The Chinese Grand Prix will be the third round of the 2018 Formula 1 championship, and after initially struggling to get off the ground, the event has become a staple of the F1 calendar.
In the early 1990s, plans first emerged that the Chinese government was keen to bring F1 to the country, but after the Zhuhai International Circuit was designed, built and provisionally added to the 1999 calendar, the venue failed the meet the required FIA standards for hosting the championship. In 2002, a seven-year year contract was signed for the race to head to Shanghai, and in 2004, the first Grand Prix event in China took place.
Rubens Barrichello won from the pole for Scuderia Ferrari, but it was Michael Schumacher who led the first lap — the lap which remains to this day the fastest ever F1 race lap of the circuit.
Fernando Alonso dominated in 2005 to score the first of his two Shanghai triumphs before Michael Schumacher managed to fend off a late charge from the Spaniard in 2006. Schumacher’s win in 2006 was the 91st and final time the seven-time world champion would stand on top of a Grand Prix podium.
In the 14 Chinese Grands Prix to date, eight drivers have taken victory, but Lewis Hamilton has by far the strongest record of all with five victories, including three in the last four years.
Even with his stellar record in China, Hamilton will want to forget his first Chinese Grand Prix experience in 2007. Going into the weekend, the then-rookie had the chance to seal the world title, but after getting greedy with tire life, he retired after sliding helplessly into the pit entry gravel trap — his tires down to the metal carcass. Another thing that the 2007 race should be remembered for, besides Kimi Raikkonen’s victory, is that it was the final Formula 1 race to feature tobacco sponsorship on the cars. Scuderia Ferrari was the last to remove the branding, clinging to their Marlboro partnership for as long as possible, even if the partnership just remained in the background.
Hamilton captured his first Chinese Grand Prix win in 2008, finishing 15 seconds better than championship rival Felipe Massa.
Sebastian Vettel has not had the best record in China, as 2009 remains his only success in Shanghai. Disrupting the early season success of the Brawn team, Vettel led home teammate Mark Webber for the team’s first one-two finish. Jenson Button, fresh from winning the 2009 world title, won for McLaren in 2010, but the weekend will forever be remembered for Sebastian Buemi’s crash in practice where, upon applying the brakes, both front wheels flew off his Toro Rosso. Hamilton clocked up win No. 2 in 2011.
Given their recent dominance, it shows how fresh Mercedes’ success still is after 2012 saw Nico Rosberg score the German manufacturer’s first F1 win since its return. Fernando Alonso sprayed the champagne for Ferrari in 2013 before the current four-year run of wins for Mercedes, as Hamilton won three times and Rosberg once.
The race has been overshadowed by financial problems, and its future has often been up in the air. However, it has a contract in place which will see it remain on the calendar until at least 2020.