Anthony Davidson's lap of Shanghai
And, in video, analysis of Nico Rosberg's 2012 pole lap
Last Updated: 11/04/13 8:02am
Turn One, closely followed by Turns Two and Three, presents a very challenging start to a lap of the Shanghai International Circuit. Having entered the first corner at around 180mph, a car's speed will be down to around 55mph for Turn Three - and with a driver constantly turning his car as that speed is scrubbed off, it's a very demanding and tricky beginning.
As stated, the entrance to the first corner is made at high speed but there's also quite a severe bump at the turn-in which can unsettle the car and every driver must be wary of. Continuing around Turn One, the car must be slowed down further still as the corner tightens before the driver must quickly find his line as the track rises above him towards Turn Two, where the track again tightens up into a sharp, second-gear, right-hander. At this stage, because the car is constantly being slowed down, it's losing downforce all the time and becoming more and more nervous and twitchy - which in turn makes it very hard for a driver to judge the right speed to be carried through.
Turn Two itself is pretty much blind before the track plummets back down the hill towards Turn Three, a sharp left-hander taken in second gear and quite heavily cambered towards the apex. Because of that, it's quite easy to lose control here, either from the front-end locking up or through rear-end instability. Getting on the power exiting Turn Three is also very tricky because, with the driver still turning the car, so much is being asked of the tyres.
On the exit of Turns Three and Four, the track climbs up the hill and although Turn Five is just a bit of a kink, it can become quite heavily waterlogged if it rains heavily. If it's wet, this is definitely a corner to watch out for - we've seen some cars go off here in the past.
On the run-down to Turn Six, a car will reach speeds of up to 165mph and sixth gear before heavily braking downhill - which can be difficult to judge - and into second gear. A car will still be turning on the exit when the rears are being asked for traction, making it a corner where you can easily let the back slip out, lose momentum and take the edge out of your rear tyres.
After Six, things start to get a bit more exciting and it's at this point that having a little bravery becomes a factor - although having a good car at high-speed also helps!
Into Turn Seven, which is a fast left-hander, you approach in fifth gear and then shift up to sixth just before the apex travelling at a minimum speed of 160mph. It's very similar in terms of feel to Turns Five and Six to Malaysia, the circuit we were just at, except that Turn Seven in China is a little more open than Turn Five at Sepang. It's quite a tricky corner, though, particularly in qualifying when a driver has to re-engage his DRS and can open it up quite late into the corner and then again on exit. In the past, we've seen some drivers get a little too greedy here and ask too much from the rear-end having opened up the DRS too early, resulting in the car snapping away from them at high speed.
A little bit of speed should be sacrificed on exit from Seven for good entry to Eight which is a bit tighter than Turn Six in Malaysia and where, unlike at Six at Sepang, a driver has to bring the car back to the right-hand side of the track because there is a nice double-apex left to follow. So fighting exit-speed on Eight, along with making the car straight for Nine, is very important; it's a vital part of the lap because plenty of time can be won and lost around this section and we've seen in the past, especially if there's traffic, that Turn Nine can be an overtaking opportunity. It's a risky manoeuvre to make, though.
Turn Nine itself is a nice corner. It's pretty much ninety degrees, but a driver must stay off the kerbs through the exit because the car will still be turning and traction is needed to carry you around Turn Ten.
In an ideal world, Ten would be taken full throttle, but more often than not - because of a tailwind, or a heavy fuel load, or fading rear tyres - a driver might have to slightly lift off to rebalance the car. It's a really satisfying corner to get right if you can take it full throttle, but it's also definitely one that you have to build up to over a weekend.
On the exit of Turn Ten, there's a tricky little kerb that is quite rough and can bounce the car if you take too much of it and even put a car into a spin if you run too wide there.
There's a small straight before Turn Eleven as we lead into a section of the track that reminds me of the Club Section at Silverstone, with a tight approach into Eleven, down into second gear and a 50mph apex for one of the tightest corners on the track. Then immediately, under half acceleration, the car must be turned to the right of the track around Turn Twelve - a corner which is the complete opposite of Turn One in that it starts off slow, then you gradually build up speed, bringing downforce and stabilising the car. It's an extremely important corner to try to carry momentum around because it leads onto such a long straight - the longest straight on the calendar until Korea's addition.
In a racing situation, exiting Twelve and then Thirteen well is absolutely crucial because Turn Fourteen, at the end of the straight, is a great overtaking opportunity with or without DRS. If you're the car in front, a clean exit is vital, but, equally so, if you're the car behind, you want to stay as close as possible through Twelve and Thirteen to be in the slipstream down that back-straight - which is so long, and makes DRS such a powerful tool, that in 2011 we saw lapped cars unlap themselves into Turn Fourteen!
In Formula 1, it's very rare that any straight feels long, but the back-straight which leads into Turn Fourteen at Shanghai is something special. In the car, you really do feel like you have a bit of time to think about balance or any modes you want to change on the steering wheel, absorb information over the radio from your engineer, and, in a racing situation, carefully plan your move at the end of the straight.
On the approach into Fourteen, a driver will look to the left where there are brake-marker boards and then usually look to brake just before the 100-metre board for what is a very slow corner. However, that braking point will change a great deal over the course of a weekend because there are so many variables at play - such as wind direction, the availability of DRS, and fuel loads. The difference can be as much as 50 metres and so learning those points through a weekend, when you have different fuel loads and sometimes DRS, is an important part of a driver's preparation to be stored in their memory bank for Sunday.
Going into Fourteen, it's very easy to lock-up plunging down into a 50mph, first-gear apex. There's not much a driver can do in a racing situation and there's a car behind - it will either dive down the inside at the last minute or just drive straight past you along the straight if their DRS is active and powerful enough. You can feel a bit like a sitting duck if you are being chased and even if you do successfully hold your position by taking the inside into Fourteen then, more often than not, you will see the pursuer simply cross your line and drive past you on the exit.
There's then a short run up the hill to Sixteen, which is a really tricky turn. There aren't many ninety-degree corners in F1 and when you approach it from a relatively high speed and in sixth gear, like you do for Turn Sixteen at Shanghai, it's very tricky to clip the apex just right. There's only one correct point of contact around this corner - you don't want to ride the kerb too much because it's quite aggressive, and you don't want to miss it because, if you do, you'll lose a heap of momentum onto the long start-finish straight. It's a corner which can easily make or break a lap - and a corner that's also vitally important at the start of a lap in qualifying because it leads on to the start-finish straight. In normal circumstances, this is a straight which would be considered substantial in terms of its length, but it's dwarfed here by the back-straight leading into Fourteen.
And that's a lap of Shanghai - demanding, tricky, but, all in all, a really interesting challenge for a driver to tackle.