Was it only six months ago that the Formula One roadshow arrived at Shanghai, with fans of both Ferrari and McLaren on the edge of their seats, wondering whether Felipe Massa or Lewis Hamilton would be able to decide the championship?
The F1 landscape is very different half a year later. Now both Massa and Hamilton are struggling with cars that haven’t made the most of the 2009 regulations, and the championship contenders are a group of drivers that you would not necessarily have put money on at the end of last season.
One of the biggest issues for the weekend is tyre choices. Fernando Alonso in particular has been stingingly critical of Bridgestone, especially over its decision to take its super-soft compound to a notoriously abrasive track as the option tyre.
He said: “I think it is the worst decision they made in a long time, because it is a ridiculous tyre for here, for Shanghai.
“I don’t know if Bridgestone made the decision or the FIA, but they have to reconsider this type of decision because we look ridiculous on television and we look ridiculous for the spectators, and it is a joke to be in front of TV six seconds slower.
“We will need to change the tyres after five or six laps, is our calculation, because this track is harder than Melbourne and there we only did eight or nine laps.
“Like this it looks more spectacular – the difference in the speed. I don’t know… I’m very worried about this and I’m very sad about this, because we look strange in front of people.”
Bridgestone has responded by saying it has listened to driver feedback and made changes to the tyre, leaving it confident that drivers will not experience the same performance drop-off as previously. Here’s hoping…
This is also, of course, the first race after the verdict of the FIA’s court of appeal on the legality of diffusers run by Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota.
At least two teams, McLaren and Renault, are said to already have their own models developed, and both of these teams are running KERS, so the two-race-old form book might be about to be torn up once more.
The Shanghai International Circuit is a three-and-a-half-mile Herman Tilke design, featuring his trademark feature of a long and extremely fast back straight followed by a hairpin bend.
The track plan is famously based on the Chinese character shang, meaning above, and forming the first part of the city’s name.
Murray Walker for the BBC has the following to say about the race: “Shanghai… is flat, featureless, smoggy and there is a long distance between the circuit and the city.
“If you are a European you aren’t allowed to drive and the Chinese drivers are absolutely terrifying so you are in a state of nerves by the time you get to the track.
“But when you get there one of the things you notice is the great long, long straight which seems to go on forever.”
As well as all the interminable conspiracy theories, tales of supposed intrigue and anti-Hamilton rants that also appear to be going on forever. Let’s just hope we can get a bit of a break from them with some on-track action.