Circuit guide: Shanghai International Circuit
Location: Jiading, Shanghai, China
Known for: The Chinese Grand Prix / MotoGP/World Endurance Championship
Type: Permanent Circuit
The Shanghai International Circuit is a bombastic statement of intent with stupendous grandstands, enormous garages and a paddock you could play elephant polo in – but strip that away and what’s left is an intriguing and challenging circuit that combines highly technical low speed sections and two very high speed straights. It’s a good venue for overtaking, with or without DRS. The circuit is said to have been designed to look like the Chinese character ‘Shang’, meaning ‘above’, or ‘to ascend’, or ‘high’ if you’re really stretching it – but looking at the character and comparing it to the circuit, that looks like wishful thinking.
The standout features of the circuit are the two ‘snails’, very tight corners turning nearly 270°. The Turn 1-2-3-4 snail has a closing radius – meaning it gets tighter – and the turn 11-12-13 snail has an opening radius. The second snail is arguably the more important to get right, as a good exit onto the long back straight can make the difference between gaining and losing a position at the following Tilke-signature hairpin.
There’s also the weather. Despite moving from the end to the beginning of the F1 season in 2009, rainclouds still hover over the circuit. The 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010 races all included wet weather to some extent. It’s very exciting in the wet – but last year’s race proved that with the new Pirelli tyres and DRS you can have an exciting race in the dry too.
With eight races held on the SIC so far, the only man with more than one victory is Lewis Hamilton, a winner in 2008 and 2011 – though Lewis is perhaps most famous for sliding out of the 2007 race on his entry to the pits, and throwing away a world championship that was his to lose. The only non-world champion to have won in China is Rubens Barrichello, who won the inaugural event in 2005, though Jenson Button in 2010 is the only reigning world champion to have triumphed in Shanghai. In the Constructors stakes, Ferrari and McLaren are tied on three wins apiece, with Renault and Red Bull Racing being the other victorious constructors. Red Bull’s win in 2009 was its first in F1 – there have been a few since then.
The Shanghai International Circuit is quite a long way from the bright lights of the big city. It might only take 25 minutes to make the journey by car – but that’s mostly because everyone in Shanghai seems to drive with their foot glued flat to the floor. The circuit does have its own station on the Shanghai Metro but, much to the amusement of race regulars, they close it for the grand prix as it isn’t suitable for use when there’s a big crowd…
Not that the crowd tends to be that large. Support has dwindled since the opening years and now many of the grandstands are closed for the race – but for those who do turn up, the hairpin at Turn 14-15 provides a brilliant amphitheatre from which to watch motor racing of any description.
The Shanghai International Circuit had a dalliance with MotoGP between 2005-2008 with the event being won twice by The Doctor, bookending victories for Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner. These days the circuit is more accustomed to four wheels and will host the season finale of the inaugural World Endurance Championship with the Shanghai 6 Hours.
Also on the calendar this year is the penultimate round of the World Touring Car Championship. Again this is a first. The WTCC raced in Shanghai last year – but not at SIC.
The circuit has hosted top level tin tops before, with the Australian V8s visiting in 2005. The series didn’t return after an improperly-welded steel grate was dragged up and practically sliced Mark Winterbottom’s Ford Falcon in half. Shockingly, the same thing happened a few months later when Juan-Pablo Montoya’s McLaren was damaged beyond repair.
DID YOU KNOW?:
The circuit is built on reclaimed marshland and perched on 40,000+ concrete piles. The marsh is reputed to be 300m deep in places and therefore not something to be drained with a couple of ditches, so instead the pilings are between 40m and 80m deep. On top of these is a concrete base and on top of that is 16m of polystyrene. The unusual construction has been a problem in recent years with several sections suffering subsidence, requiring the track to be resurfaced, leading to some interesting changes in grip level. The paddock actually makes a feature of the swamp by having the team buildings raised on stilts above an ornamental lake – and finding the right bridges between the various structures always takes a couple of days to get used to.
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