SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 12: A general view of the circuit during previews ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 12, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

The Shanghai International Circuit will host the third round of the Formula 1 2018  season this weekend. The circuit built on marshlands is characterized by enormous paddocks perched on top of a lake and a track that always produces interesting races. It is a venue that matches the size of the host country, with the stands having a seating capacity of 200,000 spectators. This will be the 15th running of the Chinese Grand Prix at the Hermann Tilke-designed Shanghai International Circuit.

Preview of the Chinese Grand Prix

The History

The Shanghai International Circuit was first added to the F1 calendar in 2004. The inaugural race was won by Rubens Barrichello for Ferrari. The Grand Prix has taken root in China over the last decade. Similar to the passionate fan following that the Japanese fans bring to the race in Suzuka, the Chinese fans also bring a distinct flavor to this race. The teams initially complained about the pollution levels in China and the restrictions on internet access to the outside world. But, they are now comfortable going to this race in the “Land of the Dragons”.

The Teams and Drivers

Mercedes has the most wins at this GP with five wins. Ferrari with four wins, followed by McLaren with three wins are the other successful teams here. In the hybrid-engine era since 2014, Mercedes has swept all the four races.

The first seven races produced seven different winners. Lewis Hamilton (2008, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2017) with five wins has the most wins. Fernando Alonso (2005 and 2013), Kimi Raikkonen (2007), and Sebastian Vettel (2009) are the drivers on the current grid who have won the Chinese GP.

The Circuit

The 5.451 km Shanghai International Circuit located in Jiading province was developed from bleak, reclaimed marshlands. The track is underpinned and artificially elevated by 40,000 pillars which are 40-80 meters high. Some of these pillars had to be repaired in 2011, as parts of Turn 1, 8 and 14 started sinking.

The imposing size and structure of the paddock and the grandstands has been matched equally by a well-designed and technically challenging track. The track is designed in the shape of the Chinese letter “shang”, the first letter of the host city Shanghai.

Sectors, Corners, and DRS Zones

The track features a series of sixteen slow and medium corners with two very long straights. The circuit demands a medium to high downforce setup. The cars are on full throttle 55% of the time and the fuel consumption is medium. The brake wear is medium with the engines under less stress in the cooler conditions in China.

Sector 1 (Turn 1 to Turn 5) offers good overtaking opportunities and will see the drivers jostling for positions at the start of the race. There are a set of two ‘snail’ sections – Turns 1-2-3 and Turns 11-12-13 (Sector 3) which are a set of tight corners that curl back on each other.

Sector 2 (Turn 6 to Turn 10) features a pair of high-speed Turns 7 and 8 and a pair of low-speed Turns 9 and 10.

Sector 3 (Turn 11 to Turn 16) has the tight snail section and also features the two very long straights. The 1.175 kilometer back straight is the longest straight of all the current Formula 1 circuits and ends with a heavy braking right hairpin on Turn 14.

There are two DRS zones for the race before Turns 1 and 14. The second DRS Zone is the longest DRS zone and the most likely overtaking point because the cars slow down for the hairpin. The previous races have been won by starters on the first three rows of the grid. Michael Schumacher’s win from P6 in 2006 has been the lowest starting position. In 14 races, the pole sitter has won nine times.

Tyre Strategies

Pirelli tyre choices are the purple-striped ultrasoft tyres, yellow-striped soft tyres and white-striped medium tyres. The race is likely to be a two stop race in dry conditions. The Ferrari drivers with eight sets of ultrasoft tyres out of the thirteen allocated to them have evidently gone for an aggressive strategy on tyres. The Italian team has an edge in performance over their Mercedes rival on the softer compound Pirelli tyres.

Current Form

Ferrari (65 pts) lead the constructors’ championship by ten points from arch-rival Mercedes (55 pts). McLaren (22 pts) is in an unexpected third position ahead of Red Bull Racing (20 pts). Renault (15 pts) completes the top 5 positions. Williams with no points brings up the rear of the field.

Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari are on a high with two wins in the first two races. A good car along with some intelligent strategy moves has seen the team really lay the gauntlet down against the Silver Arrows. For the first time in the hybrid-era, Mercedes is under considerable pressure. They are almost in a must win situation in just the third race of the season. Red Bull Racing after both their drivers did not finish the race in Bahrain will be looking to make up lost ground.

All eyes will be on Toro Rosso-Honda to see if the performance in Bahrain was for real. The fourth-place finish scored by Pierre Gasly was unexpected. Renault, Toro Rosso and the Haas F1 teams are closely bunched up in the midfield.

Top 5 Drivers

Vettel (50 pts) has a perfect score and leads the drivers’ championship by 17 pts. Hamilton (33 pts) returns to a circuit at which he has won five times. The reigning world champion will hope for his first win of the season on a circuit which has favored the team.

Valtteri Bottas (22 pts) is in third position after a good outing in Bahrain. Alonso (16 pts) has been at his combative best so far and leads the unlucky Raikkonen (15 pts) in the drivers’ championship.

Another win for Vettel and Ferrari could truly set the cat among the pigeons in the 2018 F1 season. On a circuit that has been their playing ground in recent years can Mercedes fight back?

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