Chinese Grand Prix: Sebastian Vettel the favourite again
The world champion is eyeing his third straight win of the season at the Shanghai Internationl Circuit
Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull roll up to the Shanghai International Circuit as favourites to secure their third straight win of the season on the back of a solid victory in Malaysia last weekend.
Despite two wins from two, KERS continues to be an issue for the defending champions after reliability problems forced the team to remove the system in Australia before it also threatened to hinder their race in Malaysia.
KERS at the 5.451km Shanghai circuit, like Sepang, could make the difference – especially at the start of the race. Red Bull will be keen to avoid the problems that saw Mark Webber drop to tenth on the opening lap.
For Red Bull, the alternative would be to source KERS from Renault. The latter do not appear to have too many problems with their own launch system as Nick Heidfeld and Vitaly Petrov showed at the start of the race as they powered down the pit straight to chase down Vettel into the first and second corner.
“Looking to China, we have good memories from there two years ago,” Vettel said. “We struggled to repeat it last year, but we will go back there and try again.
“I like the track and I’ve got some good points there in the past. Generally the overseas races are special, as you go there a few days earlier than usual, so you get to see different things. I enjoy that and am looking forward to it.”
McLaren have been one of the surprise packages of the season so far after their dismal winter testing performance with the MP4-26.
Both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button had the pace to live with the Red Bull drivers in qualifying, but mistakes during the race cost Hamilton a podium, and he was handed a post-race 20-second penalty for weaving across the track as he tried to defend his position on worn tyres.
Button won the race for McLaren last year despite starting fifth – and after finishing second in Malaysia the 2009 world champion is ready to take the fight to Red Bull.
“Off the back of two successive podium finishes we’re not only hopeful of maintaining our finishing record, but of improving it,” Button said.
“We’ve made no secret of our desire to take the fight to Red Bull, and we’re fully aware that stronger opposition will make it harder for them to have a smooth and uninterrupted weekend.
“As we expected, Malaysia showed that the sharp-end of the grid is incredibly competitive, and that there are at least four teams that can expect to fight for the podium this weekend.”
Ferrari took some heart from their race pace last weekend despite another poor qualifying display – and both Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa are optimistic of their chances of securing their first podium of the season in China.
“In China we will have some updates and something new to be tested on Friday, whereas Turkey in a month’s time is when we can realistically expect to bring some significant updates for the car,” Massa said.
“I have finished twice on the podium in China, with a second and third place, but last year I was only ninth in that wet race. It’s a nice circuit to drive even if the weather can be unpredictable. In the past, even with the long straight, overtaking was quite difficult but the combination of the long straight and the moveable rear wing should make passing easier.”
Renault are also confident of a good race in Shanghai after finishing third in the first two races. But as the big teams bring big upgrades to every race, Nick Heidfeld, who finished third in Sepang, is worried they might slip back this weekend.
“It’s too early to say whether the podiums can continue,” he said. “It really depends on the upgrade packages the other teams bring to China, which might change the pecking order a little bit.
“We had a good upgrade in Sepang, and our package this weekend in Shanghai is not as big.
“But I think it’s a circuit where our car will go well because we have good top speed, which should pay off down the long back straight.”
Mercedes has had a disappointing start to the season after showing promise in winter testing, and they are one of a few teams looking to turn their fortunes around.
At the back, Team Lotus and Hispania will bring upgrades to Shanghai with Tony Fernandes’ team again looking to close the gap further to the midfield teams.
Spanish rivals Hispania will also bring new parts to their F111 with a view to both cars finishing the race after qualifying for the first time at Sepang before withdrawing Narain Karthikeyan and Tonio Liuzzi on safety grounds.
The Drag Reduction System (DRS) will again be at the front of everyone’s minds, and the FIA has confirmed that the DRS zone for Shanghai will begin with the activation point arond halfway down the massive straight after Turn 13.
Button believes there will be plenty of opportunities of overtaking at the low to medium downforce circuit, with Pirelli once again offering the hard and soft compounds seen in the first two races.
However, it is expected that tyre wear will not be as severe as it was at Sepang with much cooler temperatures forecast across the weekend.
“Along the massive back straight, even without DRS, I still think there’ll be plenty of opportunity for overtaking, especially if we see the same sort of close racing as we witnessed in Malaysia,” Button said.
“As that’s where they’ve put the DRS zone for the race, I think we’ll see some spectacular passing, and possibly even re-passing.”
Rain has been forecast for Friday and Saturday which will give teams their first chance to use Pirelli’s wet tyres at a race weekend after limited testing in winter.
Rain would also test the track’s resurfacing after, in the 2009 race, the circuit failed to adequately clear standing water, and drivers struggled to keep their cars pointing the right way in heavy rain.
The approach to Turns 1, 8, 11 and 14 have all been resurfaced, while improved drainage has been introduced on the left at Turn 5.
A 4.5m debris fence has been installed at Turn 14 and before and after Turn 16, however the circuit layout remains unchanged.
Qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix begins at 0700BST on Saturday, with the race underway at 0800BST on Sunday.