After two consecutive one-two finishes, there’s a good atmosphere within the team. We were pleased to put on a good show in Bahrain and our confidence in the performance of the car continues to grow. We also have two highly competitive drivers in Lewis and Nico which is exactly how racing drivers should be and exactly what the fans want to see. The fans in China are always very enthusiastic, so hopefully we can give them some more entertainment this weekend. The Shanghai International Circuit has traditionally been one of contrasting fortunes for the team. 2012 marked the first win for the Silver Arrows since returning to Formula One two years earlier, while 2013 produced a podium finish. However, both also saw retirements for one of our cars and the latter arguably should have yielded a better result after a strong qualifying performance. It’s a challenging circuit from both a driver’s perspective and on the technical side. The layout itself is different to that of the previous three venues this season, with more duty put through the front tyres. Strong engine performance is essential for the long straight but equally there are some tight corners requiring good traction. Despite the challenges, we’re optimistic about the overall strength of our package and looking forward to another good weekend.
The Shanghai International Circuit: On the Pit Wall
The Shanghai International Circuit is a very different prospect to Melbourne, Sepang and Sakhir: similar only in that it is still one of the newer breed of track with long straights and overtaking zones. The key difference lies in that the layout is tough on front tyres rather than rear tyres as per the opening three venues. The reason this presents such a challenge is that teams may not have the full suite of setup items available in order to move the balance of the car to where it needs to be to suit the circuit and temperature. What causes this is the long, sweeping nature of the corners. Turns One and 13 in particular feature sustained periods of high g-forces: loading up the front left tyre and pushing it across the track. There aren’t many traction events around the circuit but there is a lot of load going into the front tyres. In China, it’s tough to judge how prominent this may be until the cars hit the track.
Sakhir provides good overtaking opportunities and there was a good mix of that in the last race. While the same will be true in Shanghai, the nature of overtaking will be rather different. The drivers only have a given amount of energy to use over the course of a lap and the back straight is very long. As a result, it will be difficult to defend all the way down it. There are sufficient circumstances around the rest of the lap to allow the drivers to experiment with this so overtaking won’t necessarily be easy. But it is more than achievable. Ultimately, it will come down to straight line performance differentials. Intra-team battles will provide scant opportunities to pass as the drivers have the same tools at their disposal. But between different cars this will be prominent. The race in Bahrain saw teams running in performance order at certain points and this will likely be the case again in Shanghai. Most passes will be made on the exit of Turn 13 or and subsequent DRS zone into Turn 14. As you would expect, the next best opportunity is into Turn One after the second DRS zone, with another at Turn Six.
As we reach the fourth race of the season, reliability once again becomes a factor. In what is widely known as a bath tub theory, risk of failure is at its highest during early races where the learning curve is as its steepest: starting in Melbourne and continuing into Sepang. This then flattens in Sakhir before sloping up again as components reach the end of their life cycle. Having said that, with the tools at their disposal in Formula One, teams can see where that curve begins to steepen and act accordingly before the critical point is reached. This, coupled with an increasingly in-depth understanding of the new technology throughout the field, should result in a low mechanical attrition rate. In terms of performance, the layout should suit the Mercedes-Benz PU106A Hybrid Power Unit. At 1.17 km long, the back straight is the longest on the current Formula One calendar. There are also extended periods where the cars are at full-throttle, all of which plays to the strengths of this package.
Temperature is the next factor of consideration and variation in China. Unpredictable weather fronts do often appear and there has been more than one wet weekend here. There have also been some very warm and humid days in Shanghai since the first race was held in 2004 but it’s normally quite cold: certainly relative to temperatures seen in Malaysia or Bahrain. This means that teams are moving into a different region in terms of the operation of both tyres and car. Any team arriving with the same package used in Bahrain will go backwards very quickly. Hitting the rear tyres hard and generating temperature is crucial as with the cooler conditions graining could be a factor. Hints of this were seen in Melbourne but it will most likely be significantly more noticeable here.