Button eyes hat-trick at Shanghai (Chinese Grand Prix preview)

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Championship leader Jenson Button aims to extend his winning streak

F1 returns to Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix just five races since its last visit.

The earlier appearance for the track on the schedule means the teams can expect cooler conditions – and a greater chance of rain.

They will also have to get to grips with the super-soft tyre which caused so many problems in Melbourne. And tomorrow’s ruling on the diffuser appeal could see changes in the balance of power at the front of the field.

The Chinese Grand Prix makes its sixth appearance on the F1 calendar and, for the first time, ever, the race is being held in April instead of its usual October slot.

April in Shanghai sees average temperatures around 4C cooler than in October. Perhaps more significantly, average rainfall in April is 90-95mm compared to 55-60mm in October. The 2006 and 2007 Chinese rounds were rain-affected.

Partly because of the cooler conditions, this year the teams have a radically softer selection of tyres to use. Last year Bridgestone brought their hard and medium compounds – this year the teams will use the medium and super-soft tyres.

This was the same selection the teams had in Melbourne, where they found the super-soft tyres degraded rapidly after just a few laps. If we see a repeat of this phenomenon in Shanghai the teams will be faced with a difficult strategic question: use the super-soft tyres in the first stint to get rid of them and hope to take advantage of a safety car period; or save them until the end when the extra rubber build-up on the circuit may help them last longer.

The Shanghai races comes after the teams’ first two-week break of the season, and it’s likely many of them will have new parts to test on Friday. If tomorrow’s appeal court hearing upholds the legality of the ‘double decker diffusers’ used by Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota, keep an eye out for which teams have their own versions ready to run. If the appeal goes against the ‘diffuser three’, all eyes will be on the times sheets to see how much of an effect it has on their performance.

Shanghai has the second-longest flat-out section of any F1 track on the calendar this year: the 1.37km blast from turn 13 to 14. This will likely hand a considerable advantage to any KERS-equipped cars when it comes to overtaking. Will any other drivers join the seven that have used the device so far?

Drivers to watch

Heikki Kovalainen – It’s easy to get distracted by the Lewis Hamilton Show, particularly when Kovalainen has failed to complete a racing lap so far this year. That can’t last forever though – remember Sebastian Vettel last year – and Kovalainen has shown promising pace in qualifying and practice. A surprise could be on the cards.

Fernando Alonso – Made a scintillating start at Sepang, watch for more of the same on Sunday.

Nico Rosberg – Fastest in five of the six pre-race practice sessions so far, can Rosberg finally translate promise into performance?

Rubens Barrichello – It’s two-nil to Button so far, and if Barrichello wants a crack at the championship this year he needs to get on terms with his team mate.

Shanghai International Circuit map and information (click to enlarge)

More on the Chinese Grand Prix

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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43 comments on “Button eyes hat-trick at Shanghai (Chinese Grand Prix preview)”

  1. I think if the diffuser issue is solved this coming tuesday and are deemed legal then it could still be Brawn GP at the front in China once again.

    But my betting this time is that Rubens will be the victor this time, and maybe even see a retirement of Buttons car.

    We could even see a much better race from hamilton.

    Does anyone know if the start time is going to stay normal for china or could we have another Sepang this weekend with China being suseptable to rain in april?

  2. Christian Edwards
    13th April 2009, 9:49

    If diffusers are legalised which teams will have their versions ready for China?

    1. BMW has been working on a diffuser for awhile too.I would be suprised if any team could have one ready for China though.

  3. I would include Glock and Trulli in that list. They are looking likely to break Toyota’s duck. But I think it will be Barrichello all the way on Sunday. Or at least I hope so :-)

  4. I dont think the diffusers will be banned. If they are how will the teams with them go back to normal ones so quickly?

    1. Well, they’d have to do it straight away – the question is how competitive they’d be: FIA to rule on legality of Brawn, Williams and Toyota diffusers (Poll)

  5. Watch out for Toyotas as well.

  6. I’m gonna put my my money on Trulli to make a significant impression on this race. I believe that the Brawns will be the team to beat, with Vettel and Kubica trying to spoil the party in Brackley.

    I would like to see Alonso challenging at the front, but his car seems a long way from it. Like concluded in an earlier discussion, not only does it look like a truck, it seems to handle like one too. If anyone can win a race by optimising aero setups and tyre choices, coupled with race strategy in an inferior car, Alonso can. I’d like to think Kovy will finally break out of the Hamilton shadow, we know he’s got pace, he’s just been in a bit of mess so far.

    My drivers to watch (apart from the Brawns) – Trulli, Vettel and Kubica, maybe Rosberg with an outside chance. He’s seems fast over a couple laps, seems like he’s too eratic to follow it through just now.

    Has anyone thought about who’d be in the front if the diffusers are deemed illegal? My bet..Vettel and Kubica.

  7. KingHamilton
    13th April 2009, 12:34

    Ofcourse the Brawns will be challenging in this race. Watch out for Toyota, I get the feeling they’re going to be formidable this season, especially in China. I wouldnt even rule out Toyota 1-2 if the Brawns have problems. Red Bull and Rosberg will be strong as well and I hope Hamilton will be in there. BMW will be strong but im not so sure about renault, although alonso will probably be overachieving in his mediocre car. Then ofcourse you cant rule out Ferrari. Blimey, everyone apart from STR and Force India seem to have a chance!

    Like 1982 all over again, with 6-8 teams all with a chance of victory. Just this a safer, more modern 1982 called 2009, but you get my drift.

  8. I think there is one and only one which is able to win surely without problems, BRAWN. Car is so much faster than others. After Brawn we can discuss Toyota, Williams, BMW and maybe Ferrari….and after those comes rest.

    Wondering when Barrichello could face clean weekend and really challenge Jenson…

    Also thinking (like others) what if diffusers are banned…then Brawn is like others, Toyo and Williams will dropp to tail..?? And what is schedule to do changes for their car?….AND are they even started to design new solution IF present diffuser is banned?

  9. Although i dont think it is likely

    If the diffusers are found to be illegal. Do BRAWN and Co have to have a diffrent design in place for China and if they cant will they be disqualified at checking in China???? Because if so that will bring back memories of Indi 2005!

  10. Yup, guys, I’ve been wondering about the same thing.

    The teams who would like to also have a dd difusor say it’d take them months to have one as it requires completely rebuilding their cars in order to fit a different difusor.

    Now, if Brawn and co.’s dd diffusors are illegal then they are in big trouble, aren’t they?
    They’d have to have a different difusor ready in a couple of days for China, right??
    That would ruin everything for them.

    1. The dd diffusor teams might already have non-dd diffuser cars ready for china just in case they are illegalised tomorrow.

  11. StrFerrari4Ever
    13th April 2009, 13:38

    I believe this year in China we could see a drive like Schumacher in 06 @ Shanghai where his car was slower then the others but he drove a magnificent race.
    Brawn Gp are obviously gonna be at the front however with the diffuser hearing if it doesnt go to plan for them then they might be in a bit of bother RedBull seem to be right up there with the diffuser teams but Toyota is showing strides in strength wont be surprised if Trulli can nail Pole Position as for the other teams
    Mclaren=Q2(Maybe)Race=We Need Luck BMW=Q3 Race=Strategy Puts them up there Ferrari=Q3possibly Race=Felipe Baby You Need To Stay Cool :P Renault=Q2or for Piquet Q1 Race=Heavy Fuel Strategy=Nowhere
    and STR=Q3:) Race=Well amongst the top 5 due to the better understanding they are getting of the car its only a matter of time till they get the sort of pace the RB5 has and Force India=Q1 Race=Rear

  12. My money for China is on the toyota’s

  13. Brawns will dominate once again, with Button completing the hat-trick.

    It’s their year and his year.

  14. i wish that the duoble decker diffuser will be banned so other teams can win something also i think that alonso deserves to win this race

    1. Why does Alonso deserve it? He hasn’t been able to help the team create a winning car (which he’s meant to be very good at, see the quote about bringing 0.7s to McLaren when he joined) and that’s part and parcel of getting wins in F1.

  15. The diffuser ruling is effectively make-or-break for the two sets of teams. Both, having the laggard teams update their diffusers or having the double-decker teams move to a simpler diffuser, will take a long time to see competitive results. Dialing-in the front of the car to a relatively large change in downforce (increase or decrease) at the rear is going to be difficult and time-consuming even with computer simulations.

    For each team, the change may favor one driver’s style over the other initially, depending on who likes understeer or oversteer.

  16. I hope the thing is found legal and we then we get to see the other teams try to put it on and make it work. I still dont think that it is the end all of the cars. Hope Button gets the Hat Trick. If not Vetel or Hamilton would be nice to. No what are the odds of RED leaving China still with no points. Wonder when the last time they went into the third race with no points?

  17. I think it is highly unlikely that the dd diffuser will be banned simply because of the impact on the series. 3 teams will essentially have to be excluded from the first two races and will probably be unable to compete in the next 3 to 4 races due to the time required to get a legal car finished. The easier route for the ruling will be to keep things as they are and let the other teams play catch up. F1 can’t afford to lose three teams or strip them of all current points…especially since none of them are McLaren.

    1. I’m thinking along similar lines – surely outruling the diffusers means that the 3 teams can’t compete this weekend? There’s no way you could get a new diffuser manufactured in 2 days. No way.

      But it is an independent panel. And this is F1. So in all probably that’s what will happen.

    2. I think everything is set to allow the diffusers to stay on the championship; a ban would trigger a series of problems that wont fit F1 and hence, the top bosses and referees wont allow it.

      Having said that, I feel the complaining teams have a point and what the diffuser-three did with its interpretation of the regs is flawed. I am not 100% sure since the way the FIA writes the regs -pretty old-fashioned, blurred, no visual aids- is cumbersome to interpret and leaves room for pushing the envelope a little too much.

      In any case, WMSC will rule based on the business interests, not the rules….remember Renault mass damper hearing in 2006? well it was banned without braking any regulation; they said it was a movable aeropart (?); some sites claim it was for security reasons -a 6 kg, movable part inside the car’s front- but at the end of the day, the opened the door for a thrilling finale hoping -maybe- Schumi taking a 8th DWC..

    3. I would think the dd diffuser teams already have a conventional diffuser ready just in case.

  18. theRoswellite
    13th April 2009, 16:45

    Well, we are going to find out this week if rossRacing has shanghaid the season…will the diffuser stay or get warped into some less effective form?

    A big shock for the field might be the speed of the Gang of Three, even after they’ve been “diffused”. Hopefully the FIA will see there way clear to reward a bit design that has hit nothing but net…in Obama speak.

    Also, we shouldn’t see Bernie messin’ with the Chinese government over any start time changes…that would be a short conversation.

    I think Sunday afternoon in the Middle Kingdom we are going to find Cinderella is still boogin’ down at the Ball, with the glass slipper on Rubin’s foot this time.

    However, my All-Asian-Dream would be to see Toyota break out of their “0-for-forever” slump, and stand at the head of the lunch line for once…how do you say, “they can all kiss my diffuser” in Mandarin?

  19. Diffuser or not, I think Button will win, the car looks like it has much more than the 0.9s per lap weight adjusted advantage it showed in Sepang. I only say this because it looks like Button was able to win with ease, it looks like there is another 0.5s a lap just waiting to be unleashed if any of the other teams try to challenge them at the end of a race (too bad we didn’t get to see Kubica get close in the first race!).

    1. I think the gap is about 0.7 sec. Malaysia was not a good gauge. I still think Brawn is a very matured designed car, something you would expect in a Macca or Ferrari during the last third of a good season; The main advantage? they started earlier in 2008 and they perfectioned it during winter testing -with no testing-. What a story! I think that in the unlikely banning of the diffuser, they will be fighting in the top 6; a diffuser alone doesn’t work; it’s the whole car’s bottom

  20. Ferrari has announced a restructuring of its trackside operations with Baldisserri being switched to a factory-based role. Chris Dyer will replace him starting from China. Also they will bring some new parts including a revised front wing. Ferrari has a well- established winning culture and they are very good at turning a crisis to success. I think they will be the team to watch after Brawn team..

  21. I would think the dd diffuser teams already have a conventional diffuser ready just in case.
    Forgot to mention great post. Can’t wait to seeing your next one!

  22. i hope they are termed illegal this will bring the whole field back together and make for better racing.Remember that all the drivers without this diffusers are saying they are lacking rear downforce and grip which was easily seen in sepang with cars twitching threw the corners and on exit.I still firmly believe if the ruling goes against the 7 other teams they will shelve there season and concentrate on next year.Remember what alonso said it not just putting a new diffuser on and you go 2sec faster they will have to redevelop the whole car.There is no testing so if they put on a new one for spain and it doesn’t work that race becomes a test season and the next and the next how long until they just flag it especially with brawn racing away with the championship ‘that would be 4 wins by spain.lewis won last year with only 5 race wins

    1. eh? How have we not had good racing…everyone from F1 commentators to us armchair pundits have been saying how good the racing has been this year!

  23. I actually think Barrichello is faster than Button. He had a bad start at the beginning of Australia and had a damaged car, and still got second. Malasia was luck of the draw for pitstops. In the dry, Barrichello was closing in on him. Qualifying can be explained by the weight of the extra fuel.

    1. An alternative view…

      Barrichello was chasing second place and therefore pushing
      Button was sitting pretty in first and therefore not pushing

      Barrichello was chasing second place and therefore pushing
      Button was sitting pretty in first and therefore not pushing

      The only way to determine which is faster is either in Qualifying 1 and 2 (not 3 because fuel load plays a part), or when we see them actually racing close for the win (or other position). So far in qualifying Barrichello has beat Button 3 to 1… I never said I didn’t agree with you ;)

      It will be interesting to see how they match over the season, one aspect I am watching with much interest.

  24. I think we will see one of the teams with KERS to make it on the podium. Just a ballpark figure – if KERS can bring an extra 0.3sec lap time reduction on their car, that’s about 16secs for all of the 56 laps. Brawn will still be there same with Toyota.

  25. I agree with 1994fanatic. For Brawn, Button is driving well but I think Barrichello will always be the faster all things equal. Williams will be up there and RBR will be snapping at the both of them. I think the KERS cars will fall off alot in the long mid corners in the race journey.

    1. Watching Button is like watching an artist at work though. He is so smooth, rarely a correction, and yet consistently sooo fast!

  26. I expect Brawn to do well again in China. If the diffusers are deemed legal, once all the others fit them to their cars, then we’ll see exactly how good Brawn are.

  27. Is it right to put 7 teams re-structure their car. Like ferrari announced new designing for DD diffuser takes 20 million €!!! 7 X 20….well…not cheap…

    3 X 20 for normal diffuser is much less consuming….

    that´s one point of view for that case

  28. 1) Rosberg
    (Kind of wishing on the Rosberg pick. Could be Jenson.
    Also, There is more to the Brawn than just the diffuser that makes that car quick. You could take away the diffuser, (but they won’t have to), and it would still be right up there.

  29. HounslowBusGarage
    14th April 2009, 22:14

    I think you are right, Leaf.
    Brawn GP is run by the same Ross Brawn who realised that Schumacher could serve his penalty in the pits at the end of the British Grand Prix because the Ferrari pit was beyond the start/finish stripe.
    The man is a genius in spotting gaps in the regulations and ways to exploit the pre-conceptions of others.
    With the diffusers, the Brawns might be half a second a lap quicker than anyone else. Delete the diffuser and they might be just a quarter second, but they would still be faster.

  30. One of the Brawns will get pole. And if he doesn’t completely screw up the start again (as each of the Brawns have already done in the first 2 races), the Brawn should win fairly comfortably. I think it’s Barrichello’s turn to win.

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