F1: Chinese Grand Prix preview

By LJ Hutchins

CalendarThursday, October 16th, 2008

 
 

So, does Hamilton have any chance at all of tying up the title this weekend? Or will some combination of Massa, Raikkonen, poor tyre choices, his own team’s blunders and the race stewards prise it out of his hot little hands?

That’s assuming that you can actually be bothered to get up at silly o’clock to watch another race only to see the result declared invalid by the stewards an hour after it finishes.

If you, like us, are feeling just that little bit jaded and cynical, then we offer the consolation that it is at least at a slightly more civilised time than the last one.

Then ITV had the courtesy to leave Steve Rider behind, realising that he’d be too much of a strain on the nerves of people who had got up before dawn. Whether or not they’ll make the same call this week, we unfortunately can’t say.

Oh well. These important questions will be resolved in a day or two. In the meantime, in the spirit of positive thinking, here are 10 quick facts about this year’s Chinese Grand Prix:

  1. This weekend’s race takes place over 56 laps on the 3.4-mile Shanghai International Circuit, 25 miles north-west of the city after which it is named. It has hosted the race since 2004.
  2. According to Honda, “the track was designed by Formula One architect Hermann Tilke in 2002 and was built the following year on disused marshland. The construction of the venue was a remarkable feat of engineering which required 40,000 stone pillars to be laid in the ground to shore up the foundations before building work could begin.”
  3. The circuit’s layout is in the shape of the Chinese character ‘shang’, meaning high or above.
  4. Its features include long straights in combination with tight corners, including what Toyota calls “a uniquely twisty first-corner complex and the demanding Turn 13”.
  5. It is technically challenging because its combination of long straights and intense corners requires both straight-line speed and high downforce as well as good balance
  6. Turns 13 and 14 are likely to provide the best overtaking opportunities.
  7. Nick Heidfeld thinks that Shanghai has the worst traffic conditions of any Asian city he has visited recently.
  8. You won’t hear Mark Blundell’s somewhat garbled thoughts on sustainable motoring this week since the Bridgestone green stripe was a one-off and won’t be seen at Shanghai. A pity, it was dead useful for gauging tyre wear…
  9. The Williams team thinks that the Shanghai International Circuit boasts the best facilities the teams will enjoy all season.
  10. Vijay Mallya has called it ‘a matter of personal pride’ that Force India should try to score some points. Very tall order, that…

Over at McLaren, Lewis Hamilton is resisting the urge to dwell on last year’s misfortunes. In his team’s preview, he said: “Sometimes I’ve been on YouTube and seen a video clip or a picture of me in the gravel last year and thought, ‘Damn! That shouldn’t have happened.’

“But it was a learning mistake. I can still move forwards from it; things like that happen for a reason and it taught me a lot. Last year, the last couple of races taught me a lot about my personality and my life. And I’m stronger for it.”

“I’ve said before that I don’t mind racing in the wet or the dry. Of course, it’s safer in the dry and I guess those are the conditions that racing drivers prefer.

“But, having said that, I would just prefer it if the weather wasn’t too changeable during the weekend. At this stage in the season you need things to be as reliable as possible for you.

“[The Shanghai circuit] is technical in the sense that you can’t make a slow or poorly-balanced car go quickly around it, but finding a good set-up is one of the jobs of a racing driver and, for that reason, I like it.”

Team CEO Martin Whitmarsh added: “The reality is that the last race of the season is no different from the first. However, at the end of the year it’s much clearer in everyone’s minds that the championship could be decided by a mistake – one made by another title contender or ourselves.

“Both teams have made several mistakes this year but, at this critical stage in the season, a further mistake by either side could determine the championship.

“As a result, everybody within the team is being very diligent and cautious. We have done a fantastic job so far this year and we aim to round off the season by continuing that approach.”

At Honda there’s much less to play for – but team principal Ross Brawn continues to insist that he is playing the long game.

He said: “We are realistic on our expectations for the Chinese Grand Prix weekend and foresee a similar level of performance to that at Fuji this weekend.”

“Whilst this is disappointing, we will reap the benefits of our decision to stop developing the RA108 and concentrate on next year.”

¿Usted está escuchando, Fernando?

Jenson Button added: “It’s very different from many of the circuits which we race on and the fact that there are a few good overtaking opportunities, particularly going into Turn 1 and then at the banked entry onto the back straight, make it more exciting.

“Our focus in practice will be on achieving the right downforce level for the car which will be a compromise set-up to accommodate the different types of corner and the straights.”

Bugger-all of use from Red Bull, as usual, but luckily the ITV F1 hotline to David Coulthard is up and running, and we can get an insight into his thoughts over there.

In his latest column for the site he said: “As I was in the medical centre at Fuji having my foot X-rayed all I was thinking was, ‘please don’t let anything be wrong’ because I badly want to be on the grid in China and Brazil.

“I think as a racing driver you get attuned to dealing with moments of drama and danger all the time and you are detached from the emotion, the fear.

“Going back a few years, to the plane crash, my partner at the time and my trainer were obviously pretty badly shaken up but I remember being quite calm and clear-thinking.

“When you race, you tend to just compartmentalise incidents and the receiving of bad news that’s part of any race career and you then just move on and that trait somehow becomes part of you. This detachment is very different to how I am in my personal life.

“As I’ve gone through this season, knowing I’m racing in F1 for the last time at each of the venues, no real emotion has hit me. But I wouldn’t be surprised if that changed in Brazil…

“I’ll be going to China with a brand-new chassis, which is not ideal because they never feel exactly the same even though the specifications are identical, but we’ll hopefully get it shaken down in Friday morning practice and press onwards.”

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