F1 heads to China for Round 2 of the 2017 season. What does the circuit have in store for the drivers this year?
The Chinese Grand Prix has been running for 13 years now, and while it still feels like a new event it is actually one of the oldest of the “new generation” of Formula 1 circuits. It is a rather unique track, with two long, 270 degree corner combinations as well as the enormous straight that requires special setups from the teams to ensure the car doesn’t max out. The harsh braking at the end of that straight, down from over 200 mph to just 40 mph for the hairpin, can stress brakes to the very edge if they are not looked after properly as well. With just seven winners from pole in the twelve races held in Shanghai, it is a circuit where overtaking is very possible.
The best place for overtaking, perhaps in the whole Formula 1 season, is the turn 14 hairpin. Coming at the end of a kilometre long straight which is also home to one of the DRS activation points, it gives drivers plenty of time to contemplate their move and a big enough braking zone to get it done. The speed difference, particularly if one car gets a good drive out of turn 13, can be staggering and the overtake may be done before they even reach the corner. There is also plenty of run off area beyond the corner should a driver misjudge their move. Secondary to turn 14 is turn 6, another low speed hairpin, coming after the incredibly tricky opening section that can create speed differences if someone gets a poor exit out of turn 4. There is really only one line through the middle sector and even an aggressive driver will struggle to make a pass through the sweeping bends and tight 90 degree turns of the middle part of the lap.
Last year it was a 3-stop race for almost the whole grid, with the longer lasting medium compound being the tyre of choice for many in the middle of the grid with the Pirelli tyres disappearing at an extreme rate. This year though, it should be very different. The new Pirelli compounds were extremely durable at the Australian Grand Prix, with drivers getting a good 20+ laps out of the ultrasoft compounds to start the race, Daniil Kvyat even went 34 laps on his.
So what can we expect in China?
It’s a circuit that has been hard on the tyres before, and the teams will be relying on data from practice to map out a race plan. With overtaking looking more tricky this season the teams will need to be extremely careful about filtering their drivers back into traffic after the stops.
The midfield teams will no-doubt attempt to get the race done with just the one stop, being able to start on the more-durable soft or medium compound and changing to the other while the top 10 will start on the supersofts. That could really hamper the front-runners in the middle stage of the race if they can’t look after their starting tyres and draw out the first stint until the field has strung out.