Hamilton has 26 and Alonso 22.
  • Caterham and Marussia have yet to score a point after three seasons in Formula One.
  • None of the five rookies have scored points so far.
  • Five of the nine Chinese Grands Prix to date have been won from pole.
  • No driver has ever won in China two years in a row. Hamilton is the only driver with two wins there (2008 and 2011).
  • Ferrari and McLaren have both won three times in Shanghai.
  • Red Bull celebrated their first win in Formula One in Shanghai in 2009, with Vettel triumphant. Mercedes won with Rosberg last season in what remains their only success as a works team since 1955 (having returned only in 2010).
  • Button, Alonso and Red Bull’s Mark Webber are the only drivers to have finished every Chinese Grand Prix.
  • Only three times has the winner in China gone on to take the world title (Alonso 2005, Raikkonen 2007, Hamilton 2008). Button is the only driver to have won in China while reigning champion (2010).
  • Only once has a podium finisher started from outside the top 10 (Webber from 18th on the grid to third in 2011).
  • The slow turn 14 imposes the highest G-forces a driver will experience all season, with cars decelerating from top speed to 60kph in about three seconds.
  • Sunday will be the 10th Chinese Grand Prix.

Chinese Grand Prix Race Stewards Biographies

  • Garry Connelly has been involved in motor sport since the late 1960s. A long-time rally competitor, Connelly was instrumental in bringing the World Rally Championship to Australia in 1988 and served as Chairman of the Organising Committee, Board member and Clerk of Course of Rally Australia until December 2002. He has been an FIA Steward and FIA Observer since 1989, covering the FIA’s World Rally Championship, World Touring Car Championship and Formula One Championship. He is a director of the Australian Institute of Motor Sport Safety and a member of the FIA World Motor Sport Council.
  • Steven Chopping began participating in motorsports in the 1960’s. He competed as a driver in various karting, Formula Ford, Australian Formula 2, Sports and Production Car competitions from the early seventies until 1990. Chopping was a steward at the Australian Rally Championship from 1997-2004 and Chairman of the Stewards at the Australian Production Car Rally Championship from 2001-2004. He has been a permanent steward at the V8 Supercar Championship in Australia since 2004, national steward at the Australian Grand Prix from 2005 and marked his debut as an international FIA F1 steward at the Belgium Grand Prix of 2012.
  • Mark Blundell raced for McLaren, Tyrrell, Ligier and Brabham in an F1 career that encompassed 61 grands prix between 1991 and 1995 and included three podium finishes. He is a three-time winner in IndyCars and won the Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race in 1992, driving for Peugeot.
  • While still occassionally seen behind the wheel of a racing car in endurance events, the 21st Century has seen Blundell forge a second career as a TV commentator and analyst. He first appeared as a driver steward in F1 at the Spanish Grand Prix of 2011.