China´s first attempt to debut in Formula 1 took place in 1999, when the Chinese Grand Prix provisionally was added to the F1 calendar. Unfortunately the Zhuhai International Circuit failed to meet FIA standards and the race was dropped.
China´s second attempt was more succesful: Hermann Tilke was hired to design a new impressive 16-turn circuit near China´s largest city Shanghai. The Chinese transformed what once was swampy marsh land into an international motor racing circuit, including F1 top facilities, a capacity of 200,000 people and stunning views across the track. Most striking is the large grandstand in front of the pits, which has towers on both sides and a bridge type structure over the track.
When the Shanghai International Circuit was completed in 2004 it was the most expensive race circuit on the planet, but also one of the best. The FIA had approved the track already two years earlier. China would now be able to host their own Grand Prix, the first one taking place on 26 September 2004.
Shanghai International Circuit
The Shanghai International Circuit circuit begins with the a short start-finish straight, leading into one of the sports most challenging turns. The opening two corners blend into one and make up a long right sweep which tightens at the exit, before an immediate left hairpin that makes up turn 3. The complex is similar to that of turn 1 and 2 at the Sepang circuit.
Turn 4 is a quick, full throttle left kink before the cars tackle the barely there right that is turn 5. Turn 6 is a tight hairpin which leads the cars on to the high speed chicane of corners 7 and 8. The following two turns are tighter versions of the Degner complex at the Suzuka circuit. A short straight leads the cars on to the 90 degree left of turn 11, before cars first tackle turn 12 and then the long banked sweep that is turn 13.
The cars then start the trademark Tilke back straight, seeing cars top between 190 and 200mph. The cars then arrive at the best overtaking spot on the circuit; turn 14 which is a sharp right hairpin. Turn 15 is basically a straight line so I’m not sure why they class it as a corner, and the final turn is a fast left where plenty of kerb is taken.
The pit lane is tricky on this track. The entry starts by going straight on at the final turn, before slowing and making a sharp left. Lewis Hamilton slid into the gravel there in 2007, ruining his title chances. The 3.4 mile layout produces some spectacular racing.
Highlights of the Chinese GP
The inaugural Chinese Grand Prix in 2004 was won by Rubens Barrichello, who was chased across the line by Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen. The top 3 were separated by just 1.5 seconds. It was also the first time that Michael Schumacher failed to finish on the podium, after an incident filled race which began in the pit lane.
The 2006 round results were changed on the last lap after Barrichello, driving for Honda, crashed into the BMW Sauber of Nick Heidfeld at turn 14. This gifted 4th place to team mate Button, with Rubens crossing the line minus a front wing in 6th. Heidfeld crawled past the chequered flag on 3 wheels to take 7th.
A year later, Hamilton was left stranded in the gravel at the pit entry after a mistimed pit stop left him with very little grip on his tyres. He was running in 2nd at the time and ruined his chances of winning the title in his debut season. Kimi Raikkonen, the eventual 2007 world champion, took the victory.
Red Bull had entered F1 in 2005, but it took them 4 years to claim their first victory. Sebastian Vettel took a controlled 1-2 ahead of Mark Webber at the Shanghai circuit in 2009, in torrential conditions. Jenson Button won the 2010 race in similarly wet conditions, while McLaren team mate Hamilton claimed the winner’s trophy in 2011. This year’s race saw the 3rd different winner in 3 races, with Nico Rosberg being welcomed to the winner’s circuit.
Despite crowd numbers falling and the races profits falling, the organisers renewed their contract in February 2011. This means that we can continue to enjoy the spectacular races of the Chinese Grand Prix untill at least 2017.