For the second time this year, after Bahrain, the Formula 1 circus will be exploring unknown territory, when it travels to Shanghai for the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix in the world's most populated country. For a small contingent of the...
For the second time this year, after Bahrain, the Formula 1 circus will be exploring unknown territory, when it travels to Shanghai for the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix in the world's most populated country.
For a small contingent of the Scuderia, this will be a return visit as some team members, including Ferrari Managing Director Jean Todt were then in June of this year. "We had the opportunity to go to Shanghai for the opening of our showroom and were also invited by the Shanghai Authorities to take part in the circuit's inaugural event and we saw the enthusiasm that the arrival of Formula 1 and Ferrari is generating in China," said Todt.
"I was here in the Eighties for the Paris-Moscow-Peking rally and when I returned a few months ago, the changes I saw amazed me. What has been done is really incredible. There is no doubt that China has the potential to be the market of the future for car manufacturers, including Ferrari."
Built in just 18 months, the circuit boasts some remarkable buildings with the high point, in every sense of the word, being the media centre which sits like a high-level bridge, across the track. Like Sepang and Bahrain, the architecture and track design is the work of German architect, Hermann Tilke.
The circuit location was originally marshland and the build project involved dropping 40,000 concrete pillars into the ground to support the track surface. The circuit can accommodate up to 200,000 spectators and the top of the main grandstand affords a view of around 80% of the track.
Like Tilke's other offerings, the Shanghai track layout pays homage to the country's tradition and in this case, it is shaped like the Chinese character "shang."
The circuit is 5.451 km in length, making it the fifth longest on the calendar, with seven left and seven right hand turns. It is a twisty track with some very interesting corners, especially the first one which tightens several times, submitting the drivers to heavy G-forces for as much as four seconds.
The fact that the pit straight is followed by a hairpin means this is just one of several potential overtaking opportunities. Unusually, the longest straight is not in front of the pits and many of the corners are cambered (sloping from the outside to the inside of the turn.)
With no previous data to go on, the team engineers have been busy working on simulating the circuit on computers. Estimated lap time is reckoned to be around the 1m 33s mark with an average lap speed of just over 200 km/h. Scuderia Ferrari's Head of Vehicle Dynamics, Marco Fainello explained what "homework" the team had done before arriving in Shanghai to address this unseen challenge.
"We start from the circuit map and work out the various options for the best racing line for the drivers," began the Italian engineer. "We feed the information into our simulation programmes, which takes every part of the vehicle's behaviour into account, such as braking effort, acceleration, suspension movement and so forth, all tried with different fuel loads. The first element we look at is the required level of downforce."
Ferrari's tyre partner Bridgestone also plays a key role in this process as tyres are reckoned to be one of the really key elements of the entire performance package. "We have methods which allow us to take into account tyre choice," continued Fainello.
"We work with Bridgestone to find out the best set-up to use on the car for each particular type of tyre. Then it's down to a combination of experience and simulation. We start off by looking at circuits with similar characteristics and in parallel do the simulation."
"The number and speed of the corners and the characteristics of the asphalt are other factors which we consider." According to Bridgestone engineers, Shanghai shares some common ground with Indianapolis and Malaysia.
The European leg of the Formula 1 season ended in uplifting fashion for Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro with an incredible one-two finish for Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher after one of the most exciting and hard fought races of the year.
But the team has not been resting on its laurels. Mugello and Fiorano were the backdrop to two extensive test sessions last week featuring Rubens and Michael as well as the Scuderia's test driver Luca Badoer and Ferrari's sports test driver, Andrea Bertolini.
So what does the team hope to achieve on this first visit to China? Jean Todt again: "Engraving the name of one our drivers on the first ever winner's trophy for the Chinese Grand Prix would be further cause for satisfaction in a dream season."