Chinese GP: Preview - Mercedes


Round Four of the 2014 Formula One World Championship brings us to Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix, held at the Shanghai International Circuit.

Lewis Hamilton: It's been good to have a bit of a break after such a long stint away but I'm already looking forward to getting back in the car. The last race in Bahrain was fantastic: not just for us as a team but for the sport and I'm sure it won't be the last time we see a great show this year. I'm in a really good place at the moment and walking around the garage too, you can see the positive energy within the team right now. Everyone is focused on getting the maximum from these early races and continuing to build beyond the strong start we've made to the season. I've had some ups and downs in China. On one side I've only finished outside of the podium places twice at this circuit. On the other, in my first season in Formula One I threw away a championship lead here by going into the gravel coming into the pits. Generally, though, I'm getting stronger every time I come to this track and it suits my driving style quite well. The aim, as always, is to win and if I could make it three in a row this weekend that would be incredible.

Nico Rosberg: Even though the last race was a bit disappointing from my perspective in terms of the result, it's been great to see all the positive comments that came afterwards. We've demonstrated already that we're pushing harder than ever to stay ahead of the pack. It will only get more difficult as the season goes on but I've got confidence in the team. Every day and in every area you can see that determination to win. This gives you a big boost as a driver: to know the people around you want it just as badly as you do. I've got good memories from China after taking my first pole position and race win in Formula One at this circuit in 2012. The layout seems to suit my driving style, it's a track I enjoy racing at and I want to be back on that top step of the podium this weekend. The Chinese fans are great too: really enthusiastic. It's nice to see how much they like our sport and how they cheer us on during the race weekend. It's a very different culture and getting to know it is always fun, so hopefully we can keep them as entertained on track as they do off it!

Toto Wolff, Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport: We head to the next race in China with good momentum behind us and motivation is extremely high. The team is now at a level where success is not a bonus but an expectation. After three races we find ourselves in a strong position in both Championships but we are under no illusions that our position is a given. We must take the good moments and use them as inspiration in the on-going push to achieve our goals. The race in Bahrain was quite simply brilliant to watch: one of the best in recent memory, in fact. This is what we go racing for and it was a strong advert for the sport: in particular under these new regulations. I think that in itself proves that we are moving in the right direction. Though we have enjoyed a positive start to the season, with time the balance of the field will start to even out and it's a credit to the people within the sport that we can see such significant advancements throughout the grid already. If we are to sustain any sort of advantage that we may currently have, it's up to us to keep raising the bar in every area.

Paddy Lowe, Executive Director (Technical): 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.

Shanghai International Circuit: The Inside Line

In the Cockpit

Lewis: The Shanghai International Circuit is a different challenge to what we've seen so far in 2014 but it's one I really enjoy. Starting at Turn One, you've got an opening corner that seems to go on forever and puts a lot of stress on the front tyres. That then tightens into Turn Two, which is tricky as you can't really see the apex. Getting the right line between these two is really important as it sets you up for the switchback of Turn Three before getting the power down out of Turn Four.

Turn Five is more of a gentle curve before braking nice and late into Turn Six. This looks pretty tight but you can actually carry a lot of speed through the apex as there's good grip there and it opens up nicely on exit. Then, it's up through the gears and holding fifth through Turn Seven which flows straight into the tricky, low-grip Turn Eight. Turns Nine and 10 are quite slow by comparison but again don't give you a lot of grip.

After a medium length straight it's Important not to out-brake yourself into Turn 11, as positioning is crucial for Turns 12 and 13 which form a long right-hand curve that just seems to keep going and going with the car constantly moving about. Then you're onto the back straight: one of the longest on the calendar and a good overtaking spot with the DRS zone making it even tougher to defend.

There's a lot of time to be gained on the brakes into Turn 14 but you have to get a good exit, as it effectively sets you up for a run all the way through the final two turns and across the line. The last corner itself often catches people out and you almost have to be a little cautious here as a small mistake can give your opponents a passing opportunity down the DRS stretch into Turn One.

Nico: The Chinese Grand Prix is one of my favourite races. Having secured my first Grand Prix victory in China in 2012, I naturally associate many great memories with this circuit. But that's not my only reason for liking the track: driving at the Shanghai International Circuit is a real challenge. The track layout makes for enormous fun, even if it is a fair bit cooler in Shanghai compared to the venues we've visited so far this season.

Of course, aside from the temperatures many other challenges await us in China. At the first few races of the season in Melbourne, Sepang and in Sakhir, it was mainly the rear tyres that were subjected to high stresses. But in Shanghai, it's now the turn of the front tyres and we have to adapt accordingly. Throughout the season you need to be careful when setting up the car and adjust it to suit each track. The Shanghai International Circuit is a good example of that.

There are a number of long, drawn-out corners that are among the circuit's key points. The very first turn is a prime example. It is one of several unique corners to Shanghai that puts huge stresses on the tyres. Turn 13, the corner before the long back straight, is another. There is nothing like it anywhere else. Handling these corners is great fun but they put such enormous stresses on tyres so as a driver you must be mindful of that.

The Shanghai International Circuit also has one of the longest straights of the season. We'll be super fast there this year with our new hybrid turbo power units. I can't wait to see the top speeds for the weekend.

On the Pit Wall

Circuit Layout: 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.

Overtaking: 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.

Power Unit: 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.

Weather: 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.

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Published: 15/04/2014
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