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F1 2016: Chinese GP Preview – Tyre strategy name of the game in China

From the desert circuit of Bahrain the Formula 1 paddock travels to mainland China and the Shanghai International circuit for the third round of the 2016 season.

Good news is abounding before the weekend of racing even gets underway. A unanimous front by the eleven Formula 1 teams has force fed the FIA enough sanity to compel a reversion to the 2015 qualifying format for the remainder of the season. It wasn’t through lack of trying from the FIA though. The governing body, not wanting to accept defeat, tried one last time to impose itself by putting an aggregate-style qualifying on the table. Thankfully this too was unanimously shown the door.

Besides the fact that it restores the much preferred 2015 version of qualifying, this decision sets a precedent for future decisions. Teams have now shown that if they stick together and push hard enough they can affect some change. And though the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone will try to spin this decision into something that makes them look a bit rosier it just isn’t true. The reality is that it wasn’t a decision by the FIA but rather a bending under the pressure from teams and fans.

Because of this you’d hope that it’s significant also where the fans are concerned. Along with the teams’ unanimous front the fans’ disapproval on social media played its part too. The FIA and Ecclestone have been reluctant in the past to grant social media any clout. Hopefully they’re opinion has been informed enough to start moving the sport towards embracing social media more.

Driver tyre choices for Chinese Grand PrixThe best news is that now the focus can return to the most important thing – racing. In 2015 Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen brilliantly pulled off several overtaking manoeuvres into the extremely tight turn fourteen which follows on the kilometre long back-strait. Besides being one of the most unique first corners on the calendar the fast changes of direction in the middle sector will test just how good a chassis various teams have built for 2016.

F1 first visited China’s Shanghai International circuit back in 2004 and has marked several landmark victories for drivers and teams. It was here in 2012 that Nico Rosberg won his first race and arrives in 2016 on the back of five consecutive victories and a good-looking lead in the driver’s standings. The best thing about Rosberg’s recent form is that it adds a new dimension to the championship.  It’s put Lewis Hamilton into a position not known to him in the last two years, the hunter rather than the hunted.

But we’re talking about Merc as if they’re not facing a determined threat from Ferrari. Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen have a good enough car to push Mercedes all the way to the chequered flag. But they don’t have good enough car to out-qualify Rosberg and Hamilton with. Therefore, tyre strategy becomes vital.

China 2015_StartRaikkonen and Vettel have chosen an alternative tyre strategy to Merc for the Chinese GP. Both Ferrari drivers have chosen six sets of supersoft tyres while Rosberg and Hamilton have only five sets of the red-walled tyre. Should Mercedes run into rear tyre wear issues in China, as has been the case in the past, they won’t be able to run the supersoft tyre for as long.  Whereas Ferrari, who has traditionally been able to get more out of the supersoft tyre, will hold a strategic advantage of being able to run on the quicker tyre for longer.

These permutations are only for the sharp-end of the grid. There is still an all-mighty battle in the mid-field which will undoubtedly rage throughout every one of Sunday’s 56 laps.

About Natalie Le Clue

Natalie Le Clue is an F1 aficionado of the most dedicated vein. And, true to form for any F1-enamoured junkie, she readily admits to crying the first time she saw a F1 car, calling it an ‘overwhelming moment’. Natalie has won the 2010 gSport Woman In Media award, the 2015 Woman In Media Print award, and has been named as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in South African Sport by the Department of Sport and Recreation. Natalie is currently serving as SAfm's F1 correspondent. Follow Natalie on Twitter @nlc27

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