What’s the one constant at the Chinese Grand Prix? Is it wild nights out on the glittering Bund? Is it an abundance of fantastic dining experiences in the home of one of the world’s great cuisines? Or is it terrific, unpredictable racing at a circuit that offers a host of challenging variables?
Nope, none of the above is correct. Oh sure, all of the above do happen on occasion – Spy, for example, remembers a particularly exceptional evening that ended messily, with a well-known Scottish ex-F1 driver trading champagne buckets full of icy water with fellow revellers – but in fact the one constant at the Shanghai International Circuit is somewhat more prosaic.
Yep, if you're looking for an ever-present at the SIC it's the look of absolute consternation and confusion on the faces of paddock folk as they try to find their way to and from a team's hospitality suite.
You see, the paddock in China is one of Hermann Tilke's great early follies. It's fair enough, for when this circuit was designed, back in the early 2000s, Herr Tilke was still comparatively new to the circuit design thing, having cut his teeth on the A1 Ring and then Sepang and Bahrain. So, the temptation to go all monolithic in China was surely irresistible, especially when the imperative from the local promoters seems to have been "go large, my son, but in a largely Chinese way".
Thus, we have a paddock wide enough to land a jet in, located beside a massive lagoon into which have been sprinkled some rather lovely hospitality suites which perch above the water on stilts. The whole lot has been enclosed in a swathe of pretty vegetation.
All very well but what they failed to take into account is that each year the garage order in the paddock is (generally) arranged according the team's finishing position in the previous year's Constructors' Championship, so every year teams are housed in different hospitality suites.
Thus, your memory of where we were last year, or any team for that matter, is about as much use as a chocolate fireplace and you invariably find yourself helplessly wandering around the identical stilt houses looking for people (and lunch) you'll never find. Rumours that the place is haunted by the ghost of a guest who went for lunch in 2004 but never came back refuse to die down.
Key Chinese Grand Prix Facts:
- Shanghai was the scene of the Team's first win in F1, coming in 2009, courtesy of Sebastian Vettel.
- The 2009 weekend in China also brought us our first pole position, again with Sebastian Vettel.
- Christian Klien scored our first points in China on our first visit to the track in 2005. He finished fifth from 14th on the grid, scoring four points.
The paddock isn't the only monolithic structure at the Shanghai International Circuit. Straddling the track atop twin towers of power is the media centre, nine storeys up and surely visible to the naked eyes of astronauts on the international space station.
Apart from the slightly hubristic nature of the SIC infrastructure, though, the track itself is pretty good. Fashioned after the Chinese 'Shang' character, it's got an intriguing character all its own, with that character mostly being exceptionally mean to front tyres.
The long straight gives way to a tight loop known as 'the Snail', which puts high loads through the front left in particular. That front limitation, along with the massive put straight, provide the circuit with its USPs and guarantee a very different challenge to either of this season previous races, in the deserts of Bahrain and around Melbourne parkland.
Our Drivers At The Shanghai International Circuit
- Daniel has raced here four times and has finished in the points on three occasions. He was seventh for Toro Rosso in 2013, finished fourth for us in 2014 and last year he was ninth. In total he's scored 20 points here.
- Dany has just two Chinese GP starts to his name. He scored points for Toro Rosso in 2014 with 10th place, but last year an engine problem spelled an early end to his first race for us in Shanghai.
The USP of the city, meanwhile, is its overwhelming, mind-boggling modernity. Shanghai is China accelerated, lived at full speed and in glowing Technicolor. Given that the circuit is located about an hour by car northwest of the city centre and given that the majority of F1 folk stay close to the circuit in the Jiading district, it's not always easy for paddock people to sample the delights of downtown Shanghai, but at least once a weekend a trip to the bright lights of the Bund or the French Concession is a must, just to sample some of Shanghai's buzzing nightlife.
That usually happens on a Wednesday and thereafter it's heads down at the circuit for an intense and strategically demanding weekend at the track. All that then remains is the frantic post-race dash to the airport on Sunday night. Then it'll back to the factory on Tuesday and into prep for the next challenge, Russia.