Next weekend is the Chinese Grand Prix at Shanghai. Strategy decisions for this race are always on a knife edge; there are several ways to do the race, especially with the cars being close together on performance this year and with the two Pirelli tyre compounds also being close on performance.
And after what happened in Malaysia, teams will be working hard in Friday practice to understand how the tyres are likely to perform on long runs and in qualifying. This year getting the right car set up to deal with both is proving very tricky, largely thanks to the banning of the blown diffuser. Teams have lost more downforce and rear end stability as a result of that, than they imagined.
The first sector of the Shanghai lap features a series of slow corners, Turn one being a long, 270 degree tightening corner. Sector two features Shanghai’s only medium and high speed corners, Turns 7 & 8 as well as a pair of slow left handers. Then Sector three is a long sector with three tight corners and one of the longest straights on the F1 calendar.
In comparison to the first two venues of the season, the lower temperatures will be comparable to Melbourne, while the track is between Melbourne and Sepang in terms of the tyre wear and degradation.
Once you’ve read all about the considerations the teams will go through when deciding their plans for the race, you can try to find the fastest way to do the race using our Race Strategy Calculator. Click here to use it. Strategy Calculator
Shanghai International Circuit; 5.45 kilometres. Race distance: 56 laps = 305 kilometres, 16 corners in total, a mixture of slow, medium and fast
Aerodynamic setup – Medium/high downforce. Top speed 322km/h (with Drag Reduction System on rear wing) – 310km/h without.
Full throttle – 55% of the lap. Total fuel needed for race distance: 148 kilos.
Time spent braking: 14% of the lap. 8 braking zones. Brake wear: Medium.
Loss time for a Pit stop = 17.5 seconds
Total time needed for pit stop: 21 seconds.
Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.34 seconds (average). Fuel consumption: 2.55 kg/lap
The UBS Chinese Grand Prix is the third round of the 2012 FIA F1 World Championship.
The first two races of the season saw McLaren dominate in Australia, with Malaysia hard to draw many conclusions from due to changeable weather conditions, although Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso won the race from Sauber’s Sergio Perez.
The McLaren continues to be the fastest car in the field, with the Red Bull faster in race conditions than in qualifying and the Mercedes being the opposite. The W Duct drag reduction system on the Mercedes is likely to work to optimum effect on Shanghai’s long straight and Mercedes must be considered a contender for pole position. But the high tyre wear will knock them back a little in the race.
As far as drivers’ form is concerned at Shanghai, Lewis Hamilton is the only driver to have won the race twice, there are five other previous winners in the field; Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel.
It can often been overcast and cold in Shanghai and rain is quite common. The 2010 event was held in wet conditions, as was the 2009 edition. The race starts at 1500hrs local time. The ambient temperatures are forecast to be around 18-20 degrees, quite low by F1 standards.
Likely tyre performance and other considerations
Pirelli tyre choice for Shanghai: Soft and Medium.
Last year’s Chinese Grand Prix was one of the most exciting from a strategy point of view and all the signs are that this year will be the same. The difference in performance between the soft and medium tyre is projected to be just 0.3secs/lap, much less than last year.
Last year in China we saw different strategies being used by the podium finishers. Lewis Hamilton won the race by stopping three times and crucial to this was saving a new set of soft tyres by not doing a second run in Qualifying 3. Sebastian Vettel paid the price of stopping just twice, while Mark Webber came through from 18th to 3rd with a counter strategy of running three stops using the harder tyre first.
There are more high energy corners in Shanghai than in Melbourne, but not as many as in Sepang and the temperatures will be much lower so this should mean that the tyre degradation is more normal. There is a huge stop into turn 1, with a 6g deceleration; one of the toughest of the year on the tyres.
However with the performance of the cars so close together, getting the right compromise on set up between qualifying and the race will be vital. With the banning of Exhaust Blown Diffusers, the teams have lost more downforce at the rear of the car than they expected and this is leading to problems trading off qualifying pace and race pace. The tyres seem to have a sweet spot and at the moment it is teams like Sauber and Williams who seem to be finding it more than the big teams. This will change with more running. Teams will be using Friday’s practice sessions in China to understand the best way to work the tyres for single lap pace and race pace.
Number and likely timing of pit stops
Last season three stops was the way to go and the pre-race expectations are the same for this year. The winning strategy last year was to stop on lap 15 for soft tyres; Lap 25 for soft tyres and Lap 38 for harder tyres. However with the gaps between the tyres being much less this year, teams will use Friday practice to assess tyre performance and the exact difference between strategies.
Chance of a safety car
The chance of a safety car at Shanghai is reasonably high, at 43% and there is an average of 0.7 safety cars per race. In the 2005 and 2010 races there were 2 safety car periods
Recent start performance of drivers
As far as 2012 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season as follows:
+8 Massa, Perez
+7 Alonso, Glock
+3 Rosberg, Hulkenberg
+2 Vettel, Di Resta
+1 Button, Schumacher*, Petrov, Karthikeyan
-1 Hamilton, Vergne, De la Rosa
-3 Grosjean**, Webber
* Senna, Ricciardo and Hulkenberg were all involved in accidents on 1st lap in Australia
** Schumacher and Grosjean collided on Lap 1 in Malaysia, Senna and Perez pitted for wet tyres on opening lap
Pit Stop League Table
Of course good strategy planning also requires good pit stop execution by the mechanics and we have seen tyre stops carried out in less than two and a half seconds by F1 teams.
The league table below shows the order of the pit crews based on their fastest time in the most recent dry race, Australia, from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it. The 2011 league table positions are in brackets.
1. Ferrari 21.910s (5)
2. McLaren 22.837s (3)
3. Red Bull 22.915s (1=)
4. Mercedes 23.017 (1=)
5. Williams 23.166 (7)
6. Toro Rosso 23.257 (8=)
7. Lotus 23.310 (6)
8. Sauber 23.832 (8=)
9. Caterham 24.397 (8=)
10. Force India 24.579 (4)
11. Marussia 25.046 (11)
* HRT did not qualify for the Australian Grand Prix
The Race Strategy Briefing is written by James Allen with input and data from the strategists of several F1 teams and from Pirelli. Now try to find the fastest way to do the race using our Race Strategy Calculator. Click here to use it. Strategy Calculator