Start, Shanghai, 2011

Will Sunday see a repeat of last year’s Chinese Grand Prix drama?

2012 Chinese Grand Prix preview

Posted on

| Written by

Start, Shanghai, 2011Last year’s Chinese Grand Prix was rated the best race of the season by F1 Fanatic readers.

In dry conditions the race showcased the best F1’s new tyres and rules changes had to offer, with the outcome in doubt until the end. Lewis Hamilton snatched victory from Sebastian Vettel late in the race while Mark Webber raced from 18th on the grid to finish third.

Will we see another race to remember this year?

The vast scale of the Shanghai International Circuit – built for the first Chinese Grand Prix in 2004 – dwarfs almost anything else on the F1 calendar.

But the track itself offers little to get excited about: “one of the pretty standard modern tracks,” says Heikki Kovalainen.

“It’s a mix of low and medium speed corners, a very long straight with a tight corner at the end that provides a natural point to overtake, and a couple of tight fiddly bits you never quite feel like you get completely right.”

He’s not the only driver left underwhelmed by the venue: “It?s not my favourite race of the year” admitted Nico Hulkenberg.

Shanghai circuit information

Lap length 5.451km (3.387 miles)
Distance 56 laps (305.1km/189.6 miles)
Lap record* 1’32.238 (Michael Schumacher, 2004)
Fastest lap 1’32.238 (Michael Schumacher, 2004)
Tyres Medium and Soft

*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix

Shanghai track data in full

However the track, which holds its ninth F1 race this year, has begun to acquire some character with the passage of time. The high-speed entry to turn one features one of the fiercest bumps in F1 that can easily catch the unwary.

Exiting turn 13 the drivers are hard on the throttle for a whisker under 1.4km before arriving at one of the hardest braking zones of the year. Deceleration peaks at 6G as they shed over 250kph (155mph) for the 68kph hairpin at the end.

The DRS zone is situated here in the race and is unchanged from what was used last year, when it tended to make overtaking rather too easy. The race saw 77 overtakes, more than half of which were the new breed of ‘motorway-style’ DRS passes.

Rain is often a feature at the Chinese round. Since the race was moved from the end of the calendar to the beginning, two of the three races held have been in wet conditions.

But as last year’s race showed, you don’t necessarily need rain for a great race here. Pirelli are bringing their soft and medium tyres – the same compounds used in Melbourne – which will take a pounding around Shanghai’s many fast corners. Last year’s race saw drivers adopt a range of different strategic approaches.

Red Bull

The RB8 has looked quick over a race distance. But it doesn’t have the edge in qualifying the team enjoyed last year, which was the cornerstone of much of their success.

The same goes for Sebastian Vettel, who has been fractionally slower than his team mate in the two qualifying sessions so far.

After a solid damage-limiting drive to second in Australia, Vettel was on course for a similar result in Malaysia. Then came that needless tangle with Narain Karthikeyan.

However the car isn’t far off the McLarens and they could well be back on form in China.


McLaren won’t be disappointed with their start to the season but nor can they be entirely pleased at having turned a pair of qualifying one-twos into one win and a couple of third places.

China has been a happy hunting ground for them with three wins in the last four races.

Jenson Button, who won the 2010 race, expects to see teams converging on set-up after spending time analysing the data from the first two rounds: “There will be the usual set-up compromises: setting the car up to offer good downforce through some of the faster corners, but without sacrificing too much speed along the straights.

“We saw different teams address that balance in different ways over the first two races, so it will be interesting to see if things start to converge this weekend after a few weeks back in Europe.”


Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Sepang, 2012That Fernando Alonso is leading the drivers’ championship is a tribute to his superlative skills rather than the performance of the F2012. The team admit their car is the best part of a second off the front runners.

The team have brought forward some updates for this race but even so they expect a weekend of damage limitation while they ready their major upgrade for the start of the European season.


The intrigue around the W03, and its controversial ‘front wing F-duct’, is far in excess of what the car has actually achieved so far this year: a single point inherited by Michael Schumacher after Pastor Maldonado retired in Malaysia.

The car’s superior straight-line performance will be a boon on Shanghai’s long straight in qualifying. But more important is whether the team can get to the bottom of their poor tyre degradation which is hurting them in races.

Nico Rosberg led the last two races here and finished on the podium in 2010. He said: “The track is quite different to the first two, as it demands more from the front tyres than the rears – in other words, what is termed a front-limited circuit.

“We know that we have a quick car, but we are looking to improve our long run pace in China next weekend and to have a better race performance.”


The feeling at Lotus is that they have a car with considerable potential but have been unable to capitalise on it due to various setbacks in the opening races: particularly Kimi Raikkonen’s qualifying problems and Romain Grosjean’s inability to make it beyond lap three.

What they want in China is a “normal” weekend – no hiccups, no rain and no hospitality unit fires.

Raikkonen is also hoping to eradicated the power steering problems that have plagued him since the start of the year. “We?re almost there,” he said.

Force India

Paul di Resta, Force India, Melbourne, 2012Force India are in the thick of a fierce midfield battle. They started the season well and have already bagged nine points.

However they’re not in as comfortable a position as they were at the end of last year and will need to wring every last hundredth from the VJM05 to keep scoring.

The pair were closely matched in Malaysia – Paul di Resta finishing less than four seconds ahead of Hulkenberg. This weekend Jules Bianchi will drive di Resta’s car in first practice.


Sergio Perez was the star of the Malaysian Grand Prix. But he had already demonstrated the C31’s potential Australia where he briefly ran second despite having front wing damage.

Looking ahead to Shanghai Perez said: “The high speed corners of the track should suit our car. I especially like turn one – it is a long and pretty difficult bend. The long straight will not be the easiest part for us, but, again, we have to maximise our potential.”

Toro Rosso

The battle of the rookies at Toro Rosso is shaping up nicely, with both Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne getting their first points on the board in the opening two races.

The STR7 wasn’t quite as competitive in Malaysia as it had been in Australia, and both will be keen to avoid elimination in Q1.


Pastor Maldonado, Williams, Sepang, 2012The team already seem to have made a significant step forward compared to last year. Had it not been for piston failure on Pastor Maldonado’s car they would have had a double points finish in Malaysia.

Valtteri Bottas will drive Bruno Senna’s car in first practice.


Caterham appear to have fallen short of their goal of bringing the midfield in range but will continue to pursue them with some updates for the CT01 this weekend.

“We have bodywork updates targeted at increased load and more efficient cooling, given the lower ambient temperatures we will to see in Shanghai,” explained technical director Mark Smith.


HRT made it into the race in Malaysia – though Vettel and Button probably wished they hadn’t. Expect to see them most often when being lapped by the leaders.


Timo Glock capitalised on problems for Heikki Kovalainen to split the Caterhams in Malaysia.

He’s not likely to repeat the feat without a bit of help, but the fact that the MR01 was capable of that much has come as something of a surprise given their lack of pre-season testing.

2012 driver form

Q avg R avg R best R worst Classified Form guide
Sebastian Vettel 5.5 6.5 2 11 2/2 Form guide
Mark Webber 4.5 4 4 4 2/2 Form guide
Jenson Button 2 7.5 1 14 2/2 Form guide
Lewis Hamilton 1 3 3 3 2/2 Form guide
Fernando Alonso 10 3 1 5 2/2 Form guide
Felipe Massa 14 15 15 15 1/2 Form guide
Michael Schumacher 3.5 10 10 10 1/2 Form guide
Nico Rosberg 7 12.5 12 13 2/2 Form guide
Kimi Raikkonen 13.5 6 5 7 2/2 Form guide
Romain Grosjean 4.5 0/2 Form guide
Paul di Resta 14.5 8.5 7 10 2/2 Form guide
Nico Hulkenberg 12.5 9 9 9 1/2 Form guide
Kamui Kobayashi 15 6 6 6 1/2 Form guide
Sergio Perez 15.5 5 2 8 2/2 Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo 12.5 10.5 9 12 2/2 Form guide
Jean-Eric Vergne 14.5 9.5 8 11 2/2 Form guide
Pastor Maldonado 9.5 16 13 19 2/2 Form guide
Bruno Senna 13.5 11 6 16 2/2 Form guide
Heikki Kovalainen 21 18 18 18 1/2 Form guide
Vitaly Petrov 19 16 16 16 1/2 Form guide
Pedro de la Rosa 22 21 21 21 1/1 Form guide
Narain Karthikeyan 23 22 22 22 1/1 Form guide
Timo Glock 20 15.5 14 17 2/2 Form guide
Charles Pic 21 17.5 15 20 2/2 Form guide

Are you going to the Chinese Grand Prix?

If you’re heading to Shanghai for this weekend’s race, we want to hear from you.

We’ve got a dedicated group and forum for people going to the race.

You can embed your pictures from the race via Flickr and videos via YouTube and other major video-sharing accounts. Join in here:

Your view: 2012 Chinese Grand Prix

Who’s your tip for success in the Chinese Grand Prix? Will anyone break McLaren’s monopoly on the front row of the grid?

Have your say in the comments.

2012 Chinese Grand Prix

Browse all 2012 Chinese Grand Prix articles

Image ?? Pirelli/LAT, Ferrari/Ercole Colombo, Force India/Sutton, Williams/LAT

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...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

59 comments on “Will Sunday see a repeat of last year’s Chinese Grand Prix drama?”

  1. Only 08 wasn’t a decent China GP, but even that set up the finale in Brazil nicely. I reckon it’ll be more of the same this season, good race choice by the Beeb aswell.

    1. The inaugural event wasn’t too exciting either! Actually, 2005 was pretty average too. Other than those three races though, we’ve been pretty lucky in China! But to be fair, only one of the remaining races was dry!

  2. I hope Mercedes get their race performance sorted out so we can see their true potential. I also hope Rosberg stops messing up his qualifying laps so we can get a true comparison of raw pace between him and Schumacher.

    I see Hamilton winning this race, though that is presuming that it doesn’t rain. I hope it doesn’t rain as I’d rather no see a red flag or many laps wasted under the safety car.

  3. in the Force India section

    “However they’re not in as comfortable a position as they were at the end of last year and will need to wrong every last hundredth from the VJM05 to keep scoring.”

    that should be “need to wring every last hundredth” shouldn’t it ?

    1. Indeed – wrong was wrong. Now it’s right.

      1. I’m pretty sure it was old boy Kobash who had wing damage in Australia? Unless I’m mistaken.

        1. @satchelcharge Here’s Perez with his damaged wing (and running in second place, I note!):

          Sergio Perez, Sauber, Melbourne, 2012

        2. Perez had the wing damaged, Kobayashi the rear.

          1. Ahhhh ok thanks to both of you, that explains my confusion

      2. Right then…glad to see you write that wrong, so that now it rings true.

  4. ShaneB457 (@shaneb12345678910)
    11th April 2012, 17:23

    Great summary of all the teams..Apart from HRT its Catherham who I am most dissapointed in..I really tought they could mix it with the midfield before the season started but it seems they are quite a bit behind..still its only 2 races in so hopefully they get some updates that will improve their pace.

    Also looking forward to the first live race on the BBC!

    1. @shaneb12345678910 – I don’t think the CT01 is that bad, it’s just prone to breaking down.

  5. Yes I think we will see a repeat of last year’s drama if not moreso…the field is only closer, Merc should benefit greatly from the F-duct on that long straightaway (at least on Friday and Saturday) and I think all teams (esp. Merc) will have poured over their tire perfomance vs. setup data to try to get their tires into the right operating window. Will be very interesting to see how things are unfolding for the teams given variable conditions/temps throughout the first two race weekends…will be interesting to hear the final verdict on F-ducts from Whiting. Wet or dry it will be interesting to see what FA does.

  6. I don’t like the track. It wasnt my favourite GP of last season despite being tremendous it was a tactical mistake by red bull and complete failure by the Pirelli, my only explenation for the chinese gp to have the highest rating its the fact that it is the 3rd race of the season and you cant give more than 10 for each race so you cant rate other races higher.

    1. @ukfanatic

      complete failure by the Pirelli

      Pirelli supplied tyres which didn’t fail and produced a great race.

      What exactly did they do wrong?

      1. I got to start reading my comments before pressing post, my english is getting really bad lately.

        What i meant to say is that the tyres were so heavily punished that RedBull just couldnt win with a 2 stop strategy, (by the way im pretty sure there were a couple of punctures), anyways yes the Pirelli are doing great for the show, in a perfect world and perfect Formula 1 i just wished that we could have real racing head to head best driver wins not worst team decision.

        By the way what was you favourite gp, the Chinese GP ?
        Or the Canadian GP, British GP or the German GP ? im pretty sure that i ranked china higher but i dint knew what these 3 above would deliver.

  7. I didn’t particularly like last years GP. Can’t remember why, but I was very surprised with the rating it got. Maybe it was down to the fact that it was just the 3rd race of the season and it was the first one to feature a battle for the lead… but I reckon that if it was held in the middle of the year, the result would’ve been different and it’d have been a normal Grand Prix.

    Anyway, I don’t like the circuit either. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I need to get up at 3 AM to watch the race…

    Hope we get a dry race this time. I’d love to see the true pace of the top teams without a crazy race like in Melbourne or Sepang. It’d be nice to see that before a 4 weeks break if the Bahrain GP doesn’t go ahead afterall.

    1. I had to read your comment to really understand why i didnt like last year gp that much, its exactly all of those reasons.

      1. haha I found a couple more reasons, the atmosphere is too poluted and i dont like to virtually drive in china across all platforms.

        1. You dont like it maybe because Red Bull didnt win mate?. Or lil boy Seb didnt get the win?.

          1. Yep that’s exactly what he said

    2. It was voted the best race only because Hamilton won it and because this is a British site. Hamilton won that race because of the tires.he was running on new tires while vettel was running with old tires.

      1. this is a British site

        No it isn’t – this is a site for F1 fans, regardless of their nationality.

        As has been pointed out countless times before, only around a third of users on the site are British:

        Nor is Hamilton the most popular driver:

      2. Not sure about that. There are plenty of people on this site that don’t like Hamilton. I’m not a McLaren fan but I thought the Chinese and Canadian GP’s were the best last year and McLaren won both of them.

        I suppose the question for the people that didn’t rate the Chinese GP is which race last year did you think was better? Just curious because people enjoy different things in a race. I’d be interested to see what other people thought was better.

  8. If it’s dry I expect to see a repeat of Australia with Button winning from second on the grid. I think Lewis’s only chance of a win are a midly wet race throughout were his greater car control can overcome his poor performance on managing the tyres in the dry.

    1. Paul Ogbeiwi (@)
      11th April 2012, 21:10

      loool all this after two races. congratulations

    2. lewis won in china last year on these tyres well similiar anyway.also i remember atleast 2 races in which jenson wore his tyres out quicker than lewis.i dont remember it happening more than that the other time was lewis crashing that caused him problems.
      so this thing about lewis not being able to look after his tyres is massively exageratted.
      and in a mildly wet race the mclaren doesnt work great,hence the reason why both jenson and lewis struggled for pace in malaysia.

      1. the other way around i ment.

  9. Shanghai has given us 5 exciting races in last 6 years – 06,07,09,10,11 – an enviable record. Lets hope 12 is no different.
    I would really like a third different team win the race though. 2010 was when three different teams won the first three races, and look what a season we had!!

  10. I will indeed have my sat in the comments.

    Last year’s race was probably the best of the whole year (Monaco would have been), and I’m hoping for a repeat.

  11. “The DRS zone is situated here in the race and is unchanged from what was used last year–” According to GPUpdate, the DRS zone is 152 meters shorter than last year.

    1. @kaiie According to the FIA the DRS zone starts 752 metres before turn 14. That’s the same as it was last year after they shortened the zone (see here – note final sentence) – perhaps GP Update have forgotten they did that.

      This is, after all, the same website which ran Lotus’s April Fool’s Day press release as straight news… on April 2nd.

      1. lol the dutch….

  12. Matt (@agentmulder)
    11th April 2012, 19:00

    “The DRS zone is situated here in the race and is unchanged from what was used last year,”

    Are you sure about this? I’ve read elsewhere that the DRS “live” zone is going to be shortened.

  13. You forget to mention that HRT is actually bringing some NEW BITS to the car!

    1. @bascb – Probably whatever bits of Button’s front wing they managed to pick up ater Sepang.

  14. I thought Canada was the best-rated race in 2011.

    1. It wasn’t – see the link in the first paragraph.

  15. Wet or dry we are in for a great race,which leads me to another question,does anybody know the weather forecast for the weekend?

    1. @kimster381 There’ll be a piece on the weather on the site on Thursday as usual.

  16. F1 is the most stunning show in motor sport. Last year, the chinese GP, has been amazing. Hopefully, this year will be the same!

  17. Could it be that as tracks get older the race quality on them gets better and there would be a point where the tracks we criticize today for lack of racing would actually produce good racing as the years go by. If that is the case then Herman Tilke would be getting a lot of flak for very little reason. Last years best race on a Tilke track with his typical modern layout. 10 years later maybe Yas Marina getting a 9 on 10 rating in our polls ? :) !

    1. Haha!
      We live in hope…

    2. I’m pretty sure Melbourne was panned when it first came in, I certainly thought it was a step down from Adelaide. Now it’s considered (by some) to be one of the best races of the year. I’ve never been a fan of the Shanghai circuit, but for some reason it seems to be producing good races despite not having one corner I would call a classic (like Melbourne).

      I’m not sure if it’s the passage of time changing people’s opinions, or the general reduction in the quality of tracks with time. It’s probably a relative thing, while newer (usually more benign) circuits don’t do much for the bedded in fans, the car and aero developments also render good tracks average over time, and sometimes vice versa.

  18. Matt (@agentmulder)
    11th April 2012, 22:26

    The site “The F1 Times” ran an article yesterday claiming the DRS zone had been shortened by 50m from the 2011 race.

    1. @agentmulder As they haven’t bothered to say how long the zone is now or was before it’s impossible to quantify that.

      As I explained earlier the indication from the FIA is the zone is unchanged from last year:

  19. I actually didn’t think last year’s race was anything too special.
    There was a lot of boring DRS/Tyre related passing but not a lot of actual racing or real overtaking.

    DRS was far too effective & while everyone was going on about Mark Webber’s brilliant drive, Even he said it actually wasn’t that satisfying because of the effect DRS & the Pirelli’s had on it which made passing many cars quite easy.

    Like wise people talk about Hamilton’s pass on Vettel, However considering Vettel’s tyres were ‘falling off the cliff’ the pass was inevitable. It was blatently obvious as soon as LH started catching SV that he was going to get by & that took a lot of the excitement & tension out of it for me.

  20. If DRS makes passing too easy again im just going to turn off the TV.

    Can’t be bothered to sit through another race full of boring motorway passes, I’d rather watch a proper race. At least Indycar is on again this Sunday, Seems thats where the real racing is found now! The last race at Barber was miles better than any F1 race has been in the DRS/Pirelli Era.

  21. Grosjean needs to stop smiling so much, he probably wets himself at the start and ends up crashing, he needs to gain some of the ice cool determination his team mate has and get on with it, that is all.

  22. The DRS is too long for china, its going to obvious how easy overtaking is going to be, i think the DRS zone should be the start-finish straight.

    1. @um1234 I believe that China last year was the best possible use of DRS. I remember there still being a question of ‘will he, won’t he?’ as the drivers approached the hair-pin leading to the final corner.

      They’re not using the entire straight for DRS.

  23. Despite Shanghai lighting up this site’s list of top-reviewed GPs and the fact that the only properly boring event here was in 2008, it is a little odd to see Tilkedrome complaints editorially shoe-horned into here from drivers who don’t exactly offer interesting opinions on the matter.

    The track races well, has more than one or two properly challenging bends, undulates, has banking (how’s that for adding something unique?), and this is without mentioning the turns one-two complex that, despite being such a unique challenge over any lap, from a practice out lap to the first GP lap, doesn’t even define the circuit.

    Maybe we could all stand a lesson in not berating Tilke’s tracks mindlessly at venues that hardly deserve it.

    1. @alonsowdc What makes a track interesting to drive at speed and the kind of track that creates good racing are not necessarily the same thing.

      That said, we’ve only really had one good race at this track in dry conditions. The 2004, 2005 and 2008 races were pretty forgettable – indeed, the latter is one of the lowest-rated we’ve had:

      1. @keithcollantine

        I’m struggling to think of many spectacular races, wet or dry, in either of the 2004 or 05 Championships.

        I agree with you but I stand that this track races well to a driver by himself or to the field taking to the grid.

  24. I’d like to predict that Lewis Hamilton will not be frequenting a nightclub in Shanghai after the race this year.

  25. It has been a rather unusual start to the season so in some respects I’m seeing this as some sort of…second go?! That’s based on the fact that the teams had little idea where they were post-testing and no real time to evaluate and react after Australia, due to the next race being within 7 days.

    I’m desperate to see if Mercedes are going to be able to sort their tyre issues out and take advantage of the longest straight in F1. I really want to see how RBR will perform, particularly Vettel.

    I also want to see Grosjean finish a race, third time lucky eh?

Comments are closed.