FIA respond as concerns noted over Chinese Grand Prix track surface

Thomas Maher
Start finish straight, Shanghai International Circuit, Chinese Grand Prix.

The FIA has responded to worries expressed by the drivers over the Chinese Grand Prix track surface.

The FIA has explained the track surface oddity awaiting the drivers at this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix, as F1 returns to Shanghai.

The first Chinese Grand Prix since 2019 is being held this weekend, with F1 returning to Shanghai for the first time since prior to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

FIA explains painted track surface in Shanghai

Upon arrival in Shanghai and heading out to the circuit, the drivers were greeted with a new track surface at the Shanghai International Circuit – something that is adding an extra variable into the mix.

Along with reduced practice before parc ferme conditions are introduced on Friday evening, due to the weekend hosting a Sprint race, the track surface has been painted rather than resurfaced.

Given that it’s paint, rather than a fresh surface, this has led to obvious concerns over what the grip levels may be like throughout the weekend – but the FIA has moved to assuage fears that it could be very slippery.

“It’s actually bitumen paint and it’s used as a coating to preserve the tarmac to make sure all the small rocks stay in the asphalt,” an FIA spokesperson told PlanetF1.com.

“If anything, it should actually increase the grip level and protect from long-term degradation. It’s been applied last year.”

While not a common practice at F1 tracks, the FIA is awaiting data to see how the surface performs – the practice of bitumen paint application is widely used in China, as well as in the United States.

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Drivers outline worries over Chinese Grand Prix track surface

Speaking on media day ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix, several of the drivers had their say on what they think may happen when they head out for their one and only practice session on Friday.

Championship leader Max Verstappen said he doesn’t know what to expect, but that the practice would usually yield “more grip”, while Oscar Piastri said his main concern is about driving on the surface in wet conditions.

“This is really throwing it back, but when I raced in remote-controlled cars, often the tracks were painted in sort of black paint, and it actually looks quite similar to that,” the McLaren driver said.

“I don’t know if it will be grippy or not. I think if it’s wet, it’ll be a big unknown.

“You can kind of see where the cars have driven on track days or whatever it’s worn away the blackness, let’s say, in it. It doesn’t look resurfaced, it just looks like it’s had some bits ground away and then paint over the top.

“I’m sure it’s not going to be super slippery but it might just behave a bit differently to what we’re used to.”

Speaking in the press conference, McLaren team-mate Lando Norris said he had “honestly no idea” what to expect of the paint, a practice that he said was “something new”, while Fernando Alonso, Nico Hulkenberg, and local hero Zhou Guanyu Zhou all said they’d have to wait to drive on the surface before worrying.

Charles Leclerc said he can’t predict what’s likely to happen, as it depends on the type of paint used.

“That can cause different issues or have no issues at all, which I hope it’s the latter that will be the case tomorrow, but for now, it’s very difficult to predict,” he said.

“I have only seen pictures, so I haven’t gone around the track yet. I don’t think it’s the same everywhere, which also might not be great. But yeah, before adding further comments, I think we just have to drive and see how it feels. Maybe it’s actually completely fine, so we’ll find out tomorrow.”

Esteban Ocon said it’s something he encountered in karting before, and it aided grip levels.

“It could be slippery in the wet, could be very high grip, we can’t really tell until we really try,” he said.

“But that’s what I was, you know, speaking to Charles about. A long time ago, in our go-kart days, there was sort of paint put on tracks and it used to put down rubber and keep rubber a lot in corners. So that had a lot of grip. I don’t expect that to be the case. But, you know, it could do a lot of different things.”

The new track paint surface was not highlighted by the race director Niels Wittich in his race notes ahead of the event.

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