F1 2018: Chinese Grand Prix track preivew & strategy
Round Three of the F1 season takes us to Shanghai where unpredictable weather and tyre options could play a part. Neil Morris takes a closer look at the challenge ahead.
(Photo credit: Sara Cimino)
The opening race in Australia underwhelmed but raised some interesting questions. However, the follow-up in Bahrain provided an enthralling contest.
Both races were heavily influenced by strategy, suggesting this season’s championship will be fought as much on the pit wall as on the track. With that in mind, this article examines where the Chinese GP might be won or lost this weekend.
Shanghai International Circuit is the tenth longest on the calendar at 5.451km (3.387m) and has the longest straight of all the circuits at 1.17km (0.727m). Last year’s race was won by Lewis Hamilton who finished 6.2 seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel, while Max Verstappen filled the other podium position.
Traffic at Turn One
The sprint to Turn One is short at just 380m (0.236m) so things can get congested, with multiple drivers hitting the corner flat-out while exiting at a snail’s pace, often two or three abreast. This and Turn 13 are the most demanding on the tyres.
Smooth cornering vital
The track is characterised by a high number of long corners which can cause drivers to understeer. Those who can get the best out of the front tyres, maintain the correct line through the bends and take good speed into the straights will flourish here.
Searching for grip
With tight turns and long straights, the balance between high downforce and straight-line speed is vital. The track temperature is usually cool so the cars need to find grip by any means to avoid losing contact with the smooth Shanghai surface. This new Pirelli tyre compounds could aid drivers in this area and we should see fast times in practice and throughout the weekend.
Thanks to the long straights, the circuit is fairly kind on brakes which are cooled quickly after heating rapidly in the tight turns. The same is true of engine temperature which is easier to manage in the cool and often wet climate.
New tyre nominations
Teams can choose between the medium, soft and ultrasofts for this race, although the wet weather tyres will also be on standby. Early forecasts are predicting rain on Friday and Saturday. If it gets too cold, graining could also be an issue.
The absence of the Pirelli supersoft tyre throws up some interesting strategy options, and as we have already seen in races one and two, team planning could play a major role in deciding the destination of both titles this season. Add to this, the unpredictable weather and teams may be forced to plan for several strategies this weekend. We may also see teams switching plans during the race as they react to the conditions and the actions of their rivals. Keep an ear on those team radios during the race.
Ferrari being bold
Ferrari have opted for eight sets of the ultrasofts for each driver, the boldest selection of the top three teams, and one mimicked by McLaren, Haas and Williams. Meanwhile, Red Bull has taken seven sets and Mercedes six.
With new tyre nominations and unpredictable weather, the Chinese GP promises to be another intriguing encounter. And judging by the tyre selections, Ferrari are keen to remain on the front foot. Expect an aggressive showing from the Italian team as they look to build on their early championship lead.
For Mercedes, this weekend will be all about making the right strategy call. They didn’t get it quite right in Bahrain and will want to avoid falling short again.