Preview 10: Chinese GP
Wednesday 16th April 2014
Alonso won in 2013 - maybe not this year
Ten things to watch out for at this weekend's Chinese GP - but not a Mercedes front row, that's a given...
Adrian Sutil says that despite visiting China quite a few times he's never done the tourist things: "I would like to visit the Great Wall of China, but so far I have not had the time" said the Sauber driver who's struggling this season with an over weight car. Given that he and Marussia's Jules Bianchi have a pre-arranged clash on the opening lap (on the evidence of two of the previous three GPs), he might as well book an early flight out of Shanghai.
Rob Smedley is back on the pitwall, but now wearing white and conducting pitwall operations for Williams. He says teams will have to watch out for front-left tyre wear. "Turn 1 is a righthander that has a very fast entry but slows down a lot for the apex. Turn 12 is similar in that the car is loaded onto the front left as you exit onto the back straight. Both corners can give you issues with tyre management, especially front graining. The straight from Turn 12 to the hairpin is the longest straight on the 2014 calendar so we have to make sure we are set up for that, whilst still focusing on other areas of the track."
The length of the straight in Shanghai will play into the hands of the Mercedes drivers and may be subject to the dreaded 'lifting and coasting' where drivers lift off the throttle at the end of a straight before the braking zone to save fuel. FIA race Director Charlie Whiting has already warned drivers about this practice, but if there's no Safety Car, it'll be the easiest place to get the fuel flow back on target. Red Bull have not been setting the speed trap figures alight this year and so the brilliant qualifying efforts of Daniel Ricciardo may be hard pushed to make the front two rows of the grid. The RB10 should be back on song in Barcelona.
Three seismic events from the world of F1 will be reverberating around the paddock and causing seismic aftershocks. The first is the removal of the much-liked Stefano Domenicali as Ferrari team principal. Having endured one of the most humiliating experiences of his motorsport career last race - Ferrari chief Luca Montezemolo told the world's press that the new technical rules were ruining the sport, only to witness one of the best races in the last 25 years - he then had to watch the red cars finish a long way back. Lest it be forgot, Bahrain always used to be a bit of a Ferrari banker. Stefano took the blame for Ferrari's poor start, just like so many Premiership managers and the much-liked Martin Whitmarsh.
The second seismic event is the Red Bull team losing their appeal against the fuel flow readings in Melbourne. The nub of the case is that Red Bull refused to go by the FIA fuel-flow sensor sensor readings and insisted that the readings they took off the fuel rail were correct. The trouble is that their readings can only be verified by their own bespoke software and we all know how good they are at engine-mapping yada-yada. Before the result Red Bull boss Dieter Mateschitz said he might have to re-evaluate his company's involvement in F1. In Shanghai we might get the first rumblings of this, plus of course reaction to the outcome, and the sight of Christian Horner admitting he was wrong. Let's see how gracefully he does it.
The third seismic bit of news is that active suspension might be making a return to F1 cars in 2017. We last had active ride in 1993, when Damon Hill and Alain Prost dominated proceedings for Williams. Plus there'll be talk of the new kid on the block, Gene Haas will bring an American team to the sport in 2015 after the FIA accepted entry for a 12th team. Or it may be 2016 now. He has to "identify his technical partners" - in other words, find an engine. Haas intends to run his team out of Brussels - not previously noted as a hub of motorsport talent (though plenty of good international schools if he wants to attract talented engineers with families).
Kimi Raikkonen Frenzy will hit the city once more. Last year Kimi was the driver every fan wanted to get the signature of, and this year, bedecked in Ferrai overalls, the No.1 attraction will be that much more No.1 McLaren will want to see a resurgence in Shanghai. It's not good to have two retirements in a race and even worse when it's the home race of one of your major shareholders. China is also an important market for the brand and so Ron Dennis will want to see his cars next in line behind the dominant Mercedes. It will be galling for him to see a "non-optimised" team like Force India who exist on less than half Mclaren's budget, beating them. It'll be a new circuit for Kevin Magnussen, but Jenson Button won here in 2010.
Even if they weren't hot favourites already, Mercedes have done well in China, winning their first race there in the new era of F1, in 2012. There shouldn't be any tyre surprises as Pirelli are bringing their medium and soft tyres to a race for the third time this year. Pirelli motorsport's Paul Hembury thinks: "China is a circuit that has showcased the effectiveness of a good tyre strategy in the past, so the teams will be hoping to put their data from the first part of the season to good use and explore some of the strategy options." The degree of Mercedes dominance was shown after the Safety Car restart in Bahrain where they pulled away at prodigious margins per lap. It's difficult to out-strategise that.
However it will be a relatively cool race and tyres do react differently when colder. Saturday and Sunday are forecast to be 19C with the chance of rain for Qualifying on Saturday.