F1 Power Rankings: Chinese Grand Prix

Two races into the 2012 Formula One World Championship and we only know that we know almost nothing. McLaren look to be the fastest but have yet to prove themselves on a permanent race circuit this season. Mercedes AMG are fast in qualifying when there’s unlimited DRS use which allows them to engage the front-wing F-duct. The Sauber appears to be the best of the rest but Williams could grab that spot if they had some luck.

This race could be the most important one to set the tone for the season if it’s dry. We’ve yet to have a dry race at a Tilke-drome and how you perform on Hermann Tilke-designed circuits is the biggest factor in success during the season.

#1 Jenson Button (Last Race #1)
Jenson Button’s PR quotes are a bad circuit designer’s dream: “Well, the facilities are amazing, but it’s a very good, modern circuit – the first two sectors are pretty technical, there are some interesting combinations of corners and you need a good, responsive car to go well. Then the track opens up, the straight is one of the longest in Formula 1 – it just keeps going – then you’re into the hairpin and the final turn, both of which offer good opportunities for overtaking. There’s no one particular corner that stands out, but that’s good, because it means they’ve done a good job with the whole track.”

#2 Lewis Hamilton (LR #3)
Louise is talking about points racing after two of 20 races. He’s setting up for a boring year. And in 2007, he crashed out of the lead in China and cost himself the title: “I also think last year taught me the value of consistency: it’s no use chasing a great result if you can’t back it up with another strong finish the following week. So maybe I’m just playing myself in gently: after all, in 2007, I didn’t win a race until the sixth round, and I was in the hunt for the title all through the year. I still don’t think the pecking order has settled down yet, so it’s important to get some good results in the bag while we can. It will be very interesting to see how the order has shaken itself out over the last three weeks – it’s going to be an interesting weekend.”

#3 Mark Webber (LR #4)
Webber is the faster of the two Red Bull drivers this year. We’re likely to have a 2010-esque teammate fight again at RBR: “Shanghai is a track that has been pretty good to me in the past. I’m yet to notch up my first victory, but I’ve had some memorable podiums there, notably the extreme wet race in 2009 and my third place from 18th on the grid. I expect this year’s race to be as exciting, but clearly I’m looking to start in a much better position. It’s generally cool, so it’s very different to Malaysia. It’s going to be interesting to see how the long straight will affect people’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of top speeds; the flow of the rest of the circuit is something that I really enjoy.”

#4 Fernando Alonso (LR #6)
Fernando wants to make sure that you know he won’t be winning this weekend without shitloads of luck: “I’m not expecting any surprises in this race, compared to what we saw in Australia and Malaysia. It’s true almost three weeks have gone by, but that does not mean there was enough time to completely turn the car around in such a short time: we will have a few small updates, but nothing particularly significant and on top of that, we can expect that the other teams will also bring some new parts. Therefore, we won’t change our approach to this grand prix: to get a good result, we will need to concentrate on ourselves, trying to be perfect and to exploit every possibility that might come our way over the weekend.”

#5 Sergio Perez (LR #16)
Perez has been the best driver this season and is still looking for more: “I enjoyed the short break after the race in Malaysia, although, especially in the beginning, it was a busy time back in Mexico. The reception in Guadalajara was absolutely great and I really loved seeing my family and friends at home. However, I’m very much focused on thinking about further improvements and continued with my training programme. We all have to keep our heads down and work hard. Our car can be competitive and we have to make the most of it.”

#6 Sebastian Vettel (LR #2)
The defending champ is a fan of the epic space he has to not crash in: “The track in China is unique due to its size. The broad track leaves enough space for overtaking moves and there are very big run off areas – even the usually tight pit areas in Shanghai have a lot of space. I’ve had some good races there in the past, we got a great result in 2009 when we took the team’s first win and in 2011, when we were second. Hopefully we can get a strong finish and some more points.”

#7 Kimi Raikkonen (LR #13)
The Iceman reflects on the first two races of his comeback: “So far it has been more or less alright for me and the racing isn’t any different than before. The E20 certainly feels good. We’re working to get the steering exactly right for me – and we’re almost there. The speed in the car is good – and this applies to qualifying and race pace. It’s been two frustrating races in terms of where we started. We shouldn’t have started so far back in Australia, and the penalty for changing the gearbox before the Malaysian Grand Prix cost us finishing positions too, but that’s motor racing.”

#8 Paul di Resta (LR #15)
Dario’s cousin talks us through the first turn in Shanghai: “It has some unusual features. Turn one is very long and feels like it goes on forever. The key to getting it right is how much entry speed you can carry into the corner. You also have to look out for one of the biggest bumps of the year at the corner entry, which makes it difficult.”

#9 Michael Schumacher (LR #5)
The less said about Seven-Time’s history in this race, the better: “When I think about the Chinese Grand Prix, the fans are the first thing that comes to mind. For many years now, I’ve had a big and loyal fan base there, and it’s still very touching to see the lengths they go to in supporting me. A big thank you to all of them! … In the first two races of 2012, we didn’t manage to maintain our qualifying pace in race conditions. We’ve been working intensively on this, so that we can offer our fans a strong performance in China.”

#10 Pastor Maldonado (LR #9)
Pastor is looking forward to China. Probably because his car won’t be barely faster than the Caterhams like last year: “Shanghai is one of my favourite circuits on the calendar so I am really looking forward to the race. The circuit has a nice combination of slow and medium speed corners and good sequences that are fun to drive. It is also very challenging because it is difficult to get close to the car in front to take advantage of the long DRS zone. We have shown good pace in the first two races and hopefully we can continue to improve here and pick up some points.”

#11 Bruno Senna (LR #18)
Senna also wants to remind you that he has a fast car: “The car is performing well and showing strong pace so I am confident about our chances in China. I have not raced there for two years so I will have to work hard to re-learn the track, but I have good memories of the circuit because it has a good mix of high speed and low speed corners and good overtaking opportunities. I had a good race in Malaysia and hopefully I can continue that form in Shanghai.”

#12 Nico Rosberg (LR #8)
Nico thinks that the season really starts in China. I suppose he’s right because one long straight, medium-speed corners and no elevation change are all Tilke traits that are more prevalent in China than Malaysia: “The track is quite different to the first two, as it demands more from the front tyres than the rears – in other words, what is termed a front-limited circuit. We know that we have a quick car, but we are looking to improve our long run pace in China next weekend and to have a better race performance.”

#13 Nico Hulkenberg (LR #17)
Nico has a rare moment of honesty. It’s good to see a driver basically say that a track sucks: “It’s not my favourite race of the year, but they’ve done a good job to build a really impressive facility and it’s a fun track to drive. It’s difficult to predict how well we will do there, but given how close the grid is at the moment I think it should be a good show for everyone who is watching.”

#14 Jean-Eric Vergne (LR #12)

#15 Daniel Ricciardo (LR #10)

#16 Felipe Massa (LR #7)

#17 Kamui Kobayashi (LR #11)
Kobayashi Maru talks about the effect tyre temperatures have on his car. That’s the sort of thing we need to hear more of: “I really like the circuit near Shanghai because I enjoy its high speed corners very much, and as well as that they should suit our car… The track temperatures might be lower than recently in Malaysia, as I expect them to be more like they were in Melbourne, and this also should be better for us and the tyres, but we have to see how it is once we are there. In any case I will go there with a positive approach and after the small break it will be interesting to see who brings what updates for the cars.”

#18 Romain Grosjean (LR #14)
If it wasn’t for bad luck, the Frenchman would have no luck at all this season: “When you make mistakes you have to admit it and not repeat that mistake. When it’s not your fault – well it’s not your fault. The first two races were tough and we didn’t get a result. On the other hand I know that we can do some great things in the future races. My season starts properly in China.”

#19 Heikki Kovalainen (LR #19)
Heikki all but calls the Shanghai circuit a generic, cookie-cutter track: “When we do get back out it will be in Shanghai at one of the pretty standard modern tracks. It’s a mix of low and medium speed corners, a very long straight with a tight corner at the end that provides a natural point to overtake, and a couple of tight fiddly bits you never quite feel like you get completely right. It’s not too hard on the brakes but you need to get the car stable under braking so you can really attack into each braking zone, and you need good traction out of the slower corners to be able to pressure the cars ahead around the whole lap.”

#20 Timo Glock (LR #21)
As always, the best insight heading into the weekend comes from our boy Tim O’Glock: “Shanghai is a really special circuit. It has a very long straight and a very difficult turn one which is very quick on entry and tight through the whole corner. It’s very long and demanding for the front left tyre, so a real challenge for Pirelli in determining the tyre choice. It’s difficult to make predictions for this race because I’ve known it to be pretty cold and sometimes very wet, so you never quite know what is going to happen and so much depends on the weather here.”

#21 Vitaly Petrov (LR #20)
Vitaly has more important things to worry about than racing: “I’ve been doing a bit of training, catching up with friends and family and I hooked up with Andrei Arshavin to help launch the new Nike Mercurial Vapour VIII football boots. I’m a big football fan and it’s always good seeing Andrei. He’s obviously having a pretty interesting season with Arsenal and I know he and the whole Russian team are looking forward to Euro 2012 in June. I’ll have to make sure I can fit in watching a few games while we’re at races – I’m in Canada for Russia’s opening game so I’ll have a word with the IT guys to see if they can help me watch it!”

#22 Charles Pic (LR #22)
Chuck is still trying to get up to speed in his first F1 season: “I’m quite happy with the way I got up to speed with the first two circuits, despite never having raced there before… It has been good to look back at my data from Australia and Malaysia and see where we can continue to improve. I’ve prepared in the simulator as much as I can during the break. I’ve also spent some time in the factory working with the team and my relationship with the engineers is developing very well.”

#23 Pedro de la Rosa (LR #23)
Pedro is still focused on development work. He’d probably be better off trying to start on next season so HRT might actually make pre-season testing for once: “After these first two Grands Prix we arrive in China much better prepared, with more mileage and having learned a lot, especially after the Malaysian GP. All the data gathered in the last race is very important for us, as we mustn’t forget that we didn’t have a preseason. Now we have a better insight on the areas where we must improve, but the most important thing in this initial stage is to finish races.”

#24 Narain Karthikeyan (LR #24)
Karthikeyan’s high opinion of himself carried over to his feud with Sebastian Vettel. The twice World Champion said that Narain caused their collision in Malaysia (an opinion the race stewards agreed with). Karthikeyan fought back harder in the press than he ever has on-track: “For a world champion to say things like that is really shameful. It is really unprofessional. For a driver who has achieved so much to take out his frustrations on me just because he is having a difficult year is really sad. One does not expect a professional sportsman to be such a cry baby.”

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