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Chinese GP Preview: Rain adds intrigue to knife-edge battle at the front

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Chinese GP Preview: Rain adds intrigue to knife-edge battle at the front
Apr 6, 2017, 8:05 AM

This Chinese Grand Prix this weekend is hotly anticipated with fans and commentators wanting to see two things in particular; is Ferrari faster tha...

This Chinese Grand Prix this weekend is hotly anticipated with fans and commentators wanting to see two things in particular; is Ferrari faster than Mercedes in race conditions, as Melbourne seemed to suggest?

And with a 1.17km straight leading to a hairpin, will overtaking with these new cars be more feasible than in Melbourne?

Strategy will again be crucial and early indications are that this is likely to be a more interesting race than Melbourne, with two stops probable in dry conditions.

But it could get even more interesting than that as rain and cold temperatures are forecast for Sunday and if extreme wet tyres are needed, this potentially hands championship leaders Ferrari something of an advantage.

They are the only team to have done meaningful running on the new Pirelli extreme wet tyre and therefore will be the only ones who know where the crossover is between that and the intermediate tyre (green sidewall below), which tells the strategist and the driver when it is time to change to the other type of tyre.

There was some wet testing in Barcelona but it was mainly intermediate running. With limited time to test, it's usually the extreme wet that misses out. In the test programme with the top teams to develop the 2017 tyres, the only serious wet running fell on Ferrari's turn.

The previous Pirelli extreme wet wasn't a great tyre, so we may find out more about the new one this weekend.

The rain will also increase the variability of the race, with possible safety cars and opportunities for the smaller teams to score a point. It presents an opportunity for Sauber and McLaren to bag an early point, which would not be likely in dry conditions.

Pirelli F1 tyres

If the other teams are lucky, they might get a chance to learn about the tyre and the crossover during practice on Friday, which is also forecast wet currently. So, unusually, we are likely to see cars going out in the event of heavy rain.

The choice of dry weather tyres for this weekend is Super Soft, Soft, Medium. Our indications are that the fastest strategy is likely to be Super soft - Super soft - Soft. We don’t see the medium tyre being run very much unless the front tyres grain badly, which can happen at Shanghai, with its two long constant radius corners. However we haven’t seen much front tyre graining during winter testing with these new wider tyres, so it is more of a remote possibility.

Unlike many F1 venues, where protecting the rear tyres is key to success, Shanghai is all about getting the front tyres at the optimum temperature, especially for qualifying. This is an area where historically Ferrari has given something away to Mercedes, on front limited tracks.

A significant percentage of the lap time in Shanghai is spent turning.

There are two unusual corners, Turn One and Turn 13, which are long and drawn-out, Turn One being a 270 degree, tightening corner. This overstresses the left front tyre and this is the limiting factor in any strategy plan. Teams have a limited scope for working on set ups for this kind of circuit situation, so there are always question marks about how competitive a team will be over a race distance.

Chinese GP 2016

Chinese Grand Prix in numbers

This weekend’s race will be the 14th running of the Chinese Grand Prix, which first joined the F1 calendar back in 2004.

There have never been more than two safety car periods in any F1 race in Shanghai and there have only been two interruptions in the last five events. The teams also enjoy very high reliability rates in Shanghai. There was not a single retirement in the 2016 event (one of only seven times that has occurred in F1 history), just three in 2015, four in 2013, two in 2014, and one in both 2011 and 2012.

Mercedes, which is hoping to claim its 75th F1 pole on the same weekend it celebrates its 150th start as a constructor in the championship, has scored the last five poles in China, which is its best record at any circuit on the current calendar. It has also won four of the last five Chinese Grands Prix, with Fernando Alonso winning the 2013 event for Ferrari.

Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton has five poles and four race wins in Shanghai, which are both driver records. The polesitter has won the last three events in China and no driver has ever won the Chinese Grand Prix from starting outside of the top six places on the grid.

After his triumph last time out in Australia, Sebastian Vettel heads to China with the world championship lead for the first time since he clinched the 2013 title. The German driver has never lost a championship whenever he has led it at any point in a season and since 1990, 70 per cent of the winners of the first race have ended up topping the standings at the end of the year.

Two drivers have notable streaks that they will be hoping to continue as they travel to Shanghai. Fernando Alonso is the only F1 driver ever to finish every Chinese Grand Prix, but his McLaren team hasn’t scored a point at the 5.451-km track since the 2013 event.

Daniel Ricciardo

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo possesses the longest continuous streak of making it through to Q3 in qualifying as the last time he failed to do so was at the 2015 Italian Grand Prix, which was 30 races ago. But the Australian driver did lose his 29-race finishing and 17-race points finishing streaks after failing to get to the end of his home event due to gearbox sensor and fuel cell problems on his RB13.

Lance Stroll, who will make his second F1 start for Williams this weekend, produced a debut performance that exactly matched Jenson Button’s first F1 appearance for the Grove-based squad 17 years ago.

Button also crashed in the final practice session, qualified on the last row of the grid and had his race ended by a technical issue at the 2000 Australian Grand Prix. But the 2009 world champion went on to score his first ever F1 points in his second Williams start, when he finished sixth at the next race in Brazil.

What are you expecting from the 2017 Chinese Grand Prix? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JA on F1 Facebook page for more discussion.
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