CHINESE GP: what should we expect from Ferrari?

Written by @SmilexTech and @spontonc and translated by Federico Marchi

Shanghai. China. We come back to the circuit designed by Tilke, to see a new Red win or to see the resurrection (if ever they were died) of the silver arrows? Waiting for the confirmations of the track, here our preview of the 14th edition of the Chinese GP, held on the outstanding track of Shanghai.

CHINESE GP: the first win on this track was obtained by Rubens Barrichello on his F2004
The track of Shanghai lies in the suburbs of the Chinese metropolis and is one of the most successful "Tilkodromi" of the german engineer born at Olpe in 1955. An amazing track long more than 5 km, very appreciated by the drivers because of the great variety of corners: this circuit, in fact, has fast corners like turn 7 and turn 8 or the last that leads into the main straight, turn 16. There are also hard braking points like the one at the end of the longest straight of the championship which leads to turn 14, or those that lead to turn 6 and 11. And there also areas in which the mechanic grip and the traction will play a fundamental role, like at the end of turn 3 or just out of the narrow turn 6. For those who do not know, the Chinese track was designed in order to resemble the Chinese character shàng which is at the basis of the name Shanghai. Since 2004 it is the location of the Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix (the first race was won by Rubens Barichello on his Ferrari F2004).

Here a brief recap of what happened last year: Rosberg is on pole position, but at the start Ricciardo passes him. The two Ferraris collide because of a too impulsive start of Kvyat. Hamilton is forced to start from the end of the grid because of an issue occurred to the ERS of his car during the qualifying session. Rosberg tries to overtake Ricciardo since the beginning of the race, but things get tremendously easier for him when the Australian driver suffers a puncture. Rosberg wins effortlessly; Hamilton, thanks to an aggressive strategy, manages to end the race in 7th position. Even for Ferrari things get better, ending the race with Vettel in 2nd position and Raikkonen 5th. Among them the Two RedBulls of Kvyat and Ricciardo.

CHINESE GP: on the Shanghai’s track is normally easy to overtake. Will it be the same also with these new larger cars?
Along the 5451 meters of length of the Shanghai’s circuit there are points in which it is possible to try an attack on the cars ahead; the hard braking points of turn 1, 6 and mostly 14 should be the most favorable (theoretically). It will be critical for everyone to figure out if on a track like the Chinese one, which has always ensured a good number of overtakes over the years, the new cars will be able to offer again a great show. In Melbourne it was not so: only 5 overtakes on track against the > 30 of 2016. At the moment, thus, the new rules, created to improve the F1 show, are rejected but Shanghai will be a fundamental stage; if there will be no overtakes, from the Russian GP the rules of the DRS will probably be modified, with the hypothesis of lengthening the areas of use or even by adding one more area with respect to the two canonical zones. As to say: we created a new Formula 1, even more fake than the previous one. In China, anyway, the sections of the track in which it is possible to deploy the DRS are the main straight and the long straight in the last sector.

Some numbers for those who like statistics:

RECORD practice lap: 1:34.012, Barrichello (Ferrari), 2004
RECORD race lap: 1:32.238, Schumacher (Ferrari), 2004
RECORD distance: 1h 29:12.420, Barrichello (Ferrari), 2004
Driver with more wins: 4 by Lewis Hamilton
Team with more wins: 4 by Ferrari and Mercedes
Driver with more poles: 5 by Lewis Hamilton
Team with more poles: 5 by Mercedes
Driver with more podiums : 7 by Lewis Hamilton
Team with more podiums: 10 by Ferrari

Here the Italian times for the weekend:

Free Practice 1: 04:00 - 05:30
Free Practice 2: 08:00 - 09:30
Free Practice 3: 06:00 - 07:00
Qualifying: 09:00 - 10:00
Race: 08:00

CHINESE GP: the available tyres will be the same as for 2016 but let’s keep an eye on the weather
The compounds chosen by Pirelli for the next Grand Prix are the same already used in 2016, namely the SuperSoft (to be mainly used during Qualifying), the Soft and the Medium. Even in this case, as already happened in Australia, the choice concerning the number of sets has been totally made by Pirelli: all teams will have 2 Medium, 4 Soft and 7 SuperSoft sets available.

It is important to remind that the new Pirelli tyres have a larger window of functioning even if their management do not seem to be as simple as many expected. Taking the example of RedBull or even Mercedes, it is possible to note how the two teams suffered even the slightest variation of temperature of the track in Australia (as for Ferrari in 2016). It is true, therefore, that the window of functioning has been enlarged but not all teams seem to have appreciated this modification. More or less everybody but Ferrari that in Australia demonstrated to know how to make them perform in the best way possible.

In Melbourne we had additional confirmations: the 2017 tyres are very constant, with a smaller peak of performance but with a longer duration and a smaller decline. Being able to use the UltraSofts for more than 30 laps in the last race, points out on one hand the regularity of the new tyres, but on the other hand makes us understand that there is definitely something wrong: if the softest compound can last this long, automatically teams will not use the harder compound available every race.

Talking about the weather (obviously daily updates are needed), we see that it will be a difficult weekend with chance of rain and with great jumps of temperature between Friday and Sunday (in green the environmental temperatures of Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon). It is mainly this last factor that can overturn the performance of the Teams between the long-run simulations of Friday’s FP2 and the real performance of cars during the race. Let’s remind that for instance Mercedes was comfortable with the 32°C of the asphalt during the FP2 in Melbourne and struggled with the 35°C during the race. How will the cars behave with a 10°C decrease between Friday and Sunday?

CHINESE GP: what should we expect from Ferrari?
Ferrari goes to China, first Grand Prix of the season raced on a real track, in a brilliant mood. The thing that should make the men in red happy is, in addition to the win of Melbourne, the performance of Sebastian Vettel who, together with “Gina”, has been able to create a great couple. Although the track is not so indicative overall, the third sector of the Australian circuit is quite meaningful to figure out the real potential of the cars. And it is here that Vettel made the difference both during Quali and during the race, showing thus an excellent downforce and a very good traction. Mercedes instead was finishing the laps, mostly during Quali, with overheated tyres and consequently with little traction. The high downforce and the traction will be fundamental in China given that the track designed by Tilke presents nearly all the possible types of corners as well as long straights. In addition to the downforce and the traction also the aerodynamic efficiency will turn out to be critical (here Mercedes seems to be better than Ferrari).

Since the temperatures are going to be different from those experienced in Barcelona and Melbourne, it will be crucial once again the correct exploitation of tyres. For the first time in this season Pirelli brings on track the Medium compound. Given the difficulties of last year, using these tyres Ferrari carried out a meticulous job during the winter tests proving, at least on the Spanish track, to have overcome the troubles which did not allow their proper use.

Another interesting point will be the performance of the Power Unit, that proved to be able to compete with Mercedes. In 2016, on this track and in Bahrain, some problems of “clipping” due to the wrong sizing of the turbocharger’s group emerged on the SF16H (click here for more details - Post 1, Post2). This year the engineers of the Italian Team worked hard on the part of energy recovery. This was the main feature lacked by the 2016 Power Unit in order to reach the performance of Mercedes’ Power Unit, given that the top speeds were already very close.

For what concerns Mercedes it will be interesting to figure out if, after having analyzed plenty of data gathered in Australia, the engineers has been able to solve the problems of the W08 during the race. Unlike the latest years, the W08 seems to have some relevant troubles in the exploitation of tyres, mainly on Lewis Hamilton’s car. The car suffers a bit of oversteer out of corners, which automatically causes problems to the new tyres (overheating). From a technical point of view, to guarantee a stable aerodynamic platform it was possible to follow two different paths: keeping the low values of rake already used by the German team on the previous cars extending though the body of the car to generate more downforce, or building a “short” car raising the rear part to generate more downforce. Mercedes chose the first option, the most common and consequently the safest one even if they have not yet been able to extract the maximum potential from it. Ferrari instead, since the latest Grand Prix of the past season, decided to follow the second path, shortening the body of the car while increasing the rake. (Click here to read more).

Among the top teams, the one who let us down the most is RedBull. A RB13 that, in addition to the usual lack of power, seems also to suffer of some aerodynamic and mechanical problems that cause an incorrect exploitation of tyres. Mainly for this reason, in China, there will be some aerodynamic updates on the RB13 to try to increase the downforce and enlarge the window of functioning of tyres, waiting for mechanic developments in Spain and engine developments between Russia and Canada (in two phases).

Making predictions is very difficult because the real potential of the various cars is not yet clear. In addition to this we have to consider the chance of rain between Saturday and Sunday and the differences in temperature between Friday, day in which teams normally set their cars, and Sunday.

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