Shanghai’s International Circuit has played host to the Chinese Grand Prix ever since the event was added to the Formula 1 calendar in 2004. The track’s layout hasn’t been altered in the 15 years since it was built, owing to the challenge it poses the drivers and the overtaking opportunities available. The circuit holds the record for the highest number of overtakes during a Grand Prix (in 2016) and was the scene of F1’s 1000th championship race this year. This circuit is a true challenge because of the balance you need to find between being quick around the long corners and maintaining the life of that precious front-left tyre.
The first four corners in Shanghai are all part of the same complex, with each directly leading onto the next. You’ll be arriving into Turn 1 after a DRS straight and this is an overtaking opportunity for the brave but an accident is fairly likely to occur if your opponent doesn’t yield. Because of its uphill nature, you can brake at the 50m board, despite doing 200mph (320kph) at this point. Hug the inside kerb but avoid the grass, as this will send you wide through Turn 2 and onto the outside runoff, which will cost you a lot of time even if you don’t spin. Apply the brakes gently throughout the second corner as you go slowly down the gears until ending up in second for the apex of T2. There’s no “one size fits all” approach to the first two corners, you need to apply the brakes when you feel the car going wide of the racing line, which depends on your setup and driving style.
When you can see a straight line down to Turn 3, accelerate towards the apex, but don’t get carried away, as it’s located on a decline and you’ll arrive sooner than you’ll expect. Get as close to the inside kerbs but don’t touch them and don’t underestimate how hard traction is out of Turn 4. You’ll keep turning through the fourth corner and if you get the line perfect, you’ll be running on the edge of the outside kerb.
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Turns 5 & 6
Turn 5 is a kink that’s easily flat-out, clip the kerb on the inside if you need to but be sure to position yourself as far to the left for the entry to Turn 6. Brake at the 100m board (it’s the yellow tyre on the left), just before you go into eighth. Decelerate to down to second gear and avoid the inside kerb, as it’s quite high and will unsettle the car. You can cut a little here if you need to, but don’t take too much, as the grey grill will probably spin you out on exit. Avoid the outside kerbing, you should be able to straighten up far before you reach it and accelerate hard towards the high speed esses.
Turns 7 & 8
Depending on which car you’re using, you’ll have to either do a light lift or coast through a decent amount of Turn 7. It’s very easy to run wide here, which will cost you a lot of time because of the increased radius of your cornering. You should be able to hold the car through seventh gear while hugging the inside kerb and as soon as you see Turn 8, fade the car outwards for the ideal line. T8 is one that it very difficult, as it always feels like you’re running too wide, but the corner bites on entry to T9, so a wider line to cut back in is beneficial. You must brake down into fifth for Turn 8 and get as close to the inside kerbing as possible, but don’t touch it, as you will be spun wide. The braking point is when the yellow crane on the right disappears from view in the T-cam.
Turns 9 & 10
As soon you can get the wheel straight, brake for Turn 9. Slowing down early is a lot better than doing so too late here, as there’s a large gravel trap on the outside of both corners. Slow to third gear and kiss in the inside kerbing. Avoid the outside kerbing and accelerate while turning towards Turn 10. Kiss the inside kerbing for T10 just as you did for 9 and run the car along the red and white kerb on exit. Try to avoid using the green run-off on exit, but don’t worry if you do, just make sure to get back on the black stuff as fast you can, there’s less grip out there.
Brake just after the 100m board for Turn 11 and clip the kerb on the inside of the corner. It’s very easy to cut this one to gain time, but don’t, as your lap will be invalidated and you’ll pick up grass on your tyres going through the hardest traction zone to master on the track. Stab the throttle going into Turn 12 and you can either dab on the brakes or lift for the entry to Turn 13. I prefer to lift, as there’s less stress going through the tyres around a circuit where the softs only last about 5 laps in a 50% race. It’s very difficult to do so, but avoid the outside kerbing if you can while accelerating as hard as you dare through T13. Half-throttle is the order of the day through here, too much and you’ll either lose the back end and spin or go into the run-off on the outside and lose time all the way down the kilometre-long back-straight. Run well wide of the apex and stick to roughly the middle of the road to get the straightest line to line up the next straight, you’ll be touching seventh gear on exit.
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Turns 14 & 15
Turn 14 is the best overtaking opportunity in the lap, the DRS and the tow is so powerful down the back-straight. The wider line is faster but the inside line is king when battling with another car. You’ll be arriving into T14 at nearly 210mph (338kph) and brake just before the 100m board. The best line is to cut the red and white kerbing a little, but clipping it or indeed missing it is totally fine as you’ll make time up through Turn 15. T15 is like Turn 5, just a kink and easy flat. Be sure to accelerate gently out of the corner, this is another large traction zone.
Go as far to the right to set up Turn 16 and brake at about the DRS detection line (it’s a white line across the track) down into fifth gear. It’s effectively a triple apex, with the best line to clip the kerbing on the outside on exit and entry and also the inside kerbing of T16. You can ride the exit kerbing but it’s hard to keep control if you use the green concrete on exit. This is an overtaking spot if you’re brave, but with a DRS zone coming up, it’s not usually worth the risk. Get on the throttle mid-corner to get as much speed down the start/ finish straight.
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You need high wing angles because of the long corners, despite the long straights, so I went with 7/6 for optimum turn in. On and off throttle differential should both below because of the length of the corners, at around 70%. Camber as high as possible and toe as low as possible, tyre wear isn’t bad round here if you manage the front left and you’re not on the softs. Front suspension needs to be on the soft side due to the harsh kerbs and the cambered Turn 13, at around 4 for front and rear. Ride height can be low, though, around 3 for front and rear, to aid straight line speed. Anti-roll bar needs to be high as well at about 8 or 9, due to the length of the corners. Brake pressure has to be high at 80% but not too high because of the curved braking zones for some corners. Tyre pressures, especially those for the rear have to low, you need more grip on the fronts even if it will wear them out.
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