Round seventeen of the 2008 FIA Formula One World Championship takes the Honda Racing F1 Team straight from the Fuji Speedway in Japan to Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix. The 56-lap race takes place at the 5.451km (3.387-mile) Shanghai International Circuit, which is situated 40kms from the city.
The track was designed by Formula One architect Hermann Tilke in 2002 and was built the following year on disused marshland. The construction of the venue was a remarkable feat of engineering which required 40,000 stone pillars to be laid in the ground to shore up the foundations before building work could begin. The circuit's layout is in the shape of the Chinese character 'shang', which means 'high' or 'above', with excellent pitlane and paddock facilities.
The first Chinese Grand Prix took place in September 2004 and was dominated by current Honda Racing F1 Team drivers Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button, who finished first and second respectively. Jenson has finished in the points for the previous two years and this is a technically challenging circuit which both drivers enjoy.
As at Fuji Speedway, car set-up is a compromise between slow-speed grip and straightline speed. Ideally, the five second-gear corners around the
lap require high downforce, but the cars need to maintain a high top speed along the back straight, and that forces the teams to take off wing to reduce drag. There are more high-speed corners than at Fuji, however, so a neutral car balance is crucial to achieve a good lap time.
The key corners are the slower ones because it is through there that the cars spend the most time. However the drivers must have confidence in their machinery through the long, tightening Turn 1 and the sixth gear chicane at Turns 7 and 8 if they are to put a good lap together. Rain has played a part in recent races, so car set-up also needs to reflect the unpredictability of Shanghai's microclimate.
What are you expecting from the Chinese Grand Prix weekend?
Ross Brawn, Team Principal: "From our home race in Japan this weekend, the team heads straight to China for the penultimate race of the 2008 season. The set-up and downforce configurations required for the RA108 at the Shanghai International Circuit are similar to those used at the Fuji Speedway with some extra downforce added. Shanghai has some unusually long corners therefore we will be using the next step in tyre compounds with Bridgestone providing the medium and hard tyres which will be more durable and resistant to degradation. We are realistic on our expectations for the Chinese Grand Prix weekend and foresee a similar level of performance to that at Fuji this weekend. Whilst this is disappointing, we will reap the benefits of our decision to stop developing the RA108 and concentrate on 2009 next year. The weather forecast for the week ahead looks mixed with a high chance of showers over the weekend, so that may throw up a few on-track surprises and make for an exciting weekend."
You finished fifth in China last year. What are your thoughts on the circuit?
Jenson Button: "I like the layout of the Shanghai International Circuit as it is quite demanding and technical for the drivers but also fun to drive. There are a lot of high-speed sections which I enjoy and you need good straightline speed for the pit straight and the long straight which stretches for over a kilometre between Turns 13 and 14. It's very different from many of the circuits which we race on and the fact that there are a few good overtaking opportunities, particularly going into Turn 1 and then at the banked entry onto the back straight, make it more exciting. Our focus in practice will be on achieving the right downforce level for the car which will be a compromise set-up to accommodate the different types of corner and the straights."
You won the first ever Chinese Grand Prix in 2004. What is the key to a quick lap here?
Rubens Barrichello: "Shanghai is a fantastic race venue and winning the first Grand Prix here means that the race holds some good memories for me. The circuit itself is exciting with the combination of long straights and different speed corners combining to make a very technical track. The unique feature here is the length of some of the corners, particularly Turn 1 and Turn 13. To have a good lap here, you need to have a very good aerodynamic balance, straightline speed for the two main straights and good car stability. The weather can also play its part so it will be interesting to see the forecast for the race weekend."