The Chinese Grand Prix Preview 28 Sep 2006
As the world championship moves out of Europe and to the Far East for the next two rounds, Renault and Ferrari are marshalling all their resources in the battle for the drivers and constructors crowns.
Having taken a narrow lead in the latter over Renault following Michael Schumachers dramatic victory at Monza in the recent Italian Grand Prix, Ferrari have a series of modifications, ranging from engine to aerodynamics, on their 248 F1s, and Felipe Massa will be fully prepared to back up his team leader.
We are going to these last three races aiming to win, Schumacher said, and if he wins two of them his overall tally of 92 victories would match the combined totals of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. Food for thought.
Renault, however, have also been working hard on their R26. Besides aerodynamic refinements it will have a stronger and more powerful engine than Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella raced at Monza.
Alonso won last years race here, but hasnt won since the Canadian Grand Prix in June. Despite that he says motivation remains strong at Renault. Well, we have been leading all year, and we want to finish in the same position! Honestly, I think the motivation is greater than ever. These are the last three races for me with this fantastic team, and also the last races for Michelin in this era of Formula One. So our motivation to win is enormous, and I think we can do it.
Shanghai is one of the circuits that I enjoy. I have fantastic memories from last year, when we won the constructors championship there. It has been designed to give overtaking opportunities, especially at the end of the long back straight, and that helps make the races spectacular. I think we can expect an exciting race. But we have been saying all year that you cannot predict what will happen on track, with the competition being so close. Instead, we are focused on our objectives, and that means qualifying at the front and winning the race. That will be the target.
While these two teams are likely to fight it out for the win, McLaren would like to make it three teams competing for honours. The MP4-21 has been getting stronger recently and Kimi Raikkonen would like to sign off with a win before he quits the team to take over Schumachers seat at Ferrari.
Honda, too, as they get closer to their home race in Japan, want to make a good impression. Both teams have aerodynamic modifications and improved engines. Honda in particular are pushing the performance envelope with their RA806E V8, which was tested successfully in Spain last week.
The Chinese Grand Prix has quickly become one of my favourite races on the calendar and the atmosphere at the race for the last two years has been fantastic, Jenson Button said. The circuit is very technical and quite demanding for the drivers but also fun to drive, with the stand-out feature being the length of the corners, particularly turn one which is tough on the neck. We had a good result in Shanghai in 2004 when I finished in P2 behind
Rubens (Barrichello) and I think that the track will suit our car this year. Our final test of the season in Jerez went well this week and we hope to end the season on a high note with some good performances at the final three races."
BMW Sauber, Toyota, Williams and Red Bull also go armed with modified cars, the former pair still locked in a close fight for fifth place in the constructors rankings. Robert Doornbos will take over Christian Kliens race seat at Red Bull alongside David Coulthard, with GP2 driver Michael Ammermuller called up to perform Doornboss Friday test duties. Spyker (nee Midland), meanwhile, are due to run a new orange livery to reflect the teams change of ownership, and will have another GP2 star, Frenchman Alexandre Premat, in their third car.
Hermann Tilke designed the Shanghai circuit to resemble the Chinese symbol for high so it has a mixture of medium-speed corners, long straights and hairpins to achieve this. There are seven left and seven right-hand turns, one of the most demanding being turn one which is entered at maximum speed, but exited in second because the corner tightens up more and more.
The layout demands excellent balance, thus placing a high premium on aerodynamic performance, good stability under braking, and a strong engine for maximum acceleration out of the corners and speed down the two long straights. The longer of these, between Turns 13 and 14, is 1175 metres long. Like Istanbul Park, Tilkes other recent success story, Shanghai is between 13 and 15 metres wide so it offers some good opportunities for overtaking, another reason why it is very popular with the drivers.
So who will win this weekend? Everything will depend in the first instance on tyre performance, but ultimately it would be no surprise to see another Schumacher versus Alonso classic.