China preview - Red Bull KERS issues to take centre stage? 13 Apr 2011
While their rivals continue whistling to keep their spirits up, and take whatever they can from their performances last weekend at Malaysia's Sepang circuit, Red Bull go to China the firm favourites once more. However, it may not all be plain sailing for the current world champion constructors, who are still struggling to make their KERS work.
Shanghai is another track on which it will be crucial, especially at the start (where it let Mark Webber down so badly last weekend), but chief technical officer Adrian Newey admits: Our system in still in its infancy. We are not a manufacturer team so were having to develop KERS ourselves, which has not been our area of expertise in the past. Were also doing it on a limited resource and with limited experience, on a rapid learning curve. How long it takes us to get to the top of that remains to be seen."
Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton is determined to get back on track after his disappointment in Malaysia, as McLaren bring some more new parts which will be evaluated in free practice on Friday and Saturday with the aim of adding performance to the MP4-26.
It's always best to put a disappointing weekend behind you, and, as always, I'll make a positive of the experience in Malaysia and learn from it, he says. Whats been most encouraging is that our pace is still extremely strong: Jenson (Button) drove a fantastic race and was able to narrow the gap to Sebastian (Vettel) during the closing laps, and I think we have the pace to continue taking the battle to Red Bull this weekend.
In both races, weve seen that Red Bull hasnt been able to achieve their full potential, and I think its important that we keep applying the pressure to make sure they cant afford to make mistakes.
Button, a winner here for the team in 2010 and fresh from a fighting second in Sepang, is also geared up to push hard. Off the back of two successive podium finishes were not only hopeful of maintaining our finishing record, but of improving it. Weve made no secret of our desire to take the fight to Red Bull, and were fully aware that stronger opposition will make it harder for them to have a smooth and uninterrupted weekend.
As we expected, Malaysia showed that the sharp-end of the grid is incredibly competitive, and that there are at least four teams that can expect to fight for the podium this weekend.
Ferrari were buoyed by their race pace last weekend, especially on the harder tyre, and Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa are feeling more optimistic. It was a fantastic day for us to see that we were able to fight with McLaren and to fight with Webber as well," Alonso said after his race in Malaysia.
"We did that a little bit in Australia too, fighting with Jenson and Webber. But, for whatever reason, we are struggling a little bit more on Saturday. On Sunday we feel a little bit more confident and much more comfortable to drive the car.
"We wear maybe a little bit less the tyres than the others, so we can keep more consistent laps and here was a very good feeling. We did not expect to be fighting with them, so there is a very positive atmosphere now in the team after the race - and we can arrive in China much more happy."
Renault, too, are relatively confident after two strong podium performances, though Nick Heidfeld suggests cautiously: Its too early to say whether the podiums can continue. It really depends on the upgrade packages the other teams bring to China, which might change the pecking order a little bit. We had a good upgrade in Sepang, and our package this weekend in Shanghai is not as big. But I think its a circuit where our car will go well because we have good top speed, which should pay off down the long back straight.
Mercedes also believe they can turn around their Malaysian misfortunes, while elsewhere Lotus and HRT are among the teams with new parts to try which they hope will enhance their fortunes.
The 5.4 km Shanghai International Circuit is shaped like the Chinese character 'shang,' meaning 'high' or 'above'. The unique first corner is entered at full-throttle in seventh gear before the driver downchanges rapidly as it tightens. Its one of those corners that goes on and on, with a bump on the entry just to make things more interesting, and definitely rewards patience.
The layout features seven right and seven left turns, and requires low to medium downforce levels because of its two very long straights. The latter naturally present strong opportunities for overtaking as drivers brake from 320 km/h, and the FIA have confirmed that the DRS zone for the moveable rear wing will begin with the activation point just before the halfway mark down the straight that follows Turn 13. As in Malaysia, there will be just the one zone.
Along the massive back straight, even without DRS, I still think therell be plenty of opportunity for overtaking - especially if we see the same sort of close racing as we witnessed in Malaysia, Button says. As thats where theyve put the DRS zone for the race, I think well see some spectacular passing - and possibly even re-passing.
On the tyre front, Pirelli will again bring their hard and soft rubber, and with rain forecast for Friday and Saturday may get experience running their wet-weather rubber too. With Chinas cooler temperatures and smoother track surface, tyre wear should not be such a crucial issue and we are likely to see a mix of two- and three-stop race strategies.
The track has been resurfaced on approach to Turns 1, 8, 11 and 14 and for improved drainage the levels of the verge on the left in Turn 5 have been altered. A 4.5m debris fence has been installed straight on at Turn 14 and further attempts have been made to improve drainage before and after Turn 16.
The track layout remains unchanged and the race will run over 56 laps of the 5.451 kilometre (3.387 mile) circuit, or 305.066 kilometres (189.568 miles). It will start at 15.00 hours local time, which is eight hours ahead of GMT.
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