Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, Shanghai International Circuit, 2018

Are Red Bull really on the best strategy for Shanghai?

2018 Chinese Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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The 2018 F1 season is the fifth since F1 changed its rules to require drivers who reach Q3 to start the race in the tyres they used in Q2.

The intention behind the rule was to encourage drivers to try different strategies. For the most part that hasn’t happened. But this weekend’s race is an exception, and it could set up an exciting fight at the front.

Ferrari and Mercedes, which enjoy a significant one-lap performance advantage in qualifying, will start tomorrow’s race from rows one and two respectively on the soft compound tyres. Behind them will be six drivers on the ultra-soft rubber which, true to its name, is considerably quicker: in the region of 0.7 seconds per lap, according to Pirelli.

The opening phase of the race should see these four cars come under attack from behind. Lewis Hamilton estimated the performance advantage needed to overtake a car at Shanghai is one second, and having taken fourth on the grid he could be the first driver to come under attack from ultra-soft runners, led by the Red Bull pair.

Shanghai’s unusual first corner is often the scene of incidents at the start. But Daniel Ricciardo is hoping his Red Bull will be able to take advantage of the harder-tyred cars ahead at the start.

“It’s a pretty short run to turn one in Shanghai,” he said. “If it’s a long one eventually their horsepower’s going to give them an advantage.

“Here it’s more of a traction bias than a power bias because of the short run and obviously us having the ultra-soft, if we make a clean launch we can try to get at least one spot on pure performance. Hopefully it’s short enough that the power doesn’t compromise the good start we could have.”

Whether they can overtake on the track is one thing, but whether they’ll have the strategy to win is another. Intriguingly, Pirelli forecast that a strategy which involves starting on the soft tyre is not the quickest. Starting on ultra-softs, running them to around lap 18 and then putting a set of mediums on for the run to the flag is theoretically quicker.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Shanghai International Circuit, 2018
Mercedes has prioritised race pace
That would appear to put Red Bull and the others at an advantage, but there are two caveats. One is whether they can run quickly enough in the opening stint to make the strategy work. This will involve passing both Ferraris and both Mercedes – a tall order, but watching the likes of Max Verstappen and Ricciardo try undoubtedly has entertainment appeal.

The other caveat is what the temperature is going to do. The paddock is expecting sunny conditions tomorrow which could send track temperatures far higher than what we’ve seen before. Mercedes has set its cars up with that in mind, which could also go some way towards explaining its lacklustre qualifying performance. Toto Wolff suggested the track could be as much as 20C hotter – are ultra-soft tyres which have already done a hard qualifying lap really going to stand up to another 18 in those conditions?

The outcome of the Chinese Grand Prix could be decided by the answer to that question.

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Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Sebastian VettelFerrari1’32.1711’31.361 (-0.810)1’31.095 (-0.266)
2Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’32.2861’31.200 (-1.086)1’31.182 (-0.018)
3Valtteri BottasMercedes1’32.7001’31.625 (-1.075)1’31.684 (+0.059)
4Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’32.8871’31.675 (-1.212)
5Max VerstappenRed Bull1’32.8091’31.839 (-0.970)1’31.796 (-0.043)
6Daniel RicciardoRed Bull1’32.6881’31.948 (-0.740)1’32.342 (+0.394)
7Nico HulkenbergRenault1’32.9891’32.494 (-0.495)1’32.532 (+0.038)
8Sergio PerezForce India1’33.4641’32.931 (-0.533)1’32.758 (-0.173)
9Carlos Sainz JnrRenault1’33.3151’32.970 (-0.345)1’32.819 (-0.151)
10Romain GrosjeanHaas1’33.2381’32.524 (-0.714)1’32.855 (+0.331)
11Kevin MagnussenHaas1’32.9861’33.075 (+0.089)
12Esteban OconForce India1’33.3581’33.057 (-0.301)
13Fernando AlonsoMcLaren1’33.4281’33.232 (-0.196)
14Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren1’33.505
15Brendon HartleyToro Rosso1’34.0131’33.795 (-0.218)
16Sergey SirotkinWilliams1’34.062
17Pierre GaslyToro Rosso1’34.101
18Lance StrollWilliams1’34.285
19Charles LeclercSauber1’34.454
20Marcus EricssonSauber1’34.914

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Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Sebastian Vettel24.044 (2)27.122 (2)39.929 (1)
Kimi Raikkonen24.006 (1)27.109 (1)39.936 (2)
Valtteri Bottas24.312 (6)27.183 (3)40.035 (3)
Lewis Hamilton24.261 (4)27.262 (4)40.045 (4)
Max Verstappen24.171 (3)27.306 (5)40.254 (5)
Daniel Ricciardo24.308 (5)27.307 (6)40.281 (6)
Nico Hulkenberg24.470 (8)27.491 (7)40.352 (7)
Sergio Perez24.499 (10)27.739 (10)40.520 (10)
Carlos Sainz Jnr24.579 (12)27.686 (9)40.499 (8)
Romain Grosjean24.392 (7)27.607 (8)40.525 (11)
Kevin Magnussen24.564 (11)27.864 (13)40.499 (8)
Esteban Ocon24.481 (9)27.802 (11)40.774 (14)
Fernando Alonso24.628 (13)27.811 (12)40.705 (13)
Stoffel Vandoorne24.863 (16)27.979 (16)40.610 (12)
Brendon Hartley24.754 (14)27.869 (14)41.049 (16)
Sergey Sirotkin24.987 (18)27.902 (15)41.161 (17)
Pierre Gasly24.990 (19)27.997 (17)40.993 (15)
Lance Stroll25.045 (20)28.051 (18)41.189 (18)
Charles Leclerc24.907 (17)28.160 (19)41.315 (19)
Marcus Ericsson24.813 (15)28.220 (20)41.763 (20)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Sebastian VettelFerrariFerrari331.1 (205.7)
2Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes329.6 (204.8)-1.5
3Esteban OconForce IndiaMercedes328.2 (203.9)-2.9
4Romain GrosjeanHaasFerrari328.1 (203.9)-3.0
5Sergio PerezForce IndiaMercedes327.8 (203.7)-3.3
6Kimi RaikkonenFerrariFerrari327.7 (203.6)-3.4
7Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrari327.6 (203.6)-3.5
8Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes327.4 (203.4)-3.7
9Brendon HartleyToro RossoHonda325.3 (202.1)-5.8
10Fernando AlonsoMcLarenRenault325.3 (202.1)-5.8
11Charles LeclercSauberFerrari325.3 (202.1)-5.8
12Nico HulkenbergRenaultRenault324.8 (201.8)-6.3
13Marcus EricssonSauberFerrari324.3 (201.5)-6.8
14Stoffel VandoorneMcLarenRenault324.2 (201.4)-6.9
15Carlos Sainz JnrRenaultRenault323.6 (201.1)-7.5
16Pierre GaslyToro RossoHonda322.7 (200.5)-8.4
17Max VerstappenRed BullTAG Heuer321.9 (200.0)-9.2
18Daniel RicciardoRed BullTAG Heuer321.9 (200.0)-9.2
19Lance StrollWilliamsMercedes321.5 (199.8)-9.6
20Sergey SirotkinWilliamsMercedes320.3 (199.0)-10.8

Over to you

Who’s got the right strategy for the Chinese Grand Prix? Are we finally going to see what Red Bull can do?

Share your views on the Chinese Grand Prix in the comments.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

2018 Chinese Grand Prix

Browse all 2018 Chinese Grand Prix articles

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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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17 comments on “Are Red Bull really on the best strategy for Shanghai?”

  1. I hope the red bulls are able to mix things up a bit, because if Ferrari pull out and Mercedes play it safe we’re gonna have a bit of a dud. Good insight on the tire strategy.

  2. So what will Mercedes and Ferrair do? Softs and then mediums or will they do softs and try us till the end?
    I hope not, Mercedes don’t like ultras so we might have a race if its just soft and mediums.

  3. Is the sector times their best sector times over multiple laps?

  4. A pity that it will be another one stop race if we can believe Pirelli. Given the difficulties to overtake with these cars I think Merc and Ferrari have the best strategy. Even if Verstappen or Ricciardo succeed in overtaking all Mercs an Ferrari’s (highly unlikely), their tires will be gone by then.

  5. I really think Kimi if he goes shorter then Seb, has this finally. Seb has less wing, he’ll run into RBR and Bottas and will lose too much in S1 and S2 to get it. But Ferrari doesn’t want it so Lewis will actually come back. Seb runs too much wing in the rebalance, it will cause unbalance.
    Longer runs will be magical. Undercut will be great actually. You would need to finish on the US, not on the S.
    Temps will be lower but cloudless, so teams will not know the US life. That may give Vettel the edge, but I’m not keen on the high reputation of US degradation. Even the HS ran 5 laps with mediocre Renault. You can do more.

    Furthermore. I actually predict the STR to overtake the McLaren. Gasly needs to do a radio by then. I’ll pass out.

    1. @xiasitlo

      I really think Kimi if he goes shorter then Seb, has this finally.

      Yeah, well, that’d be an undercut. Considering the championship standings, Ferrari have zero reasons to do this.

      Seb has less wing

      He doesn’t. Someone thought the same last week around, because Vettel’s top speed in the speed trap was about 3 kph faster than Räikkönen’s.
      But that hardly makes sense, as that speed trap is reached with the DRS activated, so the difference between rear wing setups should be nullified …
      Also, I wonder why no one bothers to look at the other speed traps located at the end of each timing sector. Lookie there: 0.8 kph in Vettel’s favour at the end of sector one, 0.1 kph in Räikkönen’s favour at the end of sector 2, 0.5 kph in Vettel’s favour on the finish line.
      In other words: Their setups are identical. Again.

      1. I’ll explain some things in the post-race thread. But Seb does run lower wing.

        1. @xiasitlo
          I have to say I’m curious about that explanation, because the speed trap figures speak a pretty unequivocal language. Same car, same engine, same tyres, same speed trap figures – the only way I see to make that fit with Vettel having a skinnier wing would be to insinuate that Ferrari were trying to sabotage Vettel, but failed.

        2. @xiasitlo
          It’s been 9 days …

    2. I predict STR Honda will have a normal (for them) finish…well outside the top 10.
      I predict one of the McLaren’s will finish in the top 10.

      1. Yes, I wouldn’t go as far as predicting mclaren scoring points with both cars cause they’d obviously brake down to make our prediction not work, but I think on pace they should be able to get back to the points, and when toro rosso is fast in a weekend, I expect them to show it in qualifying already.

  6. Paul T Ortenburg
    15th April 2018, 1:23

    I predict VES will crash into somebody lap 1.. and given RIC luck lately he will be one of the people caught up in it, either directly or as a result of a collision ahead.

    1. Hopefully not, 2 races, something negative happened to both drivers every time, so we couldn’t see red bull’s real pace for long.

  7. If they had started on the first two rows, it could have worked for them. I remember it working for the frontrunners in a similar situation back in China 2013. They would pit after 5 laps or so, and put a set of softs on, but given the fact that their softs would be 7-8 laps newer that those who started on the tyre, they would start chipping away at the gap (provided they can clear traffic OK).

  8. Max and RIC will certainly go for some overtakes in the beginning of the race.

  9. Err, so the answer to the title’s question is… yes. :-)

Comments are closed.