Reports

Chinese F1 Grand Prix

Chinese Grand Prix - Preview

Circuit stats
2015 winner Lewis Hamilton, 56 laps, 1:39:42.008s
2015 pole position Lewis Hamilton, 1m35.782s
Name Shanghai International Circuit
First race 2004
Circuit length 5.451km/3.387 miles (10th longest track of the year)
Distance to Turn One 380m/0.236 miles (longest of season: Barcelona, 730m/0.454 miles)
Longest straight 1.17km/0.727 miles (the longest of season)
Top speed 340km/h/211mph, on the approach to Turn 14 (fastest of season: Monza, 350km/h/217mph)
Pitlane length 351m/0.218 miles, estimated time loss 21s (longest of season: Silverstone, 457m/0.283 miles)
Full throttle 55 per cent (highest of season: Monza, 75 per cent)
DRS zones Two, on the approaches to Turns One and 14
Key corner Turn One, a 270-degree right-hander through which the cars slow from 300km/h (186mph) at the end of the pit straight down to 50km/h (31mph) at the apex. Huge amounts of energy are put through the front-left tyre as a result.
Fastest corner 220km/h (137mph), Turn 13
Slowest corner 65km/h (40mph), Turn 14
Major changes for 2016 None
Fuel consumption 1.7kg per lap, making it not quite as critical as the last race in Bahrain
ERS demands Low
Brake wear Medium. There are eight big stops from high speed, but the long straights help to cool the brakes.
Gear changes 51 per lap/2856 per race Gear changes 51 per lap/2856 per race
Circuit facts
History lesson Built on marshland that was deemed unsuitable for housing, the Shanghai International Circuit is one of the most impressive purpose-built Formula 1 facilities in the world. It cost $450m to construct and the 5.451km/3.387-mile layout is shaped like the Chinese character ‘shang’, which stands for ‘high’ or ‘above’, and the team buildings resemble the ancient Yuyan-Garden in Shanghai.
What makes the track unique The combination of one very long back straight – the longest of the entire season – and a couple of 270-degree corners that put a lot of energy through the tyres. Car set-up is a delicate compromise between straight-line speed and cornering grip.
Grip levels Medium. The circuit isn’t used much during the year, so there’s quite a lot of track evolution during the weekend as rubber is laid down. Last year the lap time improvement was 3.3s from the beginning to the end of the weekend.
Run-off Substantial. This track was designed by Hermann Tilke and Peter Wahl, the creative brains behind the F1 tracks in Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and Malaysia – all of which have substantial run-off areas. The Shanghai International Circuit is no different.
Watch out for… The weather. It’s fair to expect a range of temperatures and conditions over the course of the weekend.

The drivers on: the circuit

#14 Fernando Alonso

“The Chinese Grand Prix is always a little bit of an unknown: the weather is often changeable as it’s spring time in Shanghai and the temperatures can often fluctuate, which influences the car’s set-up and balance over the course of the weekend. Track temperatures will be much cooler than what we saw in Bahrain, which means keeping heat in the tyres is harder to maintain, so we’ll need to focus this weekend on optimising our set-up for the variable conditions.

“The track itself features a challenging mix of corners, and the two long, fast right-handers place a lot of wear on the tyres, especially the front left. It can therefore place huge emphasis on tyre wear and graining, so it’s important we get the tyres working properly from the start of every stint so we can manage them during the race and get the best out of them. The circuit is fun to drive, and there are some fun, high-speed sections around the back, so I’m excited to see what our chassis and power unit are capable of there this year.”

#22 Jenson Button

“The Shanghai International Circuit has an interesting mix of requirements – quite a few slow- and medium-speed corners, which are followed by two very long straights – one being 1.17km (0.727 miles), and the longest of the season. That places a lot of stress on both the tyres and the power unit, but I’m hopeful that with this year’s package, we won’t suffer as much on this track as we have done previously. The key will be preparation and set-up: getting the aero balance right from Friday onwards, and getting on top of the tyre wear with every new set.

“This won’t be an easy race for us – the conditions will be very different to Australia and Bahrain – but it’ll be good for us to test the characteristics of the MP4-31 there, and understand as much as we can about how it behaves on this sort of track and with the cooler temperatures. It’s important we gather as much information as possible and take into account all variables as we visit each circuit, so that we can adapt this for grands prix later on in the year. It’s a long season, and we’re looking for improvements and progress at every race.”

Event stats
Start time 14:00hrs local/07:00hrs BST
Race distance 56 laps (full world championship points will be awarded after 75 per cent distance/42 laps)
Safety Car likelihood 45 per cent. The substantial run-off areas make it relatively easy to remove stranded cars.
When to press record Don’t miss the start. Making consistent getaways has proved tougher than expected this year, since Formula 1 reverted to a single clutch, and that will make the drag to Turn One in China more exciting than ever.
Don’t put the kettle on When the race reaches laps in the mid-teens and mid-30s. These were the two pitstop windows for the top 10 cars in last year’s race. Sergio Perez was the first three-stopper to finish, in 11th place.
Weather conditions now 19 degrees and cloudy
Race forecast 22 degrees, but there’s a chance of rain over the weekend. Fifty per cent of Chinese Grands Prix have been rain-affected.
Tyre choices Supersoft/Soft/Medium, which are the same as at the opening two races of the season
Event facts
First Chinese Grand Prix 2004.
Slogan There’s no official slogan for the race, but Shanghai is known as “The Paris of the East”.
China’s F1 heritage The Shanghai International Circuit has hosted the Chinese Grand Prix every year since 2004, prior to which the sport didn’t have much of a foothold in China. The Zhuhai International Circuit, in the south-east of the country, hosted international sportscar races, but it took the construction of a bespoke F1 track to allow the sport to build a fanbase. Shanghai is an ideal host city; it’s the financial capital of China and it’s the only city in China to have two international airports.
Smallest winning margin 0.714s, in 2015. The Mercedes drivers finished 1-2, but Nico Rosberg accused his victorious team-mate Lewis Hamilton of backing him into the clutches of Sebastian Vettel in third place – hence the small winning margin.
Sporting legacy: The Beijing Olympics in 2008 did a lot to raise China’s sporting profile, and the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022 will surely build on that momentum. The popularity of motorsport is growing year-on-year, largely thanks to the grand prix in Shanghai, and Ma Qinghua was the first racing driver to become a household name, when he took part in first practice for the 2012 Italian Grand Prix for HRT.
Did you know? The grandstand opposite the pits has seating for 30,000 people.
Don’t forget McLaren has won the Chinese Grand Prix three times.
Fan zone: Jed, aged 22, from Austin, Texas, asks: “How did F1 debutant Stoffel Vandoorne celebrate his points finish at the Bahrain Grand Prix?”
McLaren-Honda's answer: “Like everyone in the team, Stoff was delighted by the result in Bahrain. There was an impromptu celebration when he got back to our hospitality unit after the race, but such is the incessant nature of F1 that he was on a flight back to the UK early the next morning, ready to work in the simulator. Our preparations for the Chinese Grand Prix wait for no man!”

The drivers on: the event

#14 Fernando Alonso

“It was disappointing to be told I couldn’t race in Bahrain, but I fully respected the decision of the FIA medical team. While I hope I’ll be back in the cockpit on Friday, until I get the all-clear from the doctors to race – whenever that may be – we cannot assume anything, but I’m continuing to prepare for the race weekend as normal.

“Stoffel did a great job in Bahrain, and although Jenson suffered reliability issues, it was positive to see that both cars ran quite strongly during the weekend. It was also interesting for me to see the race weekend unfold from a different perspective, which helped me to understand everything that goes into getting the cars on track and learn a lot about the different processes, although I’d still prefer to be racing! I’ve always enjoyed driving in China – I’ve won there twice before – and I hope we’ll be able to have some good battles on track and see more progress this weekend.”

#22 Jenson Button

“The Bahrain race weekend was bittersweet on my side of the garage. We definitely saw another step in the car’s performance from Australia as we keep learning more about the handling and characteristics of the car, and bring new upgrades to each grand prix. Friday practice was a real positive, but unfortunately we couldn’t make it stick in qualifying and then suffered reliability issues in the race. Saying that, until the point when we lost power, the car had felt very good, and I’m hopeful that we can continue that momentum in Shanghai and make th­­­e most of the package we have.

“As always though, we need to work hard on our reliability. We’ve definitely seen an improvement in that area, but anything less than 100 per cent is never enough, and it’s important we take advantage of our progress to bring home the points we deserve and have something to show for all of our efforts. The Chinese Grand Prix is a very different challenge from the past two races, and I’ve enjoyed racing there in the past. My victory there in 2010 was very memorable and a great race – it just shows how the changeable conditions can really mix things up – so I hope we can enjoy some more good racing there this weekend, and most importantly, see the chequered flag.”

Hear from the management

Eric Boullier

 

“While we definitely saw a reassuring improvement in our performance in Bahrain, we cannot take anything for granted, and it’s imperative that we don’t waste opportunities to score valuable points due to lack of reliability, as we saw at the last race. At the very least, we must learn from every situation, and in the case of Jenson’s power unit issue, we’ve done so, so we go to China with continued optimism that we can try to maximise the potential of our package.

“Despite the decision from the FIA medical team that Fernando was not able to race, the team prepared admirably for the weekend, and Stoffel did a fantastic job to score his and the team’s first championship point of the year, in his debut grand prix. Once again, Stoffel will be on standby until Fernando has his routine meeting with FIA doctors on Thursday, and until then we will be readying ourselves as normal. Fernando has been recuperating at home and training as usual, and we, like him, hope to see him back in the car. We’ll accept the outcome – whatever that may be – and plan accordingly.

“Next weekend will also see the return of the 2015 qualifying format, which is certainly a positive step for the fans and will hopefully offer a more watchable, engaging qualifying process than the interim solution we saw at the last couple of races. Operationally, the McLaren-Honda team will adapt in our usual way and make the most of the track time and resources available to us in each session. Tyres and power units will be the big talking points this weekend on this challenging, but nonetheless varied and interesting Shanghai International Circuit, so set-up, management and reliability will be key to ensuring we achieve our potential in China.”

Yusuke Hasegawa

“As we saw from Stoffel's pace in Bahrain, we have surely come a long way since last year. We still need a bit more overall package performance to tackle the long, one-kilometre straight in Shanghai, but it’s reassuring to know that we’re heading in the right direction.

“There was a mechanical issue on Jenson's ICE which we will replace for the upcoming race weekend. The situation has been thoroughly investigated, and will be rectified in all future engines to be used.”

Chinese Grand Prix - Practice report

“I’ve really missed driving the car in the last 26 days!”

 

A hard-to-read day of practice. The morning session was punctuated by two red-flag stoppages, one of which required lengthy cleaning of the track. The afternoon was spent coping with tyre management issues as the Supersoft tyre proved prone to both graining and overheating.  Neither driver was completely satisfied with the balance of MP4-31, and our aim for tomorrow is to deliver both a more driveable package and a car that is easier on its tyres.  Fernando was given a further assessment by the FIA doctors following FP1, and has been given the go-ahead to continue with his programme for the weekend.

FERNANDO ALONSO, MP4-31-02
FP1 1m40.538s (+2.501s) 11 laps 12th
FP2 1m38.728s (+1.832s) 31 laps 11th

“I’ve really missed driving the car in the last 26 days!

“But I felt good today. There’s still a little bit of pain, because the rib hasn’t completely recovered since the fracture, which is normal. But that pain is definitely manageable.

“Today, it was important to get a good read on the tyres because tomorrow it is forecast to rain. So today might be our only chance to test the dry tyres ahead of Sunday.

“We’re happy with today’s results, but we still need to find an optimal balance for the dry: we’re missing a little bit of traction and rear-end grip, so we need to make a few changes to be more competitive.

“If it’s wet tomorrow in qualifying, we’ll try to do our best, but our priority is focusing on performance for Sunday.”

JENSON BUTTON, MP4-31-03
FP1 1m39.974s (+1.937s) 11 laps 8th
FP2 1m38.828s (+1.932s) 28 laps 12th

“I think everyone is struggling a bit with tyre graining and overheating – the minimum pressures are very high, so it’s tough for everyone out there. Also, the tyres overheat quite quickly, which becomes an issue to manage – particularly on the longer runs.

“There’s still room to improve the set-up, but I think we may be a bit more competitive than we look.

“I’d welcome a wet qualifying if it mixes things up. If it’s dry tomorrow, I think we’ll be knocking on the door of the top 10 – we might even get through – and, if it’s mixed, you can make a big mistake and get it wrong, or you can get a break and get it very right. I’d go for taking the risk!”

ERIC BOULLIER

 

“The two red-flag stoppages in FP1 certainly limited our capacity for significant learning this morning, and consequently shifted the emphasis to this afternoon’s session. In FP2, pleasingly, we were able to rack up a significant number of laps – but I’d stop short of stating that we’re satisfied with our day.

“Neither Jenson nor Fernando declared themselves perfectly pleased with the balance of their cars, yet we feel we’ve got a decent handle on the direction we ought to take with regard to set-up ahead of tomorrow’s final practice and qualifying sessions.

“This afternoon’s running also demonstrated that the weekend may be characterised by tyre-management issues. We feel well equipped to handle that particular challenge, and we’re consequently gearing up for an interesting but demanding Chinese Grand Prix.”

YUSUKE HASEGAWA

 

“It was a difficult Friday to gauge the performance of the overall package, as it was heavily influenced by which tyre teams chose to run within each session. Where we ended up in the timing sheet was not as good as expected, but I think that if we can manage the tyres well for the remainder of the weekend, we can have a more stable race

“Hopefully we can find a good balance early on in FP3 to help our preparations for qualifying and the race on Sunday. The weather is also forecasted to be wet tomorrow, so it will add another challenging element to the day.”

Chinese Grand Prix - Qualifying Report

"It’s undeniable that we’re very much a team on the move"

 

This afternoon’s Chinese Grand Prix Q1 session was red-flagged following an accident that befell Pascal Wehrlein on one of the damp patches underneath the two start-line bridges, resulting in the session being delayed in order to dry the track. 

At the restart, both Fernando Alonso’s and Jenson Button’s first runs were fast enough to see them through into Q2, but both drivers also began second runs in order safely to make the Q2 ‘cut’. Jenson completed his second run, setting the fourth fastest time; Fernando, who left the garage behind Jenson, was able to abort his flying lap and save his tyres for Q2.

Another red-flag stoppage in the closing minutes of Q2 left both drivers unable to set representative times. Both had set a Q2 banker lap on used Supersoft rubber, but were then unable to finish their flying laps on fresh rubber owing to the red flag.

They qualified 12th (Fernando) and 13th (Jenson), but gain a place each due to a three-place grid penalty for Nico Hulkenberg.

FERNANDO ALONSO

MP4-31-02
FP3 16th No time , 3 laps
Q1 15th 1m38.451s (on Options)
Q2 12th overall 1m38.826s (on Options)
Q3 - -

“I think both Jenson and I could have got through to Q3 today: we had the pace, and we had been saving tyres and engine ready to go for it… until the red flag ended the session.

“It was massively frustrating not to be able to complete my final lap in Q2 – there really was a lot of potential in the car today.

“Let’s put it into further perspective: not too many races ago, we were just making it into Q2, now we’re frustrated not to be in Q3. That’s definitely a good direction in which to be heading.

“Finally, I slept like a baby last night: 10 hours without waking up once. Today I was full of energy. When I’m in the car, I still feel a small something through the corners and over the bumps, but I didn’t take any pain-killers today.”

Jenson Button

MP4-31-03
FP3 15th No time, 3 laps
Q1 4th 1m37.593s (on Options)
Q2 13th overall 1m39.093s (on Options)
Q3 - -

“Ironically, although it was neither successful nor popular, the qualifying system we used in the first two races of the year would probably have been better for us today!

“However, it’s just one of those things: we ran used Options [tyres] for our first Q2 run, then we waited until the circuit was at its best before fitting new tyres. Like a few others, we were caught out by the Q2 red flag, which was frustrating.

“Being just outside the top 10 has its positive side though: we can choose our starting tyre, and there are plenty of options with the three different compounds.

“The damp patch in Q1 was a little bit scary on slick tyres – I think a lot of people therefore kept their DRS closed, which is what we did. You don’t have any control of the car in those situations, but I still don’t think we needed the red flag.

“And, by the way, in the next few races, we will get through to Q3!”

ERIC BOULLIER - Racing director, McLaren-Honda

“It’s a telling testament to our hearteningly inexorable advancement that, after qualifying today, we find ourselves disappointed not to have made it through to Q3 with either car.

“Undoubtedly, but for the red flag triggered by Nico’s [Hulkenberg] mishap, both Fernando and Jenson would have been comfortably inside the top 10.

“So, although we’re always wary of over-promising, it’s undeniable that we’re a team very much on the move.

“Working hard, together with Honda, we’re getting there; and, what’s more, we’re enjoying the journey.”

YUSUKE HASEGAWA - Honda R&D head of F1 project & executive chief engineer

“Though FP3 was a mixed session due to the changing weather conditions, the team was able to setup the car nicely for this afternoon’s qualifying.

Throughout both Q1 and Q2 sessions, we were able show the potential of the car, and both Fernando and Jenson were looking strong contenders for Q3.

Therefore, it was massively disappointing to see both cars having to abort their final flying laps through no fault of their own. Tomorrow’s weather looks to be stable and dry, so hopefully we can show our race pace and finish in the points.”

Chinese Grand Prix - Race Report

"It was fun racing the quicker cars today"

 

Despite showing flashes of pace throughout the weekend, both drivers able to push hard inside the top 10, we finished the Chinese Grand Prix just out of the points – in 12th (Fernando Alonso) and 13th (Jenson Button).

As the race progressed, it became apparent that the MP4-31 could not quite match the pace of the top 10 runners. Despite the team executing five flawless pit-stops, and running alternative strategies (Fernando did a two-stopper; Jenson a three-), the drivers crossed the finish line just a few seconds apart, strongly suggesting that they had delivered their respective maxima this afternoon.

Despite the immediate disappointment, there are positives to take away from the race weekend: both cars ran flawlessly throughout every session, Fernando completed his first race distance of the season, and the team has learned a great deal more about the strengths and weaknesses of the MP4-31.

FERNANDO ALONSO, MP4-31-02

Started: 11th
Finished: 12th
Fastest Lap: 1m 42.226s on lap 36 (+2.402s, 19th)
Pitstops: Two: laps 16 (2.76s), and 32 (3.05s) [Pri/Back-Up/Back-Up]

“Today wasn’t easy. We didn’t quite have the pace to record a good result and finish in the points. We chose a two-stop strategy and tried to benefit from that, but the early Safety Car didn’t help us, and our race didn’t really work out as planned after that. That’s the way it is, but it’s a shame. 

“We need to look in detail at the areas in which we need to improve – we ran among a lot of different cars this afternoon, so we should have some useful reference points from which to gauge our respective strengths and weaknesses.

“On a positive note, today’s race was the first proper long run I’ve completed in this year’s car – I didn’t ever finish a 50-lap stint during testing, and I retired early in Melbourne because of the accident.

“There’s a long way to go, but we’ll keep improving. I’m already looking forward to the next race.”

JENSON BUTTON, MP4-31-03

Started: 11th
Finished: 13th
Fastest Lap: 1m 40.298s on lap 46 (+0.474s, 3rd)
Pitstops: Three: laps 4 (2.58s), 27 (2.86s) and 44 (2.49s) [Opt/Back-Up/Back-Up/Opt]

“My start was good: I made up a lot of places and was able to take the battle to the other cars. Our pace on the Option tyre during the first stint was also pretty good – it was fun racing the quicker cars.

“When the Safety Car came out, there was mayhem in the pit-lane because Nico [Hulkenberg] was trying to slow everyone down to help his team-mate. After that stop, we seemed to be sitting in a strong position, but we were running the Medium compound, and we just seemed to stand still compared with the others.

“We tried to do a two-stopper – which didn’t work out – so then we decided to fit the Option for the final stint. Given our position just outside the points, we thought we might as well give it a go.

“Perhaps fitting the Option at the end was the wrong choice – I could have stayed out until the end on the Medium, but I decided to have some fun by fitting softer [ie, faster] rubber – but it just couldn’t make its performance last to the end. Still, as I say, it was worth having a crack at it.”

ERIC BOULLIER - Racing director, McLaren-Honda

“Ultimately, we didn’t have quite enough race pace to score points today, especially with such scant attrition ahead of us.

“Having said that, both Fernando and Jenson maximised their race strategies, the fact that they finished more-or-less nose to tail after 56 hard-driven laps underlining that Fernando had efficiently mined the most out of a two-stop approach while Jenson had pugnaciously realised the maximum available out of his necessarily more dynamic three-stopper.

“Moreover, although we still need to find more straightline speed, the power units in both our cars performed with commendable reliability throughout all three days of today’s grand prix, yesterday’s qualifying hour, and all the practice sessions that preceded them. So our friends at Honda should be lauded for that achievement. Equally, we’re encouraged by the power unit developments they have in the pipeline, and as a result we’re confident that our overall performance will continue to improve apace.

“Operationally, we made no mistakes all weekend, and our pit-crew performed with their customary aplomb. Well done, guys.

“Last but not least, it’s encouraging to note that, when we fitted Options to Jenson’s car for his fourth and final stint, he immediately began to fly, clocking the then-fastest lap of the race on lap 46, a spirited circumnavigation of the Shanghai International Circuit that was thereafter eclipsed by just two other drivers.”

YUSUKE HASEGAWA - Honda R&D head of F1 project & executive chief engineer

"Throughout the eventful weekend of changing weather conditions and qualifying red flags, the drivers and the team have performed at their best, and it was a positive weekend to bring two cars home.

"We are obviously disappointed that we could not score points, but I think the race result is a good indication of where we currently are. The entire team did solid work today which will hopefully lead to better results in the future races."