F1/Round 3: Preview of 2018 Chinese Grand Prix and starting positions

Race starts at 2:10 pm on Sunday in Shanghai/2:10 pm in Malaysia

Being global in reach, the various rounds of the Formula 1 World Championship are also held at circuits around the planet. The organisers try to plan the calendar so that travel between venues is not too great and usually cluster a few rounds in the same region. At the moment, the circuits used are in the eastern hemisphere and started with Australia, then moved to Bahrain in the Middle East. This weekend sees the teams travelling 6,800 kms eastwards to Shanghai for the third round.

It’s the first Far Eastern race of the year and the others will be in Singapore and Japan in the second half of 2018; Malaysia is no longer on the calendar, having hosted its last race in 2017. Since 2004, the Chinese F1 Grand Prix has been held at the Shanghai International Circuit outside China’s (and the world’s most populous city.

The sprawling complex in Jiading has a 5.451-km long circuit with 16 turns and the cars will circulate for 56 laps during the race for a total distance of 305 kms. The fastest lap time (1:32.328) set by Michael Schumacher in the first year that the circuit had a F1 race remains the lap record.

The circuit possesses a number of characteristics that make for a challenging weekend, for both drivers and engineers. It is a circuit of contrasts: on the one hand, it’s recognised as a ‘front-limited’ circuit that puts high levels of stress on the front tyres, especially through the opening tight and twisting complex of corners known as the ‘Snail’, where the emphasis is on good balances and downforce. On the other hand, set-up is pulled in the opposite direction by the track’s two long straights, where teams seek to reduce drag in the search for straight line speed.

This requires a delicate balancing act that often eludes even the best prepared team. Matters are further complicated by the fact that the prevailing cool temperatures at this time of year mean that getting front tyres switched on is tricky on the relatively smooth surface. Failure to do so can result in high levels of graining and wear.

To help, the teams will have available an ultrasoft compound for the first time. The purple-banded tyres are part of a three-compound selection that gaps the range for the first time this season, with teams also being offered the medium and soft tyre. “I think at this track it is very important to find the right feeling with the car and its set-up. The track is long and the tyres struggle here. But, overall, I think we are quite close,” said Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

Vettel arrived in Shanghai with two wins in a row since the season started, giving him a 17-point lead over Lewis Hamilton. And after qualifying today, he gets to start from pole position with team mate Kimi Raikkonen alongside. The Ferraris clearly have a performance advantage this year but the British driver in the German team has an enviable record in Shanghai, with 5 victories to his credit. So will history play a hand in the race tomorrow, or will current form be dominant?

Incidentally, if nothing goes wrong, Hamilton could break Raikkonen’s record of 27 consecutive finishes in the points. The Finn’s record encompassed a stretch between the 2012 Bahrain GP and the 2013 Hungarian GP. Hamilton last failed to finish at the 2016 Malaysian GP when an engine problem with his car ended his race after 40 laps.

The victories scored by Hamilton and Rosberg in previous years make the Mercedes team the most successful constructor at this race, with five victories. Ferrari are next with four and McLaren have three wins.

[Chips Yap]