Shanghai. Economic powerhouse. Workshop of China. Largest city by population in the world (24 million people live in Shanghai proper. If Shanghai were a country, it would be the 53rd biggest on Earth, and contains more people than Monaco, Singapore and Bahrain.
Its name is formed of the two Chinese characters "Shang" (above) and Hai (the sea) so Shanghai means "above the sea" - a good name considering it's one of the largest, busiest ports in the world.
The city itself is situated on the bank of the Yangtze river where it flows into the East China Sea, and is the commercial centre of China. Politically, gaining power in Shanghai's government is seen as a stepping stone to very high office in the Communist Party - and the city itself is an incredible place, known as the birthplace of everything modern in China...the first railway was built here, the first motor car in China was driven here. It's currently the home of the fastest train in the world (the Maglev railway to Shanghai Pudong airport, which does 268 mph at top speed), the beating heart of modern China, and a place of truly breathtaking architecture. I mean...this is what the city looks like:
with buildings ranging from giant bottle openers (Shanghai World Financial Centre, 3rd tallest building in the world):
to buildings that look like...well...nothing you've ever seen on Earth, like this,. the Oriental Pearl Tower:
Of course, being one of the biggest cities in the world, Shanghai does have problems with smog, too. Which means that it's more likely to look like this when F1 teams make their way through it in the early Chinese summer:
Yup. That's smog. Air pollution in Shanghai is a thing. A bad thing. Which probably makes a good link to talking about what we're here for...the F1 circuit.
Shanghai International Circuit was built between 2002 and 2004, is 3.3 miles long, and is a Hermann Tilke design...I know, I know, but it's nevertheless a durable track...this year will be the 12th running of the Chinese GP here, although initially the plan was to race at Zhuhai, that circuit never made it to certification for F1 standards. The track is driven deep into swampland to the northwest of the city itself, with architecture designed on a traditional Shanghai yu-yuan garden, and the track layout is based closely to resemble the Chinese character Shang, the first part of Shanghai:
It's a track that's forgiving on cars...the most retirements it's seen is 4, in 2013. Even last year, with new turbo-hybrid engines, there were only 2 retirements. In short, this is a track even Pastor Maldonado would struggle not to finish on.
It's a fairly benign place to race, too, with track temps usually around the mid-twenties at race start, air temperature around 20 degrees C, and 56 laps not really stretching the distance levels. Last year, it was only 55 when the officials put out the checkered flag a lap early (yes, really).
Lap record is held by Michael Schumacher in a Ferrari (1:32.2) at an average speed of 132 mph. The race last year was, unsurprisingly, a Mercedes 1-2, with Lewis Hamilton leading from start to finish.
A LAP OF THE TRACK
Blasting down the pitstraight from the start, you enter a tightening right-hander through turns 1 and 2 that slows you right down before flicking back left for three and four. Five is a fast-ish kink left and then uphill before being slowed down again for six, a 2nd gear hairpin right. 7 and 8 are a fast, 100mph+ left-right chicane that throw you into 9 and 10, two very slow left-handers, before 11 and 12 are another left-right chicane with heavy kerbs, and also very slow...this bit of the lap is key because if you're within 1 second on the entrance to 12, you're in DRS range. 12 spits you out into the eternally long turn 13, which seems to go on and on and on to the right before exiting onto one of the longest straights in F1....over a km long and a 5th of the lap, it's of course a DRS spot and if you use it right, then you'll be perfectly placed for the corner at the end of the straight...a 2nd-gear left hairpin that's the prime passing spot on the track. 15 is a slight kink right before the last corner, 16...one of the fastest final bends in F1 as the jink left is taken in 4th gear to enter the tunnel of stands down the pit straight. Hit 1:33 and you've nailed it well and truly.
Shanghai, somewhat unusually for a Tilke track, is quite popular for racing. With it being easy on cars and also relatively easy to avoid mistakes of the wall-walloping kind, it's also one that allows for some decent racing. With the Ferrari of Seb Vettel putting the cat amongst the Mercedes pigeons in Malaysia, too, this race has all manner of revenge and/or consolidation storylines around it-mostly revolving around the top of the grid. It's going to be an interesting time in the "Paris Of The East."