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After a short break, Formula 1 is back with the Chinese Grand Prix this weekend. McLaren will be praying for dry weather after rain turned their race upside down in Malaysia three weeks ago. The dry qualifying session was business as usual, with Hamilton and Button qualifying at the front of the grid. However on race day the McLarens, Red Bulls and Mercedes cars were far less competitive after the rain set in. Alonso (Ferrari) and Perez (Sauber) suddenly sparked into life, with Perez arguably unlucky not to give Sauber their first ever race victory. The Malaysian Grand Prix saw surprises throughout the field, with Jean-Eric Vergne finishing 8th after qualifying 18th, and the two Force Indias of di Resta and Hulkenberg finishing 7th and 9th after qualifying 14th and 16th respectively. Button and Vettel will be disappointed to have finished outside the points, while Massa will be under even more pressure after finishing 15th in a race that his teammate won.

While the rain did add drama and excitement, it didn’t give punters additional information into how the cars are progressing this season, so there’s still plenty of uncertainty as we enter the third race in Shanghai.

The event is on at a convenient time for those on the east coast. Qualifying takes place on Saturday at 4:00 PM AEST, while the race is on Sunday at 5:00 PM AEST.

Shanghai Circuit History

The Shanghai International Circuit has been on the Formula 1 calendar since 2004. It has been a happy hunting ground for McLaren, who have won three of the past four races. This is despite the fact that Vettel has qualified on pole the last three years. The track features one of the trickiest corner combinations on the Formula One calendar. Turns 1 and 2 are a very demanding 270 degree, right-handed corner combination that drivers enter at great speeds (view a circuit diagram).

Below are the most recent Chinese Grand Prix results:

2011:
- Pole position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) – finished 2nd
- Winner: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) – qualified 3rd

2010:
- Pole position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) – finished 6th
- Winner: Jenson Button (McLaren Mercedes) – qualified 5th

2009:
- Pole position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
- Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)

2008:
- Pole position: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes)
- Winner: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes)

In the eight years since the Chinese Grand Prix commenced, the pole winner has gone on to win the race four times. This equates to fair odds of 2.00 for the pole winner, not taking into account any other information.

Last Year

In 2011 Vettel entered the Chinese Grand Prix on the back of consecutive wins in Australia and Malaysia. The eventual winner, Lewis Hamilton, had yet to make the podium.

In qualifying Vettel took pole comfortably, 0.7 seconds ahead of Button in 2nd with Hamilton 3rd.

On race day Vettel had a slow start which saw him beaten to the first corner by both McLarens. Button led the race but was later overtaken by Hamilton. Hamilton ran a three-stop strategy in contrast to the two-stop strategy used by Vettel, and eventually overtook him on lap 52 out of 56. Webber had experienced mechanical problems in qualifying, and only qualified 18th. He went on to have a fantastic race, beating Button to take third. One factor that cost Button a podium place was his bizarre error of driving into the Red Bull pit garage instead of his own. His error also cost Vettel time, who was waiting behind him, although Vettel did exit the pits before Button.

Impressions from the 2012 season thus far, plus other titbits

After impressing in Australia with his 8th placed finish from 22nd on the grid, Sergio Pérez was immense in Malaysia, finishing 2nd after qualifying 10th and lapping most of the race at a second per lap faster than his Sauber teammate Kobayashi. Perez is a member of the Ferrari driving academy, and it will be interesting to see if he eventually displaces Massa at Ferrari.

Ferrari were again awful in qualifying in Malaysia, with Alonso managing 9th and Massa 12th. Alonso has said the win in Malaysia changes nothing about the need for Ferrari to improve the car. His qualifying time was almost one and a half seconds slower than Hamilton. They will be hoping for rain again in China. Technical boss Pat Fry has said “Damp low grip conditions suit our car and flatter some of the issues we have with the F2012 at the moment.”

Most teams have made technical upgrades to their cars since Malaysia. McLaren technical director Paddy Lowe has said “We have quite a few upgrades for this event, on pretty much all sections of the car. So we’re hoping for a reasonable step in performance. However, we expect that is only what we need to do to stay where we are, in terms of qualifying and race pace. I would be surprised if our principal competitors aren’t also coming with reasonable steps forward.”

McLaren blamed low tyre temperatures for the underperformance of the car in wet conditions. Technical director Paddy Lowe has pointed out that Button “came out into clear air on a new set of tyres from near the back and put in some extraordinary pace, as his tyres were in the correct temperature window. As soon as he came up on some traffic, and didn’t get past immediately, you lose that temperature and you spiral into much lower performance.”

Mercedes also pointed to low tyre temperatures for their poor performance on a wet race day in Malaysia. Team principal Ross Brawn has said “We have too narrow a window in which we are operating the car – and we have to broaden that, and build more tolerance into how we are using the tyres.”

McLaren boss Ross Brawn has also said that their controversial system that links the DRS rear wing overtaking aid with the front wing, thus boosting straight-line speed, is hard to copy. He believes Mercedes will retain their advantage for some time to come. He reckons it’s difficult to integrate the system into an existing car that was not designed with the system in mind. At least five other teams consider the system to be illegal and are still pushing the FIA to ban it.

Chinese Grand Prix Preview

McLaren have a good race day record at this circuit, while Vettel has a great qualifying record. The pole winner has only won half of the Chinese Grand Prix races this season, which suggests the Chinese Grand Prix has historically been hard to predict.

At the time of writing the forecast was for rain throughout Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so we could see another unpredictable race weekend.

Tyre strategy played a huge role in Hamilton’s win last year, so it will be interesting to see if the same happens this year. Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director has said “Although ambient temperatures can be quite low in China, tyre degradation is traditionally high due to the unique track layout. So although we have the same nomination as we saw in Australia – medium and soft – our P Zeros will face a quite different challenge next week in Shanghai.”

Chinese Grand Prix Betting

Below are the latest qualifying odds (subject to change):

As always I would wait for the results from practice sessions 1-3 before committing to anything. Based on current form you would have to back Lewis Hamilton if conditions are dry on Saturday. The McLaren cars appear to be more geared towards qualifying pace than race pace relative to other cars this season. If conditions are wet they won’t be as dominant, however, as I alluded to earlier, McLaren feel the car is fast in the wet providing it’s in clear air.

Below are the latest race odds (subject to change):

McLaren cars look to be a risky bet for race day, because they haven’t been able to back up their qualifying day dominance on Sunday.

Mercedes have struggled for race pace this season, which suggests the odds for Rosberg and Schumacher are poor value.

Keep an eye on Perez for race day. He would make a good value bet to end in the points if he qualifies outside the top 10. Perez has moved from 22nd to 8th and 10th to 2nd in the first two races this season.

Dry conditions appear to suit McLaren and Mercedes (providing it’s hot too hot) the best, while Sauber, Toro Rosso, Force India and Ferrari seem to benefit the most from wet conditions. If we do get rain as forecasted, then the likes of Alonso and Perez could be good value. Just note that bookmakers could adjust the odds accordingly ahead of Sunday if rain is likely.

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1 Comment

  1. admin says:

    News update: the race stewards have confirmed the FIA’s view that Mercedes’ innovative wing system is legal. Michael Schumacher topped practice session 2.

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