The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX: China : Formula One Without the Music

20-04-2014

(report by Steve Lawson-Dickinson (@SteveF1_458)

Playing host to the new V6 turbo era, Shanghai displays the usual trademarks of a Hermann Tilke designed race track… a long straightway (the longest in F1) followed by the usual hairpin turn.

The 3.4 mile track layout was inspired from the Chinese character shang (上) which is the first character in the name of the city Shanghai,  itself meaning “above” or “ascend”.

Love it or hate it the new era of F1 brings with it huge challenges that for most would seem near impossible. Everyone perhaps but the AMG Mercedes team who with imaginative design, innovation and tenacity have created something very special and exceptionally difficult to beat- for the time being at least.

First practice was a mix of emotions for the Scuderia. Driving in a chilly 13 deg C drivers battled to get heat into the tires and struggled with braking. Alonso set fastest time in first practice bringing some hope that the new changes from Bahrain (which I will cover later) would help the struggling Formula One giants close the gap on the seemingly storming Mercedes Silver Arrows. It was a different story for Raikkonen however. Following mechanical problems Raikkonen unfortunately failed to complete a timed lap. Raikkonen’s car spent most of the session on jacks with mechanics frantically working on the front end of the car, which had apparently had a new chassis after cracks were discovered in the old one after the gripping wheel to wheel action of  Bahrain.

A wet qualifying session resulted in Hamilton on pole with the Red Bulls of Ricciardo and Vettel in second and third accordingly. Alonso qualified in what seems to be quite a regular 5th position.

Hamilton dominated and led the race from start to finish in what could possibly be described as quite an uneventful Grand Prix. This is his first hat-trick of consecutive wins and takes his tally of Grand Prix victories level with Jim Clark and Niki Lauda on 25 wins.

After a poor start Rosberg finished in second place, giving the AMG team a one-two, but was  18 seconds behind, his difficulties compounded by a lack of telemetry on his Mercedes F1 W05.

A hard working Fernando Alonso completed the podium line up with a very respectful and perhaps unexpected third for the Scuderia, finishing ahead of the Red Bulls. An early battle banging wheels with Massa’s Williams was brave, but luckily didn’t result in an accident.

Uneventful as such it might have been but Formula one is never short of controversy and rumour. Vettel apparently disobeying team orders? We’ll, it’s the second race in a succession in which Vettel, who has won the last four world titles with Red Bull, has received an order to move over for rookie Ricciardo. Vettel queried the order, asking what tyres Ricciardo was on. When he was told they were both on the same tyres but Ricciardo’s were fresher, Vettel replied: “Tough luck.” Two laps later on lap 25 he did apparently and reluctantly let the Australian driver by. Vettel later stated he was struggling to drive the car as well as Ricciardo.

Alonso dedicated his third place to former boss Stefano Domenicali, who allegedly resigned prior to China after the Ferrari drivers were ninth and 10th in the last race. There are plenty of rumours suggesting that maybe the 23yr veteran employee of Ferrari walked before he was pushed. Who knows.

He has been replaced unusually mid-season by Marco Mattiacci, president and CEO of Ferrari North America. Again the rumours are rife that this is an interim move by Ferrari who themselves wish the return of Ross Brawn.  Only time will tell.

Ferrari have no doubt made up a fair amount of ground since Bahrain. Apart from fuel mapping changes, Ferrari also introduced a new front axle and brake duct assembly (named as blown wheel hubs). This bleeds airflow from the brake cooling duct through a duct in the centre of the axle, directing airflow through the axle so that it exits just behind the front tyre, this is directed into a low pressure area where the flow is coming away from the ground. The idea is to make brake cooling much more efficient and will also reduce the overall drag of the car.

Of course Mercedes are totally aware that the other teams will catch up. For Shanghai they introduced a new shorter nose on their Silver Arrows F1 W05. It’s a very similar design that the car had in early development but never made it through FIA regulations. The new wing allows more air to flow between the front wing mounting pillars, making the airflow to the leading edge of the underfloor more consistent, therefore producing more downforce.

Generally speaking the beginning of the European round races usually brings with it more parts and more technical changes; for some teams, including the appearing to be falling away McLaren, this won’t come quick enough.

Some, including myself, are not too inspired by the new sound of Formula One, the tech and development is no doubt amazing, but there will be no quick fix for this. I have to agree with Mr Montezemolo – it isn’t Formula One without the music…