Start, Shanghai International Circuit, 2014

Mercedes ready to reassert Shanghai supremacy

2015 Chinese Grand Prix preview

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Start, Shanghai International Circuit, 2014Can Ferrari keep the pressure on Mercedes in China?

After the lacklustre Australian Grand Prix which opened the 2015 season, the Malaysian round proved F1 is still capable of producing enthralling on-track competition on race day.

Sebastian Vettel’s emphatic race-winning performance and Kimi Raikkonen’s strong recovery to fourth demonstrated that Ferrari are more than capable of taking the challenge to Mercedes at the front this season.

But while Sepang may have left some salivating over the prospect of a season-long duel between two of the most prestigious car manufacturers in the world for this year’s titles, this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix is still likely to be the Silver Arrows’ to lose.

Cooler ambient temperatures – around 15 degrees Celsius – are expected to play more into the hands of the Mercedes. But with Ferrari not playing down their chances for this weekend, we could be about to see a very revealing benchmark of how competitive the battle at the front of the field will be over the rest of the season.

Track data: Shanghai

Lap length5.451km (3.387 miles)
Distance305.066km (189.559 miles)
Lap record*1’32.238 (Michael Schumacher, 2004)
Fastest lap1’32.238 (Michael Schumacher, 2004, race)
TyresMedium and Soft

*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix

Shanghai International Circuit
track data in full

The Shanghai International Circuit plays host to a Grand Prix for the 12th time, having appeared on the calendar every year since 2004. The Hermann Tilke-designed circuit is characterised by long corners that put tremendous loads on front tyres – the uniquely long first right-hander being a prime example.

As last year, Pirelli have opted to bring the soft and medium tyres this weekend, meaning drivers will have to pay extra care to ensure they don’t take too much out of the softer compound during the race.

The circuit’s huge back straight, where the drivers have their foot to the flor for almost 1.4 kilometres, often helps to promote overtaking. The DRS zone only starts around halfway down the track, and it is debatable whether it’s even needed at all at this venue.

Despite many empty seats in the grandstands on Sundays, the Chinese fans that do flock to the circuit do have a reputation for being particularly enthusiastic. Drivers are regularly mobbed by supporters at Shanghai Airport and many home made banners adorn the enormous main grandstand during the event.

Chinese Grand Prix team-by-team preview

Mercedes

Despite enjoying a greater advantage in Melbourne than they had throughout the entirety of 2014, Mercedes seemed powerless to take back the lead from Vettel in Malaysia once the Ferrari driver found himself out front.

Lewis Hamilton’s ability to challenge Vettel in the final stint of the race was compromised by his lack of fresh medium tyres after Mercedes opted to use a set in Q1.

Rosberg has happy memories of Shanghai, where he took his maiden grand prix victory and Mercedes’ first of the modern era in 2012. And with Hamilton claiming the early advantage on his team mate this season, another win here could be vital for his own championship aspirations.

Red Bull

Daniil Kvyat, Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, Sepang International Circuit, 2015Sepang has so often been a stronghold for Red Bull, but this year’s Malaysian Grand Prix was a race to forget for them.

Both Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo struggled with soaring brake temperatures and lack of grip en route to ninth and tenth respectively – the first time since 2009 that both Red Bulls had been beaten to the line by both Toro Rossos.

It shows that the team have more than just power unit issues to sort out if they are going to be in contention for victories in 2015.

Williams

Valtteri Bottas, Williams, Sepang International Circuit, 2015After an eventful race, Williams cemented their position as ‘best of the rest’ behind Mercedes and Ferrari in Malaysia, which saw Valtteri Bottas snatch fifth place from team mate Felipe Massa on the penultimate lap. But their was clear disappointment at how far they were from the podium, and how easily the recovering Raikkonen overhauled them.

With Williams under no immediate pressure from behind, the team can focus solely on working to bridging the gap to the four cars ahead. The FW37 shares the low-drag characteristics of its predecessor and that could go a long way to making the Williams a threat along Shanghai’s notoriously long back straight.

Ferrari

With Vettel’s victory in Malaysia, Ferrari are enjoying their best start to a season since 2012 with arguably their strongest package since 2010.

Vettel’s strong race pace was reinforced by the manner in which Raikkonen quickly recovered through the field following the early Safety Car. But after the excessive temperatures in Sepang and question over whether Mercedes were compromised by their tyre strategy, there are many questions about the true performance gap between Ferrari and Mercedes.

This weekend should hopefully provide a clearer picture and Raikkonen is confident that the team can challenge Mercedes once more. However a significant question remains whether a technical directive regarding fuel pressure which comes into effect this weekend, which is believed to be targeted at how Ferrari was using its engine, may affect their performance.

McLaren

Malaysia was another difficult race for McLaren, but despite failing to finish and running well out of contention for points, the team are confident that they have made steps forward ahead of this weekend.

The team’s prospects of seeing both cars finish on Sunday may be helped by the cooler temperatures expected in Shanghai over the weekend, which should prove easier on the new Honda power unit.

If McLaren continue to make the strides forward that they claim they are, their qualifying performance will be the strongest indicator with the team having fallen in the first session in both of the opening rounds.

Force India

Force India have faced a challenging start to the season and their chances to moving rapidly up the field appear to have lessened. The team is planning a major upgrade for its conservative VJM08, but they will have to make do with their original chassis for at least the first seven races.

With that in mind, Nico Hulkenberg is keeping a modest target for China. “I’m not going there with any big expectations, but we’ve got to believe we can fight for some points,” says Hulkenberg. “It wasn’t possible in Malaysia, but we certainly put up a good fight and will keep working hard. I think our performance level will be similar this weekend.”

Toro Rosso

Max Verstappen, Toro Rosso, Sepang International Circuit, 2015So far the car hailed as Toro Rosso’s ‘best ever’ has not disappointed, with the team recording a strong double points finish in Malaysia, beating both Red Bulls to the flag.

Formula One’s youngest ever points scorer, Max Verstappen demonstrated impressively mature race craft on his way to seventh in Sepang while Carlos Sainz Jnr demonstrated great skill to pull off a two stop strategy and make it two top ten finishes in his first two starts.

This weekend will prove a brand new challenge for the youngest driver pairing in F1 history, with both Verstappen and Sainz having never visited the Shanghai Circuit before.

Lotus

It’s been a frustrating start to the season for Lotus, with misfortune and reliability issues preventing them from exploiting the potential of a car that is clearly superior to their 2014 challenger.

In China, Lotus will be looking for a trouble-free weekend to help them secure their first points of the season.

“I think we should be in a similar position to that we’ve been in for the first and second race, so fighting for the top ten in qualifying and then in the race,” says Pastor Maldonado. “I’m confident we should be fighting for good places.”

Last year’s GP2 champion Joylon Palmer will participate in a grand prix weekend for the first time on Friday, taking over first practice duties from Romain Grosjean.

Sauber

Felipe Nasr, Sauber, Sepang International Circuit, 2015After a double points finish in Melbourne, Malaysia was a weekend to forget for Sauber. Marcus Ericsson threw away his chance of his best ever finish just a few laps into the race by spinning in retirement into Turn One, while Felpe Nasr lost his front wing after contact with Raikkonen on the opening lap, which compromised his whole afternoon.

If both drivers learn from their Malaysian mistakes, there’s no reason why either cannot be in contention for solid points finishes again this weekend.

Manor

For Manor to have successfully finished the Malaysian Grand Prix with Roberto Merhi was perhaps the most impressive result of the weekend. With a race under their belt, Manor’s main aim for this weekend is to see both cars start and finish on Sunday.

After Will Stevens has been denied an opportunity to race in either of the first two races through no fault of his own, he said the data the team gleaned from Merhi’s car during the race has at least been beneficial.

Manor’s 11th-hour return to F1 has not been without it critics, and following Malaysia some suggested the team were not able to run both cars at the same time. The team dismissed the claim as “complete nonsense”, but all eyes will be on whether both MR04s appear together during practice.

2015 driver form

DriverG avgR avgR bestR worstClassifiedForm guide
Lewis Hamilton1.001.50122/2Form guide
Nico Rosberg2.502.50232/2Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo5.008.006102/2Form guide
Daniil Kvyat8.509.00991/1Form guide
Felipe Massa5.005.00462/2Form guide
Valtteri Bottas7.005.00551/2Form guide
Sebastian Vettel3.002.00132/2Form guide
Kimi Raikkonen8.004.00441/2Form guide
Fernando Alonso18.000/1Form guide
Jenson Button16.5011.0011111/2Form guide
Nico Hulkenberg13.0010.507142/2Form guide
Sergio Perez14.0011.5010132/2Form guide
Max Verstappen8.507.00771/2Form guide
Carlos Sainz Jnr11.008.50892/2Form guide
Romain Grosjean9.0011.0011111/2Form guide
Pastor Maldonado10.500/2Form guide
Marcus Ericsson12.008.00881/2Form guide
Felipe Nasr13.008.505122/2Form guide
Will Stevens20.000/0Form guide
Roberto Merhi19.0015.0015151/1Form guide
Kevin Magnussen17.000/0Form guide

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Over to you

Who do you think will be the team to beat in the Chinese Grand Prix? Have your say below.

And don’t forget to enter your predictions for this weekend’s race. You can edit your predictions until the start of qualifying:

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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51 comments on “Mercedes ready to reassert Shanghai supremacy”

  1. What shall I try this round?

    HAM – ROS – VET – RAI – MAS
    HAM – ROS – RAI – VET – MAS
    HAM – ROS – VET – RAI – BOT
    HAM – ROS – RAI – VET – BOT

    Looking forward to it although I cannot say my attention will be 100% on F1 with the WEC opening round and MotoGP. I hope Ferrari can spring another surprise as Alonso always went well here, even scoring a podium here last year.

    1. The predictions are a bit boring this season, I’m doing HAM – ROS – VET – RAI – MAS or BOT at every round …

      1. @paeschli To be honest, even now they are as ‘easy’ as they have ever been I’m still terrible at it and I would love to win some LEGO…

        1. Same story here.

  2. Hope it will be a troublefree weekend for kimi, love to see him on the podium

  3. However a significant question remains whether a technical directive regarding fuel pressure which comes into effect this weekend, which is believed to be targeted at how Ferrari was using its engine, may affect their performance.

    How do you know it wasn’t targeted at Mercedes?

    1. I read somewhere it is targeted at both Ferrari and Mercedes, which is good news for Renault and Honda.

      1. As you say, although no direct accusations have been made, the rumours in the more scurrilous elements of the press were that both Mercedes and Ferrari were being targeted.

        However, there are some who believe that Mercedes have already taken steps to ensure that they comply with the directive – Ferrari’s position is less clear, and they might still be running close to the limits of the regulations prior to this directive kicking in more stringently in China.

  4. Shanghai was one of Ferrari’s strongest tracks in 2013 and 2014. In 2013 Alonso dominated the race, in 2014 he got a podium in an otherwise very dire season.

    1. I’d agree that the circuit has tended to flatter Ferrari in the past few years.

      This is a circuit where the cars are more often front traction limited than rear traction limited – given that both the 2014 and 2013 cars were more rear traction limited, the tendencies of this circuit did tend to mitigate the flaws in those cars.

    2. @kingshark The track flatters Alonso not particularly Ferrari, it’s Alonso that was behind the fast Shanghai performances.
      @girts I’m not a fan either.

  5. I think that the Chinese Grand Prix is my least favourite race of the year. The races are mostly forgettable, the smog makes the circuit look depressive and it is simply ridiculous that drivers and journalists do not have permanent access to social networks.

    Mercedes should indeed be the team to beat this weekend but I think a lot could still happen in the course of the year. By the way, the Chinese Grand Prix winner has won the world championship in the same season only 4 times in 11 years.

    1. @girts

      The races are mostly forgettable

      I wouldn’t say that 2006 and 2007 were forgettable. I haven’t forgotten 2010, 2011 and 2012 either. China has given us 5 classics in 11 years. That’s a pretty good track record.

      We can criticize the Chinese GP for a lot of reasons, but IMO boring racing isn’t one of them.

      1. TOTALLY AGREED MAN!!
        Chinese GP has been the best for years. Only the last two races weren’t that good. And even on ’13 there was that final push with Vettel and Hamilton that was exciting.

        Suzuka, on the other hand is a bore fest since 09.

      2. Suzuka, on the other hand is a bore fest since 09.

        I would beg to differ on this.

        The 2011 Suzuka race was very good. We had a battle for the win between multiple drivers, overtakes, and strategies playing out.
        Suzuka 2013 was one of the few races post-summer break of 2013 which were actually interesting to watch.
        And Suzuka 2014, despite the Bianchi tragedy, was quite an exciting race up and until that point.

        1. 09, 10 and 12 were tedious. Maybe the most tedious races of said years.
          11 was as good as China ’13 for me.
          14….was good until Hamilton took the lead.

          Years ago i used to be excited to watch some particular races on traditional circuits, but now the new tracks are the ones delivering the best races.

    2. I am the opposite. I love the Chinese Grand prix its one of my favourites, yes their have been forgettable races, but there have also been very exciting ones, the last boring one was 2008 imo and they have been great since and I think the track looks amazing, the smog less so.

      1. I kinda like the track too. Built in the days when we weren’t bored of Tilke yet.

  6. Can somebody explain what this new technical directive of fuel pressure is, how is it thought to be targeting Ferrari in particular and if so why is it fair that FIA steps in with a technical directive mid season to slow down a particular team?!

    1. It seems that the trick is to use a bit less fuel preassure in the engine, while still sending the maximum through the fuel flow meter @ifelix. This way they can then use a bit more for a while for peak performance.

      But Its easily possible that Mercedes is doing this as well as Ferrari (Honda so far has other issues than even starting to play with this, and Renault still uses a lower pressure, like they did last year)

      1. What I forgot to include in there, is that it is clearly a way to circumvent the maximum allowed fuel flow, so its pretty clear that the FIA would want to stop the teams from doing this, I wouldn’t think if any of them do use it, they will be surprised to find this alley blocked by rule clarification

        1. eh, that should be “they will not be surprised to find …”

          1. ” I wouldn’t think if any of them do use it, they will be surprised to find this alley blocked by rule clarification”

            Nah, you had it right first time ;)

        2. @bascb aren’t the fluids uncompressible by nature? I don’t understand how one can keep the same flow while lowering the pressure?

          1. There are two pumps. A high pressure one fills a a collector, and a low pressure one feeds the injectors. The theory is that the the team uses pump one at max rate to fill the collector which is drawn down by pump two at a higher rate. I fail to see how this is a real advantage unless you have a very big collector though. It might give you a second or two of injection rate above the max rate and the a period of deficit to make up.

          2. as @dmw mentions, it works by using differences in pressure to get a bit of extra fuel flow to the injector for a small amount of time @spoutnik.
            Hard to tell how much of a difference, and what frequency they can really use.
            As always I guess its about the odd tenth here and there that add up.

          3. Ok, so basically, it’s about “doing stuff” after the control sensor. Thanks for the explanation!

      2. Soon after all that debate with redbull last year regarding faulty devices the teams find a way to bypass it lol…. Honestly, that fuel flow thing is so stupid. Just let them use the 100 gallons as they please already

        1. Lol at “100 Gallons”.

        2. Its not stupid at all. RBR was easily found out, and the FIA found this trick more or less as soon as it hit the track. I wouldn’t say its hard to police @ijip.

          Oh and a 100 Gallons of fuel is about 3 times what they currently use. The limit is 100 KG (i.e. it means that they probably stay a little below using 100 kg to leave enough in the tank for the inlap)!

        3. Honestly, that fuel flow thing is so stupid.

          Actually, it’s a very sensible rule, if you understand the engines. In reality it is no different to the rev limit: it restricts the flow of one of the components of combustion. In a NA engine (non-turbo), the fuel flow rate is limited by the air flow, which is limited by the engine revs. With forced induction (turbos) there is no such limit, so they chose to limit fuel flow to achieve the same effect.

    2. Same here, I saw Autosport ran an article on it on their website, but it’s part of their pay to view stuff, which is incredibly annoying. I’m not sure why Will would mention something like that, without there being an article already posted on F1Fanatic describing it.

      1. @williamstuart @ifelix @bascb I think it was mentioned in the round-up a few weeks ago. Previously the FIA had the fuel flow sensor which measured the 100kg/hour maximum fuel flow rate (which Red Bull fell foul of last year), and they are now requiring the teams to make additional fuel pressure measurements in order to make sure they aren’t finding ways of increasing the flow rate after it is measured and before it is injected into the engine, to boost performance. This is to satisfy article 5.10.5 of the technical regulations:

        Any device, system or procedure the purpose and/or effect of which is to increase the flow rate after the measurement point is prohibited.

        1. Thanks Keith

  7. I expect a titanic battle.
    Ferrari always handled well here, even with last year’s dog car. In 2013 was even dominating in race pace.

  8. Williams can beat Ferrari on this track. In very low down force setting, they have good top speed. I predict
    Ham-Ros-Bottas

  9. Wow. I haven’t missed a live race since 1997, 13 of those years from NZ with a Monday 12am start, and for the first time I actually could not give a toss about the race.

    I think that’s me guys. All the best.

    1. @bamboo, don’t know the TV situation in NZ but here in OZ I’ve already had to miss Sepang and now China, I don’t know which race will be on FTA TV next, I may well have lost interest by then.

      1. Next Race live is Bahrain, after that is Monaco

  10. ham ros mas vet bot rai are my preds i dont play the proper one always forget:(

  11. I expect a lot of excitement from thi race.

  12. DRS:

    and it is debatable whether it’s even needed at all at this venue

    I thought it was debatable if it was even needed at any venue.

    1. It’s nice at Monaco….. ;)

  13. The experts are saying back to normal service, and citing the high temps in Malaysia. But I’m not so sure. Ferrari were not bad in Australia and we have no control case yet to say that temp was the only relevant factor distinguishing Malaysia from Australia. Ferrari now have more power, the new nose rules have reset some of the aero advantage MB accrued, and Allison has put in some new packaging tricks. If Ferrari can keep tires on the car, no reason to be shocked if they give MB a strong run. MB have a great all around car but it’s not sorcery.

  14. But with Ferrari not playing down their chances for this weekend

    James Allison disagrees

    1. @wsrgo According to an anonymous article on a site I’ve never seen before…

      1. @keithcollantine BBC article
        See the last two paragraphs.
        ‘Ferrari technical director James Allison said he did not expect to be able to challenge Mercedes as closely in the next race in China on 12 April.
        “I am fairly sure we will have our work cut out in China to do anything like as impressive a job as we have done here,” Allison said.’

        1. That comment by Allison was made about 10 days ago. (after Malaysia)

          1. @afonic Which definitely suggests they aren’t playing up their chances. The only person who’s said that is Raikkonen.

      2. The same can be said about your “which is believed to be targeted at how Ferrari was using its engine” comment. Actually i haven’t seen it even in an anonymous site.

  15. I’m thinking cold graining will sink Ferrari this weekend.

Comments are closed.