Shanghai: What You Need to Know

Things are definitely hotting up now, the combination of DRS, KERS and the new tyres gave us unprecedented levels of overtaking in Malaysia. In a single race we had more overtaking than we had in the majority of 2010, positions changed so often that journalists have called the race ‘chaotic’ and had a jab at BBC commentators Martin Brundle and David Coulthard about their inability to keep up. Remember these are the same ‘experts’ that bemoaned the dull races we had last year…best to ignore them then, it’s the fans that cough up for tickets anyway.

Rubber was the buzz word for Malaysia, those in the know could see the piles of discarded rubber off the racing line, and those who missed it could see some presenters with cups of rubber marbles in hand. Pirelli are reportedly looking into how the used rubber behaves once it leaves the tyres, because ironically the higher degradation that was requested made it harder for drivers to overtake. But it didn’t stop them!

Fact File: Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China

Laps: 56
Circuit length: 5.451km (3.387 miles)
Race length: 305.066 km (189.559 miles)
Fastest lap: Michael Schumacher 1:32.238 (2004)

It joined the F1 calendar in 2004 and instantly gained a healthy audience, but following a trend seen across many tracks, ticket sales have declined.  Despite this organisers have extended the deal to the 2018 season and have slashed tickets prices dramatically in a hope to boost attendance. Dwindling sales isn’t their only issue going into this season, parts of the track were sinking into the ground. Turns 1, 8 and 14 have been particularly affected but repairs have been approved by the FIA and race will go ahead.

Image credit: Will Pittenger

Layout and Approach:

Like the rest of the modern tracks, this was designed by the hand of Hermann Tilke, with characteristics such as the trademark long back straight followed by a tight hairpin. Although I see a kangaroo preparing to give a knockout punch, it was in fact influenced by a character from the Chinese alphabet, ‘shang’ – 上. You may notice the two twisty corners at the end of the pit straight and the beginning of the long back straight, these have been nicknamed the ‘snails’. The first one, forces the drivers into single-file so position off the line will be hard fought.

Shanghai is a medium downforce circuit, so teams opt for medium/high set up to handle the slow corners. It features lots of grip so the straights are excellent places to gain time, DRS will be activated in practise and qualification along these. Brakes are extremely important to successfully navigate the twisty corners and technical elements. And like we will see along the length of the calendar, it will be about making the most of the tyres, and squeezing out that extra couple of laps.

Overtaking and Strategy:

It was originally designed to encourage overtaking, so sections of the track are wide to allow for passing and a variety of racing lines. The run-off areas tend not to be gravel, so mistakes made in these sections aren’t heavily penalised and risks are positively encouraged.

With KERS and DRS onboard as well, we should be prepared to work hard to keep on top of driver positions. And talking of DRS, the active zone will be on that back straight, but 0.56mi from turn 14 (not using entire length), and eligibility will be measured on turn 12. Drivers have also highlighted turns 4, 5, 10 and 13 as good overtaking spots, so it should be manoeuvre-heaven this weekend.

The weather in Shanghai at this time of the year usually sets up a fairly cool grand prix, however the area has experienced a warmer Spring than anticipated. Weather forecasts at the moment suggest Friday practice will have temperatures of 29°C and a chance of a light shower in the morning. Saturday will be much cooler at 15°C, with showers predicted. Race day will be cloudy and around 23°C, but without the threat of rain. So where a cooler track would help with those tyres, a warmer Shanghai could prove tricky for strategists.


We’ll be seeing the tyres under considerable strain here, with degradation expecting to high due to heaving braking and high lateral forces. Turns 1 and 2 are widely regarded as particularly tough on tyres, so expect to hear race engineers pleading with their drivers to reduce the load before they ‘fall off the cliff’.

Why China Rocks:

If you can get to Shanghai , you’re in for a treat as spectators will be able to see around 80% of the track from the grandstands. Showing that purpose-built circuits do have a distinct advantage over the older and street based ones. I could be discussing the effect of the cooler weather, but will higher temperatures than normal this will only compound the tyre wear issue. Cooler air temperature allows the engines to run closer to full power capacity, in fact last year raw power output was highest of the entire season. So instead if we are looking at further up the thermometer, we could experience more pit stops than the 67 last year (which was more than the last race in Malaysia).

5 Key Points:

  • High degradation due to high cornering loads (front left particularly)
  • Unexpected weather could prove a challenge
  • Different winner every year
  • Heavy braking
  • Cars without KERS losing out on the straights

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