Formula One now enters the final three races of the 2004 season, all of which are long distant events. The inaugural Chinese Grand Prix heads the trio this weekend, followed by Japan and Brazil. China's Shanghai International Circuit, designed by...
Formula One now enters the final three races of the 2004 season, all of which are long distant events. The inaugural Chinese Grand Prix heads the trio this weekend, followed by Japan and Brazil. China's Shanghai International Circuit, designed by Hermann Tilke, is anticipated to be an interesting track for drivers and fans alike.
The 5.45 km circuit has seven left and seven right hand corners and a longest straight, between turns 13 and 14, of 1.17 km. This straight will have an average top speed of approximately 325 kmph but much of the rest of the track is quite twisty, with some slow, technical sections -- downforce is expected to be fairly high. The predicted lap time is in the region of 1:34.
"The layout of the circuit is unique and it will take a considerable amount of work from the drivers to make sure they learn the circuit as fast as possible during the free practice sessions," said Williams technical director Sam Michel. "Working towards a good mechanical set-up for the slow speed corners will be an important part of the engineers' work."
The track surface is reportedly fairly smooth and not too abrasive, although the configuration of some of the corners may put a greater load on tyres than at other circuits. Compounds will be from the medium to soft end of the range. Shanghai is not expected to be particularly tough on engines, with an expected average of 60% of the lap at full throttle.
Obviously a new circuit is a challenge for everyone but with computer simulations and data from tracks with similar characteristics, some preparation can be done. "We have cutting-edge predictive tools that enable us to do detailed simulation work, although it is impossible to gauge things with absolute accuracy," said Toyota technical director Mike Gascoyne.
"We can use computers to work out an ideal line, for instance, but in reality that might change because drivers are able to use a little more kerb than we anticipated. That's the kind of thing we won't know until we get to Shanghai."
All the drivers will be out on track as soon as possible, initially on foot or on a scooter, to get a good look and assess first impressions. "I will try to get a really close-up look the first time, doing a lap on the scooter," said Michael Schumacher.
"Designs and simulations aren't that useful and I need to actually see the track. Usually I do not have any problems with new circuits and I am full of expectation for the weekend. And naturally, we will be going out to fight for the win."
The Friday practice sessions will be invaluable as the drivers familiarize themselves with the layout in their racecars for the first time. "I think the driver's role is even more important at a new circuit than elsewhere," said Renault's Fernando Alonso.
"Not only do we have to learn the track, but there is more work to do with the engineers, explaining how the circuit is, what the secrets of the track are and how the car is behaving, because none of us have any experience or reference points."
BAR's Jenson Button is one of only a couple of drivers to have experienced the Shanghai track, albeit in a Honda road car. "I think that it is going to be a pretty high downforce circuit and that it will be physically very tough due to some extremely long corners, for example Turn One, and also the corner off the back straight," he said.
After a six race absence, Williams' Ralf Schumacher will make his racing return in China and another familiar face also climbs back into an F1 cockpit. Jacques Villeneuve will compete for Renault alongside Fernando Alonso for the final three races of the season. Villeneuve last worked with Renault when it was engine supplier to Williams.
"The welcome has been fantastic," said the Canadian former champion about being with Renault again. "Everybody has been very positive in their approach. Over the years that we worked together I built up a genuine respect for Renault, and I am very grateful to the team that they have recruited me at this time."
The biggest battle in the championship is now for second place, with Renault and BAR separated by only three points. "Having moved ahead of Renault to take second place in the Constructors' Championship, the remaining three races will present a fierce challenge between us for that final runner-up position," said BAR boss David Richards.
Jordan joined the ranks of teams reshuffling drivers recently and the team's third driver Timo Glock will replace Giorgio Pantano this weekend. Contractual issues were cited as the reason for Pantano's contract being terminated.
Eddie Jordan has been impressed with Glock's performances this year, especially when he stood in for Pantano in Canada. "I am confident that in this unexpected call-up he (Glock) will do a good job for Jordan again," said EJ. "In Shanghai he will be in the same boat as everyone else as the circuit is new for all the drivers."
Jaguar heads to Shanghai for its first and last Chinese Grand Prix, at least under that name. Ford's announcement last week that Jaguar will be withdrawn from F1 and sold at the end of the season came a surprise to many. Now the team has to wait and see if a buyer will come forward.
"We've been expecting a decision from Ford for quite a while, and although we are disappointed by what has happened, it has put everything into focus for us," said managing director David Pitchforth. "Everyone is now working extra hard and there has been some superhuman effort by everyone over these past few days. That will carry on as we work to keep the value of the company."
The recent off-track upheavals in F1 have somewhat detracted from the prospect of a new circuit, but for the moment at least there is only one focus for the teams and drivers -- this weekend's Grand Prix. The Shanghai International Circuit looks spectacular but can it produce a spectacular race?