F1 2015 Chinese Grand Prix qualifying: Hamilton bids for pole position in Shanghai
PUBLISHED: 21:36 10 April 2015 | UPDATED: 11:34 11 April 2015
Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton battles for pole position in qualifying for the 2015 Chinese Grand Prix on Saturday having gone fastest in the first two practice sessions in Shanghai.
"I won the race last year and have only finished outside of the podium places twice, so the target is definitely to build on that and get back to the front."
The 30-year-old Mercedes F1 driver from Hertfordshire dominated the opening two practice sessions at the Shanghai International Circuit.
And the Stevenage-born reigning world champion will be looking to repeat last year’s pole position when qualifying takes place in China on Saturday morning, UK time.
Also battling for front-row starts will be Hamilton’s Silver Arrows colleague Nico Rosberg and the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel, who were second and fourth respectively in second practice.
Mercedes chief Toto Wolff said after practice: “Performance wise, we look competitive over one lap, although Nico didn’t quite get his lap together today.
“But Ferrari are close – and closer still on the long runs.
“We saw in Malaysia that we need to get every detail right to put together a winning weekend, so this will be our focus tonight [Friday] as we do our analysis and tomorrow [Saturday] in preparation for qualifying. It will be an exciting battle.”
However, the weather could upset the grid order. After the heat and humidity of Malaysia, there’s a high chance of rain because nearly half of the Chinese GPs to date have been affected by wet weather.
Qualifying last year took place in the wet, with Hamilton snatching pole in Q3 with a lap time of 1m 53.860s. He clocked 1m 37.219s in P2 on Friday.
Did you know?
Last year’s Chinese GP was stopped at 54 laps, instead of the scheduled 56, after a local dignitary waved the chequered flag too early.
The Shanghai International Circuit has been a regular fixture in Formula One since 2004.
Even now, 11 years after it first hosted a grand prix, the sheer scale of the venue is breathtaking.
The track was designed and built by Hermann Tilke, whose company has been involved in the creation of nine circuits on this year’s calendar.
Before construction could begin, Tilke was forced to insert 40,000 concrete pillars into the marshland selected as the location for the 5.451km/3.387-mile circuit.
Shanghai International Circuit
* First race: 2004.
* Circuit length: 5.451km / 3.387 miles.
* Run to Turn One: 380 metres.
* Longest straight: 1.17km, on the approach to Turn 14.
* Top speed: 326km/h on the approach to Turn 14.
* DRS Zones: Two – the first on the approach to Turn 15, the second on the approach to Turn One.
* Key corner: Turn 14. The slowest corner on the track, this hairpin comes at the end of a huge 1.2km straight, and is the likeliest place from which to launch an overtaking attempt. Both the entry and exit can see some pretty frantic action.
* Pitlane length: 380 metres.
* Major changes for 2015: None.
What was created thereafter was one of the most impressive venues the sport has ever seen, with two 140-metre structures dominating the start-finish straight and seating for 50,000 spectators.
The track layout has several challenging features. Its two 270-degree right-hand corners place enormous stress on the front-left tyre and the 1.1km back straight is the longest of the entire season, along which straight-line speed is at a premium.
The Shanghai International Circuit is a very different prospect to Melbourne and Sepang, where the opening two rounds took place, similar only in that it is still one of the newer breed of track with long straights and overtaking zones.
The clockwise layout contains an eclectic mix of corners, from the 270-degree ever-tightening Turn One to the fast esses in sector two.
The final sector incorporates a huge straight, at the end of which lies the best overtaking point on the lap, a second-gear hairpin.
On nailing a hot flying lap around the track, Hamilton explained: “Starting at Turn One, you’ve got an opening corner that seems to go on forever and puts a lot of stress on the front tyres.
“That then tightens into Turn Two, which is tricky as you can’t really see the apex.
“Getting the right line between these two is really important as it sets you up for the switchback of Turn Three before getting the power down out of Turn Four.
2015 Chinese Grand Prix: The race
* Start time: 1400 (local) / 0700 (BST).
* Race distance: 56 laps (full world championship points awarded after 75% distance / 42 laps).
* 2014 winner: Lewis Hamilton.
* 2014 pole position: Lewis Hamilton 1m53.860s 172.348km/h (wet).
* 2014 fastest lap: Nico Rosberg 1m40.402s 195.450km/h.
* Chances of a Safety Car: Medium. There’s a 43 per cent chance of a Safety Car.
* Don’t put the kettle on: Between laps 12-17 and 34-38. The top 15 cars completed last year’s race on a two-stop strategy, with most cars electing to run the soft tyre in the first stint, followed by two stints on the medium compound.
* Weather forecast: After the heat and humidity of Malaysia, Shanghai is going to feel cool. Typically, the ambient temperature is around 18 degrees at this time of year, with a track temperature of around 22 degrees. There’s a high chance of rain because nearly half of the Chinese GPs to date have been affected by wet weather.
“Turn Five is more of a gentle curve before braking nice and late into Turn Six. This looks pretty tight but you can actually carry a lot of speed through the apex as there’s good grip there and it opens up nicely on exit.
“Then, it’s up through the gears and holding fifth through Turn Seven which flows straight into the tricky, low-grip Turn Eight. Turns Nine and 10 are quite slow by comparison but again don’t give you a lot of grip.
“After a medium length straight, it’s important not to out-brake yourself into Turn 11, as positioning is crucial for Turns 12 and 13 which form a long right-hand curve that just seems to keep going and going with the car constantly moving about.
“Then you’re onto the back straight: one of the longest on the calendar and a good overtaking spot with the DRS zone making it even tougher to defend.
“There’s a lot of time to be gained on the brakes into Turn 14 but you have to get a good exit, as it effectively sets you up for a run all the way through the final two turns and across the line.
“The last corner itself often catches people out and you almost have to be a little cautious here as a small mistake can give your opponents a passing opportunity down the DRS stretch into Turn One.”
While Hamilton will be hoping to secure the 41st pole of his F1 career in qualifying, McLaren-Honda will be happy to just make Q3 after a poor start to the 2015 season.
However, McLaren-Honda enjoyed a positive first day of practice in Shanghai. Both cars regularly ran inside the top 10 in both sessions, eventually finishing 10th (Jenson Button) and 12th (Fernando Alonso) at the end of Friday afternoon’s session.
The MP4-30 behaved fairly well around the fast sweeps of the Shanghai circuit, although a mid-session yellow-flag period – to retrieve Felipe Massa’s car – meant that some drivers were compromised while attempting to set lap-times on fresh option rubber.
After practice, Button said: “We look reasonably good out there, but that can perhaps be explained by the fact that we seem to have been able to extract the maximum out of our car today, whereas perhaps some of the other teams haven’t.
“Still, the car feels nice to drive – especially when we’re running on the option tyre. However, our one-lap pace seems to be better than our performance over a long run, which is a turnaround from how we went in Malaysia. But I think we can make some improvements in that area for tomorrow [Saturday].
“Irrespective of today’s finishing position, the feeling with the car is good. There’s still plenty of room for improvement, but I’m looking forward to the rest of the weekend nonetheless.”
McLaren colleague Alonso added: “It’s been a very positive Friday for us – I enjoyed both sessions. We completed our aero programme during the morning, and then focused on set-up work this afternoon.
“All the updates we brought here seem to be working as we’d expected, and they’ve put us closer to the mid-pack. It’s very encouraging to see that we’re moving firmly in the right direction – it’s a question of time as to when we’ll become competitive.
“Obviously, we began the season from a lower starting point than some of the other teams, so it’s been easier for us to make quick improvements, but the team is so focused and determined to improve – that’s very impressive.
“While it’s been great today to run in the middle of the pack – and I want to be able to maintain that sort of progress – we need to keep our feet on the ground. We saw in the first two races that the others tend to take a step forward in qualifying, so we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”