by Adrian-Liviu Dorofte

Chinese F1 Grand Prix 2012: Preview + Feature (MBAMGF1)

Round three of the 2012 Formula One World Championship, the UBS Chinese Grand Prix, takes place at the Shanghai International Circuit on Sunday 15 April. The 5.451 km Herman Tilke designed circuit made its debut on the calendar in 2004 and is shaped to represent the Chinese ‘shang’ character.

• Since 2004, the eight races have been won by seven different drivers; only Hamilton has won twice (in 2008 & 2011)
• The 1170 m back straight is among the season´s longest, with the cars at wide open throttle for 15.5 seconds
• At peak revs on that straight, the engine´s pistons will be accelerating at 81,000 m/s2 , equivalent to over 8,250 G

Michael Schumacher
“When I think about the Chinese Grand Prix, the fans are the first thing that comes to mind. For many years now, I’ve had a big and loyal fan base there, and it’s still very touching to see the lengths they go to in supporting me. A big thank you to all of them! As for the race itself, I’ve never had much luck in Shanghai, apart from my win in 2006; however that could change this year. In the first two races of 2012, we didn’t manage to maintain our qualifying pace in race conditions. We’ve been working intensively on this, so that we can offer our fans a strong performance in China.”

Nico Rosberg
“I have good memories of the Chinese Grand Prix as I was on the podium there in 2010 and led the race last year. I like the Shanghai International Circuit very much with its many unique, long corners. For me, China is really the start of the season as the first two races have not gone to plan. The track is quite different to the first two, as it demands more from the front tyres than the rears - in other words, what is termed a front-limited circuit. We know that we have a quick car, but we are looking to improve our long run pace in China next weekend and to have a better race performance.”

Ross Brawn, Team Principal
“The Chinese Grand Prix takes place at the very impressive Shanghai International Circuit and has really established itself on the Formula One calendar in recent years. China is an important and growing market for our sport, and indeed for Mercedes-Benz, and we look forward to our annual visit next week. On track, we hope that the weekend will prove more successful than the first two races of the season where our race results did not match expectations after a positive start to both weekends. A lot of hard work and analysis has taken place back at the factory since our return, and I hope to see these efforts pay dividends next Sunday in Shanghai with a performance which reflects the capabilities of the F1 W03.”

Norbert Haug, Vice-President, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport

“The first two races of the 2012 Formula One season have been ones of unfulfilled promise for our team. Michael’s second row qualifying positions were less than half a second from pole in Australia and Malaysia, however at both events we did not convert our qualifying speed into a consistent race performance on Sunday when it counts. Since the last race in Malaysia, the team has conducted analysis of our tyre usage during the first two rounds, and how we can improve. The Chinese Grand Prix will provide an answer on our progress, although weather conditions and circuit characteristics will be different to either Melbourne or Malaysia. The 1170 metre back straight accounts for over 20% of the lap distance, the cars exceed 285 kph on four different occasions, and nine of the circuit’s corners are considered to be low or medium speed, with five taken at less than 100 kph. Our team has been hard at work since Malaysia, and we hope to be able to translate our learning process into consistent and competitive lap times on race day in China.”

Race Preview Feature: Cracking the Conundrum
Two races into the 2012 season, and firm conclusions are very hard to come by when assessing the true competitiveness of the teams. The results from the first two races indicate that this could be one of the most open seasons for years, with seven different teams finishing in the top ten in Melbourne - and nine in the mixed conditions of Sepang. Even in qualifying, the margins are incredibly close: the top ten qualifiers from Q2 at the first two races were separated by an average of eight-tenths of a second, compared to 1.5 seconds in the first two races of last year. In such a tightly matched field, small details make a huge difference.

For MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS, the time between the races in Malaysia and China has been spent trying to unravel a conundrum: why hasn’t strong qualifying speed been translated into a similar level of competitiveness on Sundays?

“In both races, our problems have been related to getting the tyres into the correct working window,” explains Team Principal Ross Brawn. “However, at each race it was at different ends of the scale: in Melbourne, we overheated the tyres - it was under control on Friday, then we developed the set-up in a direction which did not prove helpful in the warmer conditions. In Malaysia, having done a lot of work in practice to make sure we didn’t suffer from the same problem, the cooler conditions on Sunday dropped us out of the window again.”

Temperature readings give a clearer picture of the shift: while on Friday and Saturday, track temperatures were in the mid-40s in Sepang (peaking at 45°C on Friday), they hovered around 30°C in the race. “In the dry at the end of the race, we got the car working more effectively and our pace was more respectable. But I still don’t feel we really got the tyres working well, gripping hard and operating at optimum temperature.”

The consequence of the drop in temperatures was to flip the primary challenge of the race on its head: instead of needing to protect the tyres from overheating, it was critical to generate tyre temperature in the cooler conditions. More than one team experienced a loss of relative competitiveness compared to Saturday. “The result in Malaysia was a great one for Formula One - but certainly not what would have been predicted before the start,” continues Brawn. “Like other teams at the front of the grid, we spent two days getting tyre temperatures down - and then, in the race, found that we needed to work the tyre harder. The cooler conditions reversed what was needed from the cars.”

However, circumstance alone does not explain the team’s difficulties at the opening races of the season. “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,” explains Brawn. “When we encounter challenges like this, we look at all areas of the car and we challenge ourselves collectively to find the solutions we need. But our qualifying speed tells us that the fundamentals of performance are there: you can’t do the lap times if you don’t have enough downforce, horsepower or a good chassis.”

So far, the potential of the F1 W03 has only been glimpsed on Saturday. At both races, the best of the team’s cars has qualified less than half a second from pole position - in 2011, the closest the team got to pole was 0.525s in Turkey. The step forward in basic performance is clear to see and there is no reason to believe that it cannot be translated to race conditions.

“Our objective is to build the best car we can for the race - and our qualifying performances are a consequence of that,” continues Brawn. “Nothing has been consciously done to focus on making the car quick in qualifying, and not so good in the race, because under the current rules - with DRS and the number of pit stops - there are no real rewards for doing so. Using the tyres properly is vital for success, and it depends on a number of factors, including set-up, the downforce the car is generating and the drivers’ approach. Within the set-up variations we can choose, we have the opportunity to find the right solution. But it’s a learning process, and we missed the mark at the first two races.”

What then of prospects for Shanghai? Practice data from Sepang indicated that, in dry conditions, race performance should have been more consistent than in Melbourne. China will provide an opportunity to confirm this. “Our analysis since Malaysia has given us an even better understanding, and we have plans and actions in place to improve our tyre management,” concludes Brawn. “We clearly have a reasonably quick car - we have shown that in qualifying - and now we have to convert our speed into race performance.”

~ Official photos and details courtesy of MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS ~

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