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The Chinese Grand Prix Preview 13 Oct 2005

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R24.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Chinese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Shanghai, China, 25 September 2004 Jenson Button (GBR) BAR.
Formula One World Championship, Rd19,  Chinese Grand Prix, Preparations, Shanghai, China, 13 October 2005 A McLaren mechanic in the car.
Formula One World Championship, Rd19,  Chinese Grand Prix, Preparations, Shanghai, China, 13 October 2005 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault arrives in the paddock.
Formula One World Championship, Rd19,  Chinese Grand Prix, Preparations, Shanghai, China, 13 October 2005 Giancarlo Fisichella (ITA) Renault and Enrico Zanarini (ITA) Driver Manager.
Formula One World Championship, Rd19,  Chinese Grand Prix, Preparations, Shanghai, China, 13 October 2005

After the race of the season in Suzuka, another classic battle looms in China, with Renault and McLaren set to go head-to-head again all weekend as the fight for the 2005 constructors’ championship reaches its climax after a gruelling 19-round season.

There has been little time for teams to do more than fettle their cars and fly them over here, but the top outfits will have some small but significant aerodynamic updates and BAR are still hopeful of running their ‘screamer’ V10 in the back of Takuma Sato’s 007. Contrary to rumours you may have read elsewhere about third driver Anthony Davidson getting a race call-up in Shanghai, Sato will be partnering Jenson Button as usual this weekend in what will be his last Grand Prix outing with BAR.

Button was in what is best described as ebullient form over dinner last night and is hopeful of a strong performance in what will be BAR’s last race under its current identity following the recent takeover announcement by Honda.

"The Chinese Grand Prix has become one of my favourites, so it's great to be heading here this week for the final race of the season,” he said. “The Shanghai circuit is quite challenging and fun to drive. We were on the podium last year and we know it's a track that should suit this year's car. We did some good work in testing for the last couple of races and though I'm reluctant to make any predictions after a disappointing home race for the team in Japan, I think we will be stronger in China. We’ve had a busy week though, looking at where things went wrong for us and what we can do to make sure we can step up again to end a tough season on a high note."

The Chinese race will mark the end of an era in Formula One racing. It will bid regretful farewells to Peter Sauber and Minardi’s Paul Stoddart as team principals, though their teams will continue under different guises in 2006. Likewise it will be goodbye too to the Jordan name, which will become Midland next year.

The race may also see the swansong of the ubiquitous V10 engine as a front-running powerplant. It was first introduced so successfully by Renault back in 1989 and with one team or another has won every world championship title since 1995. Next year, of course, rev-restricted V10s can be raced but the regulations will be framed to encourage the top teams to field 2.4 litre V8s with the 10-cylinder engines intended to provide a cost-effective back-up for the more impecunious teams.

Shanghai International Circuit was designed by Hermann Tilke and is shaped like the Chinese character 'shang,' which means 'high' or 'above'. Its 5.4 km lap incorporates an equal number of left and right turns (seven) and presents drivers with several overtaking opportunities, in particular at the multi-apex turn one and at the end of the back straight.

After doing their pre-race simulations, the teams learned a great deal more about the venue in last year’s race, which fell to Ferrari courtesy of Rubens Barrichello. It requires high downforce, with the same compromise as Suzuka that you need for maximum cornering speed but low drag for good straight-line speed. But where Suzuka is narrow and overtaking is thus harder on the straights, at Shanghai that is slightly easier as the track is wider. This all means that setting up the car can be tricky.

The track surface is also quite abrasive, which can lead to tyre graining, and though the surface appears smooth there can be a high thermal exchange between the tyre’s contact patch and the road that can lead to blistering if you don’t get things just right. Fuel consumption is also quite high, so teams have to be clever with their strategy, too.