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

each race.

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.