Who will come out on top in Chinese Grand Prix?
Insight
Posted By: James Allen  |  16 Apr 2014   |  12:09 pm GMT  |  175 comments

The UBS Chinese Grand Prix is always an intriguing race and strategy has played a significant role in the outcome in recent years.

Overtaking is easy here because of the longest straight in F1 at 1.17km, so teams can plan for the fastest strategy knowing that traffic will not be a huge problem. That said, the speed differential between cars due to the new hybrid turbo engines, could see cars with less straight line speed struggle to pass midfield cars with good straightline speed.

Unlike many F1 venues, where protecting the rear tyres is key to success, Shanghai is all about getting the front tyres at the optimum temperature, especially for qualifying.

A significant percentage of the lap time in Shanghai is spent turning.

There are two unusual corners, Turn One and Turn 13, which are long and drawn-out, Turn One being a 270 degree, tightening corner. This overstresses the left front tyre and this is the limiting factor in any strategy plan. Teams have a limited scope for working on set ups for this kind of circuit situation, so there are always question marks about how competitive a team will be over a race distance.

So getting the strategy right with the correct set up and an optimized plan for how to deploy the two Pirelli tyre compounds, soft and medium, over the 56 laps is essential.

Tyre degradation is not as high at Shanghai as the recent Malaysian Grand Prix, for example and the temperatures are always cooler; usually around 20 degrees. There is a chance of rain forecast for the weekend.


Track characteristics

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.

Time spent braking: 15% of the lap. 8 braking zones. Brake wear: Medium.

Total time needed for pit stop: 22 seconds.

Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.34 seconds (average).


Form Guide

The UBS Chinese Grand Prix is the fourth round of the 2014 FIA F1 World Championship.

The season so far has been dominated by Mercedes, with pole position and victory in all three races. Mercedes powered cars have also performed well with Force India second in the Constructors’ Championship currently.

Red Bull and Ferrari have had mixed starts to the year and this weekend it will be important for both not to lose too much more ground to Mercedes before the European season starts next month. Renault says that its teams will be able to use the maximum potential of the engine this weekend for the first time, although still lacking power on the straights, it will make the engine more drivable, so the Red Bull should perform pretty well.

As far as drivers’ form is concerned at Shanghai; Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso have both won the race twice, while Nico Rosberg, Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel have also won in China.


Weather Forecast

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 temperature is forecast to be around 20 degrees, quite low by F1 standards and there is a threat of rain.


Likely tyre performance and other considerations

Pirelli tyre choice for Shanghai: Soft and Medium.

This is the third time in four races that this combination of tyres has been used; only Malaysia saw a different selection.

The medium tyre is designed for use in lower temperatures and the soft tyre in higher temperatures, so we could see some graining on the soft tyres this weekend, as the cold tyres slide across the track surface in the long corners.

As with the previous races this year, establishing the performance difference between the soft and medium tyres will be the key to race strategy. We’ve seen teams paying the price for not doing enough homework in Friday practice – Williams in Bahrain being a prime example.

This dictates not only the fastest strategy, but also how long the stint lengths should be.

Number and likely timing of pit stops

Last year’s race was won on three stops, the 2012 edition was won on two stops.

Depending on what Free Practice reveals in terms of relative tyre compound performance, pre race predictions generally show that two stops is slightly faster than three stops and gives a driver track position over his three stopping rival after the latter’s final stop. But the danger is that the two stopping driver would be vulnerable in the last few laps on worn tyres.

The key to making a two stop plan work is not leaving yourself too many laps to do at the end on worn tyres. Kimi Raikkonen fell foul of this memorably with Lotus in 2012 and dropped out of contention in the closing laps. This year’s more robust tyres show a slight tendency towards one less stop than 2013, so China will be an interesting strategy challenge for teams.

While Mercedes have the upper hand at the moment and seem to be able to do the race on the minimum number of stops, Ferrari and Williams have higher degradation and it is hurting their race potential, despite both being among the faster cars in qualifying.

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

Getting a good start can make a huge difference to the way the strategy is managed and the final result, while a poor start compromises a race and makes it harder for the strategy engineers. As far as 2014 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season as follows:

Gained places

12- Ericsson
11 – Bottas
7 Massa
6 Hulkenberg
4 – Kobayashi, Sutil, Maldonado
3- Chilton, Ricciardo, Bianchi, Gutierrez
2 – Rosberg

Net Held position
Alonso, Button [Perez– see Notes]

Lost places

10 – Vergne
4 – Vettel, Kvyat
2 – Raikkonen, Hamilton
1 Grosjean, Magnussen

Melbourne Notes: Kobayashi, Massa eliminated in a first corner accident; Perez, Gutierrez pitted at the end of Lap 1; Bianchi, Grosjean started from pit lane.
Malaysia Notes: Perez started from pit lane, Bianchi pitted at the end of lap 1
Bahrain notes: Vergne pitted at the end of lap 1 after contact


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, although this year the emphasis is on trouble free stops and consistency rather than the fastest outright stops.

The league table below shows the order of the pit crews based on their fastest time in the recent Bahrain Grand Prix, from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it.

1. Force India 24.440 seconds
2. Ferrari 24.457
3. McLaren 24.476
4. Williams 24.528
5. Mercedes 24.687
6. Red Bull 24.706
7. Lotus 25.032
8. Sauber 25.293
9. Toro Rosso 25.345
10. Caterham 25.367
11. Marussia 25.383


The UBS Race Strategy Briefing is written by James Allen with input and data from several F1 team strategists and from Pirelli.

For a useful at a glance info graphic with all the key considerations for the race, click here Infographic

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1

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2
kenneth chapman

With the margins enjoyed by mercedes during the first three races it is almost impossible not to believe that they will again dominate this race.

they will debut the new nose cone which by all accounts is radically different to the stop gap unit previously used.This, i have read, will give them another performance lift. If so then they may well be unbeatable.

the third place and beyond is where it becomes difficult to predict. i somehow feel as though vettel will do well here and ricci/bottas/magnussen/hulkenberg/perez will all be duking it out for the last points paying positions.

i would also very much doubt that we will get a replay of the last ten laps at bahrein or anything like it. that was a unique set of events that came together and i feel unlikely to occur any time soon.

3

I think victory will be served to Rosberg on a silver plate this weekend — for “the team work” much appricaited by Toto Wolff in Bahrain. By the way, would Rosberg on soft tires have had a chance to challenge Hamilton back in Bahrain if there was no Saftey Car?

4

I will be watching who is ahead of its driver compatriot in same team.

This is the best comparison of drivers in same machinery.

Safety car specially in later stages of race might be a lottery for some teams.

5

Presumably… the statistic of “Full throttle for 55% of the lap” was based on last year’s data? I’m guessing that this year’s power units will need more nursing round the track?

6

I think rosberg will win this and maybe a couple more races in the rest of the season (ala webber and barrichello) with hamilton taking the lions share of victories where merc dominate

7

Gotta love it that Maldonado has come out saying the drivers penalty system will ruin racing

http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/113501

Hahahaha – maybe it will for you pastor!

8

We’re really talking about who will be P3 yes?

Button or Ricciardo are the most likely contenders on pace if not results in the first 3 races.

9

Let’s not forget what Nico Rosberg said at the start of the season: speeds on the back straight could even be higher than in the V8 era. So those guys at the back need to be careful… all those renault guys.

10

China is turning into a good example about how you shouldn’t write a circuit off. It seems to be becoming quite a popular event, with a good local fanbase. Also it’s given us some pretty good races; before Bahrain 2 weeks ago, I’d say China 2011 was the best dry race in recent times. 2007 and 2006 were also hugely dramatic developments in tight title battles.

If there is a criticism it is that this is arguably this is one circuit where DRS doesn’t cover itself in glory because if anything it makes the overtaking too easy. Either way though the races tend to be pretty good and it’s carving a nice niche for itself.

The race will either be Rosberg’s or Hamilton’s barring a surprise event. More likely to back Hamilton in the wet, but 50-50 in the dry. Behind them will be really interesting – who’ll have the upper hand this weekend?

11

When I say “dry race” I also mean “dry qualifying”, which means I’m excluding the 2005 Japanese GP (a dry race which followed a wet qualifying) from my definition.

12

Probably the question to be asked should be “Who will come out third?”

13

James,

It’s a tiny point, and I love the pre brief analysis – but the circuit map shows them only using 7th gear at the end of the straight – surely it will be all 8 gears this year?

14

Has the title of this story been translated from Chinese? Surely it should be “Who will come out on top in THE Chinese Grand Prix”?

15

have you never made a mistake?

16

Have you ever had a sense of humour…?

17

yes…..

18

Hi James, can you explain the differance why the Mercs have such a power advantage over Renault and Ferrari Engines please?? Seems that the top runners are good with Aero, but the power differential is costing us the viewer of great races, there is fantastic racing from P3 onwards. I guess if you can answer this you will be hired by Renault…HEHEHE…Cheers

19
Craig in Manila

Who will come out on top in the Chinese GP ??

Seriously, seems like a pointless question/exercise as it’s kinda hard to imagine that the Merc Factory Team will have suddenly lost the massive advantage that they have over the other teams.

20

Some miscellaneous stats:

i) Since 1995, the only drivers to have won 3 consecutive races are Damon, Schumi, Alonso, Jenson and Vettel.

ii) Only once since Red Bull’s good run begun in 2010 has the team failed to win for a run of 4 races – German GP to Italian GP of 2012 – but they stand on the brink of that this weekend

iii) Ferrari have gone 17 races without a win, their worst drought since 1995/1996.

iv) Mclaren are now 21 races without a win, their worst run since 2003/2004 when they went 27 races without success.

21

McLaren’s worst droughts (GP’s are the bookend wins of each drought):

53 GP’s; JAP’77-GBR’81; 3 yrs 8 mos 25 days

49 GP’s; AUS’93-AUS’97; 3 yrs 4 mos  2 days

27 GP’s; MAL’03-BEL’04; 1 yr  5 mos  6 days

25 GP’s; MEX’69-ZAF’72; 2 yrs 4 mos 14 days

20 GP’s; JAP’05-MAL’07; 1 yr  5 mos 30 days

goferet, you forgot Hakkinen winning three straight from EUR’97-BRA’98.

22
Alexander Supertramp

Well, Brazil 2012-… is still counting. 22 gp’s without a win?

23

Yes indeed. Sorry, didn’t include the present drought in there, b/c goferet touched on it. And yes, it’s 22 (not 21). Their present drought (to Apr 18th) in terms of time is 1 yr 4 mos 24 days.

24
Alexander Supertramp

what’s the longest period without a win for Ferrari?

25

3 years, 10 months and a day. 59 Grands Prix, between Spain 1990 and Germany 1994.

26

59 Grands Prix, between Spain 1990 and Germany 1994. 3 years, 10 months and a day.

27

I’m surprised at Redbull’s pit stop times.

James are they one off pits stops or the average times?

Wow Force India, great job.

28

Fastest stop in Bahrain

They’ve been faster at other events

29

Dunno the order with the Mercs but prepare for them to be split by Vettel…….

30

? pick your poison.

31

Off topic sorry but I read F1 is considering bringing back active suspension 2017 how cool is that!!!!

Imagine the cornering speeds with the power units, mind you i also read the move is intended to replace other expense e.g removal of complex wings, so downforce maybe lost in other areas

32
Clarks4WheelDrift

Did Patrick Head suggest that…

Prost to come out of retirement with the Williams ’93?

33

That will save costs….not!

34

If active is back, perhaps Our Nige could make a comeback? He was mega in that 1992 FW14B! Nigel was taking Copse corner at Silverstone an amazing 25 MPH FASTER than his team mate Mr Patrese during qualifying for the 1992 BRIT GP!

35

Haha exactly…

36

James, looking at the track map, how accurate it is?

Particularly wondering why the DRS 1 zone is so far down the straight, and if those speeds and gear diagrams on the back straight are right.

37

The straight is so long that to have DRS available for the entire length is too much of an advantage.

Although, it is one of the longest detection-to-activation distances on the calendar.

38

It would take a brave (or foolish) man to bet on anything other than a Mercedes win!

39

LH to win. Nico to dnf

40

could be the other way around.

41

I agree. Not sure why, this is just the result I’m anticipating.

42

Mercedes

43

i hope nature takes it course and the winner is peppered in respect while the losers are peppered in sympathy.

44

… and Maldanado is peppered in carbon fibre.

Actually, I wish no ill of Maldanado, I just wish he’d take responsibility for some of his actions occasionally… a small wisp of smoke from the E22’s brakes would have been a nice thing to see as Esteban Gutierrez went airborne.

45

he’s teflon.

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