Last weekend should have marked the Return of the Chinese Grand Prix to the Formula 1 calendar. In the midst of this four week long break between the Australian GP and the Azerbaijan GP, I just had to look back at some of the races held at the Shanghai International circuit and relive some of its most memorable moments so far.
For the fourth consecutive year, Formula 1 declared that the Chinese Grand Prix has been canceled as China continues to struggle with COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions. Formula 1 decided not to replace the Shanghai round, opening up a four-week gap on an already packed 23-round calendar. The Chinese Grand Prix was a regular staple on the F1 calendar from its inception in 2004 up until 2019, the race at the Shanghai International Circuit has been responsible for some of the most memorable moments in the championship in recent years.
Before Sir Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes joined forces and created a record breaking partnership, no one would have predicted that Michael Schumacher’s win tally would ever be beaten. His 91st and final victory came at an intriguing 2006 Chinese GP where in mixed conditions Schumacher defended and beat both Renaults of Giancarlo Fisichella and his title rival at the time, none other than Fernando Alonso. The German took the win for Ferrari, which would prove to be his last.
At the time Schumacher and Alonso were level on points with just two rounds to go, as the Chinese Grand Prix was the 16th round of the season. But the German was unable to keep Alonso from a second consecutive title before he bowed out and retired from the sport for the first time.
As the great Micheal Schumacher retired, a certain Lewis Hamilton would take the F1 stage by storm. Backed by Ron Dennis and McLaren, the young Brit was unfazed when paired up with two time champion Fernando Alonso for 2007.
In His rookie season, Hamilton arrived in Shanghai, which at the time was the penultimate race of the season, with a 12 point lead. The race was chaotic to say the least, with rain pummeling down and Hamilton dancing around in his McLaren, comfortably in the lead. But as the rain stopped his rain tyres were dropping away quickly, he didn’t pit hoping for more rain to come. As he entered the left hander at the pit entrance and astonishingly, his tyres gave-in and he slowly crept into the gravel trap, beaching his McLaren in the process.
No doubt one of the most painful moments in his career as he saw his title hopes quickly fade away and carried over to a remarkable race in Brazil for the final round of the season.
2023 so far has been absolutely dominated by the Red Bull team based out of Milton Keynes. It feels like such a long time ago since Red Bull took their first win, in-fact it’s been fourteen years, at the 2009 Chinese Grand Prix.
Brawn GP and Jenson Button were comfortably leading as they won the first two rounds of the 2009 season. But that was about to change as the rain fell heavily in Shanghai, the safety car unleashed the now retired Sebastian Vettel and his teammate Mark Webber. Vettel would win the race by 11 seconds over his teammate, who to his credit finished 44 seconds ahead of Button in third, together handing the Austrian team their first 1-2 finish.
Whilst they would not be able to challenge the Brawn GP outfit for the remainder of the season, it was a taste of what’s to come as Red Bull dominated the field between 2010 and 2013 helping Vettel win four consecutive driver championships.
One of the most prominent features of the Shanghai International race track is the long 1.1km straight which for a while was the longest straight on the F1 calendar. This helped the drivers reach very high speeds as they prepared to enter the braking zone into turn 1.
It’s in this very long straight where you really don’t want any serious mechanical issues to plague your car. Unfortunately for Stebestian Buemi that’s exactly what happened to his Torro Rosso in free practice during the 2010 Chinese Grand Prix.
Both his front tyres ripped off in spectacular fashion after suffering a mechanical issue with his front suspension. He tried to steer his wheel-less car of course to no avail, and eventually came to a stop in the gravel trap at the end of the straight. No doubt an underwear staining moment.
Before Mercedes came out guns blazing at the beginning of the turbo-hybrid era, the factory works team were still picking up the pieces from the Brawn GP era. In fact, Ross Brawn stayed on as team principal during the team’s resurrection.
Mercedes had not been part of the sport as a works team since the 1950’s and that’s when they had taken their last win, until China 2012. Nico Rosberg took pole position, whilst his teammate Michael Schumacher started behind him. Nico struggled on his two-stop strategy, with Jenson Button for McLaren lurking behind him ever so ominously.
But the Brit’s third and final pitstop went wrong which gave the German the breathing space he needed to take his maiden win, after 111 starts in F1, giving us yet again a taste of the dominance that was to come.
Russian driver Daniil Kvyat sadly didn’t really leave his mark on the sport and won’t exactly be remembered for his driving brilliance. A good driver nonetheless, he managed to secure two podiums during his career. One of them being at the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix.
The Russian was driving for Red Bull, before Dutchman Max Verstappen would take over duties. In the opening lap of the 2016 Chinese GP the Russian forced Sebastian Vettel into his Ferrari teammate, Kimi Raikonen for an opportunistic pass. The final podium was Nico Rosberg for Mercedes, Sebastian Vettel for Ferrari and Daniil Kvyat.
Vettel made his concerns known in the cooldown room where he described Kvyat as a ‘’torpedo’’ in what now seems to be a very candid moment from the sport, although I can still feel Daniil’s awkwardness..
It’s worth pointing out that the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix saw the most overtakes done in an F1 race ever, with 161 overtakes in 56 racing laps. However, it was not the most entertaining race to watch, not by a long-shot. I say this because of the recent arguments surfacing that there needs to be more overtaking for better racing, but that’s not the case.
After reviewing some older footage to compile this article I noticed how F1 has evolved, but not exactly for the better. I still love racing, the combination of man and machine can produce some of the most spectacular forms of talent and recognition. And it’s not just about the v8 or v10 engine noise either. It’s small twitchy cars which seem like they’re on a knife edge constantly, it’s different tyre providers, it’s different strategy, refueling and sadly, it’s a different time.
Which other tracks would you like to see make a comeback to the F1 calendar? I’m all in for Kyalami in South Africa and Sepang in Malaysia.
If you enjoy hearing from the legends of pro sports, then be sure to tune into “The Grueling Truth” sports shows, “Where the legends speak”
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