There are no prizes for guessing what the main talking point is in Formula One as the paddock rocks up in China this weekend for the third round of the season.
Sebastian Vettel’s decision to disobey the now infamous ‘Multi 21’ instruction from his Red Bull team in Malaysia is still fresh in the memory, and following comments from the world champion on Thursday that he would do the same thing again if given the chance, it is a row that is set to rumble on and on.
Vettel comes to Shanghai as the championship leader, the seven points he gained by passing Mark Webber last time out enough to take him to the top of the standings. With his main rivals Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso having poor races in Sepang, it has put him in an ideal position at this early stage in the season.
However, two wet qualifying sessions and the unpredictable 2013 tyres from Pirelli mean that, despite already being two races into the new season, we still don’t have a full idea of who has the quickest car.
Raikkonen won the season opener in Melbourne, but he did so mainly through managing his Lotus’ tyres better than anyone else. Alonso’s Ferrari had looked equally as impressive on raw pace as the Lotus in that race, but his retirement early on in Malaysia means we don’t know how well the Scuderia would have fared compared to the Red Bulls, who apart from the tyre-eating Mercedes had no serious challengers for the win in Sepang.
You also have McLaren to throw into the mix. After looking dreadful in Melbourne, their race pace in Malaysia was a marked improvement. They claim to have found what is stopping their new car from showing its true potential, which means we could well be seeing them take another step closer to the front of the field this weekend.
Dry weather is forecast for the whole of the Chinese Grand Prix weekend, which means that track conditions should be at their best. The nature of the Shanghai circuit favours cars that have strong aerodynamic and mechanical grip, so the teams with the best all-round packages should stand out here.
The result of both good weather and a track that is a good ‘all-rounder’ is that this weekend will give us the best idea yet of who has the strongest package on a Sunday, and after two exciting races to start the season, we should be set for another thriller in China.
A fixture on the Formula One calendar since 2004, the Chinese Grand Prix has produced many a fine race over the last decade, with moments such as Michael Schumacher’s final Formula One victory in 2006, Lewis Hamilton’s gravel trap calamity in 2007 and Red Bull’s first ever win in the pouring rain of 2009 marking it out as an event with a history of producing excitement.
The race has not been without its faults however. Attendances have generally been poor over the years, an unforgivable fact in a country that is home to more than a billion people, and the Shanghai International Circuit is hardly likely to trouble a list of a motorsport fan’s top ten venues.
Despite that, you’d be hard pressed to find a boring race that has been held here, and rain has regularly played a part in the narrative of several of the circuit’s nine Grands Prix. If you want a race that is guaranteed to provide excitement, then China is definitely one to go on the ‘recommended’ list.
Designed by Hermann Tilke, the Shanghai International Circuit is a 3.4-mile track that is renowned for its long, sweeping bends and large back straight, which offers one of the best overtaking points on the entire Grand Prix calendar.
The circuit was designed in the shape of the Chinese letter Shang following a request from the race organisers’, which when you consider the symbol looks like this (上), represents a decent effort at producing a world class Formula One venue.
The lap begins on the start-finish straight, before the field enter the never-ending first corner, which turns right, and right, and right, before eventually dropping off and feeding into a slow left-hander, which requires good handling through the apex and strong traction on exit.
The cars then accelerate through several flat-out bends before the hairpin at turn six, which offers an overtaking opportunity for those who are brave on the brakes. Good traction is required again for the exit, as the cars accelerate before the sweeping left-right chicane at turns seven and eight, which is another part of the circuit that seems to go on forever.
Turns nine and ten are a pair of slow left-handers, before the pack come into another short straight, with passing a slight possibility for the daring into turn 11, which is a second-gear left. This is followed immediately by the long, banked right at turn 12, and is one of the most testing parts of the circuit for the cars, with good aerodynamic grip a requirement in order for the driver to get the best possible run onto the long back straight.
And long it is, 1.2km in fact. It allows the drivers the best chance to relax on this demanding circuit, whilst at the same time giving them an ideal opportunity to get a run on the car in front before turn 14, which is the slowest corner on the track, a tight first gear hairpin, which means overtaking is rife through here.
The cars need good traction on acceleration out of this corner, which leads onto another short straight before the fast, and very difficult, left-hander at turn 16, which brings the cars back to the finish line to start another lap.
Location: Shanghai, China
First Race: 2004
Track Length: 3.387 miles/5.451 km
2012 Winner: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) – 1:32.238 (2004)
2012 – Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2011 – Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes)
2010 – Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes)
2009 – Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull-Renault)
2008 – Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes)
2007 – Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
2006 – Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)
2005 – Fernando Alonso (Renault)
2004 – Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari)