Red Bull ready to stamp dominance at Shanghai
Red Bull will look to make the most of its technical advantage
at this weekend’s Formula One Chinese Grand Prix, with rival teams
yet to implement new technology and another weather-affected race
Red Bull romped to a 1-2 finish at the previous GP earlier this
month in Malaysia, finally confirming its status as this season’s
early benchmark after mechanical failures prevented wins that were
otherwise there for the taking in Bahrain and Australia.
Red Bull arrives in Shanghai with memories of another 1-2 finish
here last season, and a repeat of that performance this weekend
would have its rival teams playing catch up.
That catching up must be done in the workshop, as the likes of
McLaren and Ferrari seek to match Red Bull’s technical edge and
cure their own shortcomings.
Since Malaysia, McLaren has been working to develop a suspension
ride adjustment system like the one many suspect is fitted to the
Red Bull cars, despite denials from the team.
Such a system allows the car’s ride to be lowered for the
low-fuel qualifying session and raised to accommodate the greater
fuel load on race day. How this can be achieved, and has been
achieved if the rumors about Red Bull are true, is unclear given
that it is illegal to tinker with the cars between qualifying and
race. There has been talk of a gas compression that dissipates
naturally in the time between qualifying and race, allowing the car
to essentially raise itself.
McLaren said this week that it had abandoned efforts to design a
new suspension system ahead of China because its understanding of a
directive from world governing body FIA is that even a self-raising
device would contravene regulations. Where that leaves Red Bull,
and whether there will be any official protest, remains to be
Ferrari, meanwhile, had been making efforts to copy McLaren’s
F-duct aerodynamic device, which is manually operated by the driver
in the cockpit to adjust airflow and stall the rear wing to allow
for greater speed on the straights.
Of more immediate concern for the Italian team is reliability
after Fernando Alonso’s powerplant engine gave way in a plume of
smoke on the penultimate lap in Malaysia.
With only eight engines per car allowed over 19 races this
season before penalties kick in, Ferrari is already into
conservation mode. This weekend it will use the engines it took to
a 1-2 finish at Bahrain and subsequently changed, suggesting the
team is less than confident about the ability of the engines from
the last two races.
Should one of the Ferrari engines give way this weekend, there
will be serious questions asked at the team’s Maranello
headquarters. It was ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix last year that
Luca Baldisseri was replaced as chief of on-track operations,
paying the price for Ferrari’s poor start to 2009.
This weekend looms as the third straight in which either
qualifying or the race is affected by rain, with forecasts of
showers and low temperatures in Shanghai. Last year’s wet Chinese
GP started behind a safety car which didn’t pull in for eight
A wet weekend will put team strategy in the spotlight again,
after both Ferrari and McLaren put too much faith in their weather
radars during qualifying at Malaysia. They waited too late to go
out for qualifying laps in the belief that better weather was on
the way when in fact it only worsened, and as a result they started
the race from the rear of the grid.
Last year’s Shanghai race marked something of a turning point in
the season, when the early dominance of Brawn GP came to an end as
Red Bull made a significant stride to catch up.
The situation is reversed this year, as Red Bull has marked
itself as the team to beat, even if it hasn’t fully translated its
early season strength into championship points.
One team under pressure to make a stride forward in Shanghai is
Mercedes, and particularly Michael Schumacher.
The seven-time world champion can be excused for his meager
points haul so far this season – a forgivable humdrum performance
in a pedestrian Bahrain GP, a first-corner collision in Australia
that destroyed his race, and a wheel nut failure in Malaysia. But
he has been out-driven in qualifying by teammate Nico Rosberg in
Mercedes, which raced as Brawn GP last season, was tipped to be
a championship contender this year. Instead it has been a distinct
fourth-best in general performance, behind Red Bull, Ferrari and
McLaren, and is even looking like having to fend off Renault so as
not to slip to fifth.