Reports

Chinese F1 Grand Prix

2017 CHINESE GRAND PRIX – SET UP

The Chinese Grand Prix has been a regular fixture on the Formula One calendar since 2004. The race takes place at the Shanghai International Circuit, which is one of the most expensive purpose-built F1 facilities in the world. Completed at a cost of $450m, the 5.451km/3.367-mile layout is shaped like the Chinese character ‘shang’, which stands for ‘high’ or ‘above’ 

NEED TO KNOW

Race title Formula 1 Heineken Chinese Grand Prix
Circuit name Shanghai International Circuit
First race 2004

TRAVEL

City Shanghai
Time zone GMT +8
Population 13.4 million
Surprising fact To drive a car in China you need a Chinese driving licence and while it’s relatively easy to obtain a provisional licence, McLaren prefers to hire a car with a driver. Progress is usually slow: a recent study revealed that Shanghai has the worst rush-hour jams of any major city in China
Weather The race is one week earlier than last year, but the temperature is expected to be similar. The forecast is for a dry race weekend, with the ambient temperature expected to peak at 21 degrees

Track

Track length 5.451km/3.387 miles
2016 pole position Nico Rosberg - 1:35.402s
2016 winner Nico Rosberg, 56 laps, 1:38:53.891s
2016 fastest lap Nico Hulkenberg - 1:39.842s (lap 48)
Lap record 1:32.238s (Michael Schumacher, 2004)
Tyre choice Red Supersoft | Yellow Soft | White Medium
Distance to Turn One 380m/0.236 miles
Longest straight 1.17km/0.727 miles (longest of the season)
Top speed 340 kmh/211 mph (on the approach to Turn 14)
Full throttle 55 percent
Brake wear Medium. There are eight braking zones around the lap, but the long straights cool the brakes
Cooling Medium. The cars spend long periods at maximum revs, but the relatively cool ambient temperatures help to keep temperatures under control
ERS demands Low
Gear changes 51 per lap/2856 per race

RACE

Laps 56 laps
Start time 14:00hrs local / 07:00hrs GMT
Grid advantage Pole position is located on the racing line, on the left side of the track, but the grid advantage is negligible. Last year Daniel Ricciardo, who started second, beat pole-sitter Nico Rosberg into Turn 1
DRS There are two DRS zones, on the approaches to Turns One and 14. The latter is the longest DRS zone and the most likely overtaking point because the cars slow for a 50km/h (31mph) hairpin
Don't put the kettle on... at the start, or during the pitstops. Last year’s race was won using a two-stop strategy, which would mean pitting on or around laps 15 and 30. With this year’s harder tyre compounds, one pitstop is more likely, on or around lap 20
Pitlane length/Pitstops 351m/0.218 miles. Estimated time loss for a pitstop is 21s, which is relatively short
Safety Car 45 percent, which is a relatively high probability. Historically there are a lot of collisions at this racetrack, particularly at Turn 1, and the result is invariably the appearance of the Safety Car
Watch out for... the large bump on the pit straight, especially when it’s wet. During last year’s qualifying session a combination of this bump and a damp patch under a bridge caught out Pascal Wehrlein, who spun and hit the barrier

THE DRIVERS

FERNANDO ALONSO

“Australia was a bit of a surprise for us, as we didn’t expect to perform at the level at we did, although on paper, ultimately, the results show the reality. We know there’s a lot of work to do and we aren’t delivering what we had aimed for pre-season, but equally we’re pushing hard behind the scenes. Despite there being a few fly-aways at the start of the season, we’re still expecting to upgrades at every race, including China.

“In Shanghai last year everyone had their eye on the tyres as wear is typically high there and we often saw graining, but it’ll be interesting to see how the new compounds perform on this type of track. The weather is often unpredictable and temperatures can change a lot over the weekend, so it’s something all the teams have to manage with the balance and set-up of the car.

“Shanghai is a really quirky track – Turn One is actually my favourite corner on the whole calendar – and it provides a good test for the driver with a high average speed compared to the street circuit of Melbourne. I’m looking forward to seeing what the new cars are capable of there, and I hope we can at least have a trouble-free race and see where we are when the chequered flag falls.”

STOFFEL VANDOORNE

“Although the race in Australia was disappointing for us in terms of where we finished the race, for me it was a big milestone in my career and I’m glad I’ve got my first official race start as a McLaren-Honda driver under my belt. I learned a lot and had to react quickly to various challenges we faced over the weekend, and I’m proud of the way we handled them to get the car home.

“Finishing last is never what we would want, and China will be equally difficult for us, but I know we have some new parts for this weekend and as usual we’ll be pushing hard to get the maximum out of our package. The circuit is a new one for me, so I’m looking forward to driving it for the first time for real and not just on the simulator, and getting to grips with the changeable conditions.

“The Shanghai track has very different characteristics from Melbourne and from the next race in Bahrain, so I’m keen to get on top of that early in the weekend and work hard on set-up. It’s a mix of low- and medium-speed corners and then the long, fast straights, so it has a bit of everything. Getting as much time on track during the practice sessions will be important, so I’ll be aiming to learn as much as I can on Friday and will see what we can do over the rest of the weekend.”

THE MANAGEMENT

ERIC BOULLIER

“The Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park was undoubtedly a difficult grand prix for McLaren-Honda, but also an event from which we were able to take a number of positives. Our pace on Saturday was better than expected and Fernando in particular was able to take advantage of a higher grid position to give us more muscle during the race, until his unfortunate retirement.

“Shanghai is known to be an unpredictable weekend for a number of reasons: it’s tough on cars, tyres and power units and the weather is often precarious, but I can predict that we won’t be as fortuitous with our pace, compared to our rivals, as we were in Australia.

“The characteristics of the Shanghai International Circuit are very different from Melbourne, and its long, fast straights will likely expose the weaknesses in our package more than Albert Park did. However, we will of course attack the race with our usual fighting spirit, and the most important thing will be to ensure reliability with both cars before focusing on performance.”

YUSUKE HASEGAWA

“Although the season opener in Australia was a tough race weekend for us, it allowed us to judge our current position on track. There were both positives and negatives to take away. We were able to confirm certain reliabilities on our power unit, but we also know that we still have room for improvement when it comes to performance.

“We expect the Chinese Grand Prix to be even more challenging. The race is always a bit of an unknown due to the changeable weather conditions, which affects the set-up and balance of the car. The track itself also places a lot of stress on the power unit with its slow- and medium-speed corners, and two very long straights. The key will be preparation and set-up. 

“Once again we will work together with McLaren to ensure we do our best and extract the most from our package. It’s important we gather as much information as possible. It’s a long season and we are looking for progress at every race.”  

2017 CHINESE GRAND PRIX – FREE PRACTICE

“TOGETHER, WE ALL HOPE TO BE ABLE TO PUT ON A BETTER SHOW TOMORROW”

Friday Free Practice was an unusual day in Shanghai, with a heavily disrupted first session owing to mist and intermittent showers, which meant the medical helicopter was grounded, unable to operate its usual service in the event of an incident. 

Both drivers completed only one installation lap followed by one short run each – Fernando four laps on Intermediates, and Stoffel three laps on Wets, but neither was able to commit to any conclusive running. 

The team will return to the track tomorrow morning in an effort to recoup the lost running time, in advance of qualifying in the afternoon.

FERNANDO ALONSO

#FA14 MCL32-03
FP1 1:53.520s (+3.029s) 5 laps 7th
FP2 - - -
FP3 1:35.912s (+2.576s) 17 laps 17th

“It’s good to see the fans in the grandstands and how much they enjoy Formula 1, but it’s a shame that we didn’t put any laps in for them in FP2, and very few in FP1. Hopefully we can give them a good show tomorrow and Sunday. 

“I know this track well, I know the tyres, I know the car, so I don’t mind going straight into qualifying. Should we need wet tyres or dry tyres, I have all the data on my hard disk already!”

Stoffel Vandoorne

#SV2 MCL32-01
FP1 1:57.445s (+6.964s) 4 laps 12th
FP2 - - -
FP3 1:36.221 (+2.885s) 21 laps 19th

“Well, it wasn’t a very exciting day for any of us. Nobody wants to wait in the car or hang about in the garage, so it’s a shame I only got one run in FP1 today, in wet conditions. There will be a lot for me to catch up with tomorrow. Hopefully, conditions will be better and we’ll be able to get some decent running. 

“It’s true we have some new bits on the car and we would’ve preferred to spend more time on track to evaluate them, but it’s the same for everyone, after all.

“From my side, for sure, it’s the first time I’ve driven here so catching up will be one of our key tasks tomorrow. We’ll try to make the most of it.”

THE MANAGEMENT

ERIC BOULLIER

“Well, what can I say? In FP1 Fernando drove five laps, and Stoffel four. In FP2 no-one drove any laps at all, and the session was aborted even before it was due to end. 

“That was the correct decision, disappointing as it must have been for the small number of spectators who had braved the rain and mist to visit the circuit today, because you can’t race if the available vision is too poor to allow a helicopter to be deployed safely. That’s an absolute, because the safety of our drivers is paramount. 

“However, we know we’re in the entertainment business, and, together, we all hope to be able to put on a better show tomorrow, with plenty of on-track action, when the weather is forecast to be rather better.”

YUSUKE HASEGAWA

“Obviously it was very frustrating that we were unable to do any significant running today, but the safety of our drivers is the absolute priority. 

“It was also particularly disappointing for the fans who braved the rain to come out and support us. All we can do is hope for better weather tomorrow, for us and for them. 

“In terms of where we are, we were only able to do a total of nine laps, so we didn’t really learn a lot. Hopefully we’ll have better conditions and more track time tomorrow so we can gather all-important data for qualifying and the race. We also still have a lot of work to do on set-up and understanding the tyres. Tomorrow will be a busy day for the whole team. 

“In addition to everything else today, this is Stoffel’s first time to race here, so it was a missed opportunity for him to understand the track. However, we’re sure he won’t let that hold him back this weekend.”

2017 CHINESE GRAND PRIX – QUALIFYING

"I WAS FLAT-OUT AND PUSHED LIKE AN ANIMAL"

Today was much more action-packed on track than yesterday, the team making the most of the track time in FP3 to fully dial in the car ready for qualifying and the race. Fernando Alonso completed 17 laps and Stoffel Vandoorne 21, providing the engineers with much-needed data to digest in the short two-hour turnaround before qualifying began. 

In Q1, changes made on Stoffel’s car between sessions meant that there was a short delay getting him out for his first run. That slightly compromised his scheduled programme and meant during his one and only run – interrupted by a quick pit-stop for a fresh set of tyres – he encountered traffic. Moreover, any attempt at a final flying lap was prevented by Antonio Giovinazzi’s incident, which occurred a few seconds after Stoffel had crossed the line just before the chequered flag. 

By contrast, Fernando had a relatively trouble-free session and was able to push the limits of the car, getting into Q2 after setting the 10th fastest time on his final flying lap. His Q2 session went smoothly and he will start tomorrow’s race in 13th place.

Fernando Alonso

#FA14 MCL32-03
Q1 1:34.499s (11th) Option tyre
Q2 1:34.372s (13th overall) Option tyre

“I think I extracted the maximum from the car today – I was flat-out and pushed like an animal. We were pessimistic going into qualifying, after our FP3 performance had been very uncompetitive and we’d felt we had nothing left, but in quali the car picked up some pace and we were able to make it into Q2 and get 13th, which was a nice surprise. 

“For tomorrow’s race, the expected rain will help us, since in dry conditions it would be difficult to score points, but in wet conditions anything could happen. We need some chaos in the race, basically. We’ve raced here in those conditions in the past so we have to use that experience and take any opportunity that opens up in front of us. 

“If it rains it will be a good race to watch for the fans: they’ll enjoy it and for us it’ll be fun too – if we can take our chances.”

Stoffel Vandoorne

#SV2 MCL32-01
Q1 1:35.023s (16th overall) Option tyre

“After practice this morning I felt quite comfortable in the car, but unfortunately it took a bit longer than expected to get out onto the track for Q1, so we had a bit of a delay and had to rush through our programme. I’m a bit disappointed as I felt the chance was definitely there to get into Q2. Having more mileage yesterday would have probably been useful today also – it always helps when you know the track a bit better – but I think our pace this morning was pretty good straight away, so we’ll see what we can do tomorrow. 

“We’re both pushing quite hard and it’s normal to try different things on track to be able to extract the maximum out of the car. Today wasn’t an ideal session but every kilometre here for me is valuable, so I’m learning a lot with every lap I do. We experienced very variable conditions today – I did one run in the wet yesterday and today was completely dry – but in general I’ve felt pretty comfortable right from the beginning of the weekend. 

“Yesterday wasn’t much of a show, and the conditions are expected to be wet again tomorrow, but we’ll see. A bit of a mix-up of weather conditions will always be good for us at the moment, so let’s see what happens in the race. If it rains again tomorrow, it’ll mix everything up for everyone, so there could be some good opportunities for us, and we intend to make the most of them.”

THE MANAGEMENT

ERIC BOULLIER

“Fernando carved a banzai lap in Q1 today to blast his way through to Q2. He then drove another good ’un to end up P13: not a great result in the grand scheme of things, but not at all bad given the long straights that we’d feared might prevent our car from being capable of qualifying even that well. 

“By contrast, as in Melbourne two weeks ago, Stoffel was again unlucky. His running in Q1 was unexpectedly curtailed, having been compromised through no fault of his own by the waved yellow flags triggered by Antonio’s [Giovinazzi] last-corner shunt, and he was unable to improve on P16 as a result. Obviously we’ll never know for certain, but the pace he’d shown so far this weekend indicates to us that he’d have had a good chance of making it through to Q2 if he’d had a clear run at it. 

“Moreover, bearing in mind that he’s still driven only 31 laps of the Shanghai International Circuit, and had never set his eyes on it before this weekend, I judge his performance here to be very impressive indeed. 

“Tomorrow, both our drivers must expect a tough race, whatever the weather, but they’ll give it their all, as always.”

YUSUKE HASEGAWA

“We came to China expecting to have a difficult grand prix weekend, which is reflected is our qualifying result. The Shanghai circuit is notoriously difficult on power units and is especially difficult for us with the two very long straights. 

“Despite that, I’m very happy with the performances from both our drivers in tough conditions. Fernando displayed once again that he’s a world class driver, and showcased his talent and experience with an excellent qualifying lap. 

“Stoffel was in difficult situation today as he has barely done any running all weekend due to the weather conditions, and preparation here is key. Despite that, 16th was a great result for him. 

“Tomorrow, the start will be the key to a good result, and it’s important for us to get both cars to the finish of the race. We’re expecting tricky weather conditions so it won’t be easy, but we’ll work as hard as ever with McLaren to extract the best out of our car.”

2017 CHINESE GRAND PRIX – RACE

It was a short-lived Chinese Grand Prix for the McLaren-Honda team at the Shanghai International Circuit. Rain earlier in the day meant that the track was pretty damp for the start, both drivers consequently electing to start on new Intermediate tyres. Both Fernando and Stoffel made good starts – and, although Stoffel’s car was tapped at the rear by another car, no damage was sustained and both he and Fernando escaped any major drama on the first lap. 

On lap two, as the circuit was rapidly drying out, the team executed the perfect ‘double shuffle’, pitting Fernando and Stoffel in turn for Prime tyres. Both were then released back into the pack, and both were able to make good progress on slicks, Fernando reaching sixth position by lap seven before settling into seventh place for a number of laps. 

Unfortunately, however, the gods of reliability were not on the team’s side, Stoffel falling foul of a fuel problem after losing power, forcing him to retire on lap 18, and Fernando suffering a driveshaft issue causing him to have to stop out on track on lap 34. 

The team will now re-group before the second leg of the first pair of back-to-back races of the season: the Bahrain Grand Prix in a few days’ time.

FERNANDO ALONSO

#FA14 MCL32-03
Started 12th
Finished DNF (driveshaft problem) 33 laps
Fastest lap 1:39.496s (lap 31) +4.118s (15th)
Pit stops One (lap 2 - 3.80s) Inter > Prime

“We started from P13 in very tricky conditions, and after a few laps we were running in sixth position. That was a big surprise and was thanks to an amazing couple of laps. I was hoping those tricky conditions would continue as other cars were spinning off here and there, and, as we said yesterday, we maximised our opportunities as we were overtaking ‘for free’ at some moments. 

“But then, when the track started drying out, we started to lose a little bit of ground even though we were still able to hold onto P7 for some time. 

“Today we proved once more how hungry we are to get a good result, but unfortunately we’re still not strong enough to finish the races. The lack of winter testing means we’re paying a big price now, but hopefully we can improve quickly. 

“It’s a shame that neither Stoffel or I could not get to the end today, and especially painful because I was in the points, but all we can do is learn our lessons and be a little bit better in Bahrain, even though the forecast is of course for no rain…”

STOFFEL VANDOORNE

#SV2 MCL32-01
Started 15th (due to Antonio Giovinazzi's five-place grid penalty)
Finished DNF (fuel problem) 17 laps
Fastest lap 1:41.460s (lap 15) +6.082s (18th)
Pit stops One (lap 2 - 3.90s) Inter > Prime

“It was a short race for me, but quite exciting at the beginning. Both Fernando and I got good starts, and were in the mix for the first few laps, although the positioning wasn’t great after the pit-stops, and then after that it was a bit more tricky, but our pace was actually quite promising. When we put the slicks on, we were actually quite competitive and I was able to push when I wanted to. The car feels very good in the corners – I felt very confident and I was closing the gap to the guys in front – but as soon as it started to get drier, we really noticed the difference in speed and it made it very difficult to overtake. With the straight-line speed we have, we can’t really compete with the others and it’s tough out there for us to make up ground. 

“On lap 17 we lost power – I don’t really know exactly the reason – but I think it was a fuel problem. It’s a shame we couldn’t get to the finish today – the potential was there and the car felt quite competitive in the corners compared to the cars I was racing against. I felt the power drop and I could feel immediately we had very low power. It’s not ideal, and obviously I would have liked to go to the end. 

“There’s not been many laps for me in China, but this is the situation we’re in at the moment. We knew that before coming here and hopefully next weekend in Bahrain it will be better. There are still positives we can take away: the chassis is coming along, and both Fernando and I are feeling very confident to push. I hope it will get better soon – it’s difficult to put a time-frame on it so we’ll have to wait and see. Bahrain is a very different kind of circuit from Shanghai, and we’ll do our best as usual.”

THE MANAGEMENT

ERIC BOULLIER

“On a damp and slippery track, Fernando judged his getaway perfectly to make a superb start from his P13 grid slot, and was in eighth place by the time of the first virtual Safety Car just a few laps into the race. By lap seven he was up to sixth, and he duly began a highly entertaining dice with his fellow countryman Carlos [Sainz]. 

“Stoffel had also made a bit of progress by that time, having moved up from his P16 grid slot to a solid P15, and was capably holding station with the cars around him. 

“Unfortunately, those promising beginnings were soon to come to naught, when a fuel problem ended Stoffel’s race after only 17 laps and a driveshaft issue put paid to Fernando’s afternoon after just 33. 

“From here we travel straight to Bahrain, one of our three home Grands Prix, Silverstone and Suzuka being the other two, where we hope to enjoy a better, and warmer, weekend’s racing.”

YUSUKE HASEGAWA

“Despite the result today, I think we can take away multiple positives from this weekend. 

“It was very tricky race conditions, yet the team did a great job as always and managed the pit-stop strategy perfectly. Fernando had an excellent start, making up multiple positions off the line, and I think he was having a very good race up until his retirement. Stoffel also made a good start and was racing well before his day sadly ended early. 

“At one point it looked like we were on our way to scoring some points, which makes it all the more disappointing that both drivers ended up retiring with mechanical issues. “In spite of that, we leave Shanghai with certain progress of our PU reliability after both the Australian and Chinese Grands Prix. 

“We’re now looking forward to Bahrain next weekend, where hopefully we can continue to build on our momentum. It’s only a few days away so we don’t have long to prepare, but we’ll work hard with McLaren to hopefully push for a better result.”