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The Chinese Grand Prix Preview - Brawn under pressure? 16 Apr 2009

Jenson Button (GBR) Brawn Grand Prix.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday, 5 April 2009 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari F2008.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Chinese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China, Saturday, 18 October 2008 Jarno Trulli (ITA) Toyota on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd17, Chinese Grand Prix, Race Day, Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China, Sunday, 19 October 2008 Pitstop for Nico Rosberg (GER) Williams FW31.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Race, Sepang, Malaysia, Sunday, 5 April 2009 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren during qualifying.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Sepang, Malaysia, Saturday, 4 April 2009

Even with Brawn GP’s trick diffuser having been declared legal, championship leader Jenson Button expects to have to fight really hard for his Formula One hat-trick in Shanghai this weekend, as the Chinese Grand Prix moves to the third slot on the calendar for 2009.

“I am understandably delighted with how our season has begun, but we are only two races in and everyone at the team is aware that our competitors will not stand still,” the 29 year-old Englishman says. “We fully expect a tough fight from here if we want to continue our early successes.

Brawn, along with Toyota and Williams, come to Shanghai boosted by news that they can continue to race their disputed rear diffusers, after they were declared legal by the FIA’s International Court of Appeal on Wednesday. It’s a decision that leaves rivals scurrying to add similar designs to their cars as soon as possible - and one that leaves Button eager to get racing again before they have a chance to catch up.

“The Shanghai International Circuit (SIC) is an enjoyable one for the drivers and a good technical challenge to find the right set-up,” he adds. “I particularly enjoy the high-speed sections and the overtaking opportunities going into the tight right-hander at turn five and at the end of the back straight."

Meanwhile, after a high-powered meeting in Maranello, Ferrari have reacted to their disappointing start to the season - and their disaster in Malaysia - by making internal team changes. Team manager Luca Baldiserri has changed to a factory-based role, and his position at races will be taken by Chris Dyer, who was formally Michael Schumacher’s engineer and has recently acted as chief track engineer.

Baldiserri will now work with technical director Aldo Costa to fast-track developments on the F60. The pressure is really on Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa, who must score good finishes this weekend.

Likewise McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton. “I really enjoy racing in Shanghai,” says the reigning world champion, who won the race last year. “The track is a good blend of fast and slow stuff and it throws up a few nice challenges for the drivers. Finding the right set-up is important, you need speed and balance through the high-speed corners but decent mechanical grip for the hairpins.

“We got it spot-on last year, and while I don’t expect us to enjoy that sort of performance advantage this season, I think we’re all looking forward to a good showing. Hopefully, some of the upgrades we’ve added to MP4-24 for this race will have a benefit: it would be very encouraging if we could qualify a little further up the grid and be regularly challenging for points.”

McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh added: “We have reasons to be both disappointed and optimistic about our performance in the opening races: disappointed because we do not yet possess the necessary technical package to enable us to fight with the leaders, but optimistic that our rate of progress is sufficiently rapid that we should be able to fight for points finishes on a regular basis. This weekend’s race will see a number of new components introduced to MP4-24, and while we do not expect them to radically transform the car’s potential, they should move us a little closer to the front.”

Toyota, Williams and BMW Sauber are feeling more bullish about their chances this weekend.

"I am really optimistic about the Chinese Grand Prix because we have started the season very strongly,” Toyota’s Jarno Trulli says. “It shows how much progress we have made since last season that in Malaysia I was a little disappointed with fourth because I wanted to finish on the podium and fight for the win. Last year in Malaysia I finished fourth and that was more than we expected. We are second in the constructors' championship so it's clear we are one of the top teams and both Timo (Glock) and I have consistently been fighting at the front which is great. So the goal for me in China is to fight for the podium again and I think we have a really good chance.”

"Shanghai's a driver's track," says Williams’s Nico Rosberg, who led early on in Malaysia. "There's a great mix of corners and then there are those two long straights so plenty of overtaking opportunities around the lap which will be good for the racing. Sepang showed that the team seem to have fixed the problem we had last year on these types of circuits so it's now looking like we have consistency. I'm confident that we'll have another competitive weekend in China. Top eight for sure."

BMW Sauber, like Renault, will be hoping to exploit their KERS advantage (at least on Nick Heidfeld’s car) on the SIC’s long straights.

The track is 5.451 kilometres long and shaped like the Chinese character 'shang,' meaning 'high' or 'above'. It has an equal number of left and right turns - seven apiece - and presents several overtaking opportunities. Among them are Turn One and the corner at the end of the 1.1 km back straight where the cars brake from more than 320km/h on the section between Turns 13 and 14.

It is a low to medium-downforce track, and this weekend Bridgestone will be supplying their medium and super soft compound slick tyres, a combination which presented interesting challenges to the teams in Australia.