F1 drivers facing grip puzzle with ‘painted’ Shanghai track

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F1 teams and drivers were thrown a curveball into their Chinese GP race preparations on Thursday when it emerged that Shanghai’s track had undergone a dramatic transformation.

During their routine track walk, drivers noted that the circuit’s asphalt, normally a weathered grey, now sported a dark, almost black appearance.

Adding to the surprise, pre-event notes from the FIA, contained no mention of any resurfacing work.

Whispers of a last-minute paint job swirled through the paddock, with some drivers questioning the reasoning behind such a drastic change, suggesting that grip levels and tyre wear characteristics might be significantly altered by the new surface.

With limited practice time before qualifying, due to this weekend’s round of racing being a Sprint event, teams might scramble to gather data and adjust their setups accordingly, especially as F1's current generation of ground-effect cars have never raced in China. .

“It looks like they painted the track or they've done something to the surface,” commented RB’s Daniel Ricciardo, a former winner in China.

“Apparently, they've just painted it or something, so I don't know how the track is going to change; if it's going to be the same or super slippery.

“Maybe that changes the way the tyres behave, so it could also open up some things for overtaking or strategies.”

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Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc had yet to venture out onto the circuit but the Monegasque echoed Ricciardo’s view.

“It depends a lot on the type of paint they used,” he said. “That could cause different issues or have no issues at all. I hope it's the latter that will be the case.

“For now, it's very difficult to predict. I have only seen pictures, I haven't gone around the track yet. I don't think it's the same everywhere, which might not be great.

“Before adding further comments, I think we just have to drive and see how it feels.”

Reigning world champion Max Verstappen remarked that he hadn't witnessed anything similar since his karting days.

"It looks like they've painted it, not resurfaced," said the Red Bull driver.

The situation sent undeniably a wave of confusion through the pitlane as Carlos Sainz observed.

"I think there are many unknowns, especially the tarmac looks like it's been treated in a very particular way," said the Ferrari driver.

"I don't think the FIA or the teams quite understand what has been done here: if it has been a full resurface or just a weird bitumen treatment to the track.

"It certainly looks very particular, and something we haven't found recently at F1 circuits."

Eventually, it came to light that Shanghai’s track surface had undergone a bitumen surface treatment, a process commonly used on roadways in the US and Asia.

Bitumen, a type of asphalt binder, is applied in a liquid form to create a protective layer that reduces dust, improves durability and enhances water resistance.

However, according to Motorsport.com, the treatment was applied last year, while the current variation in color is likely due to the natural wear and tear from racing, with the bitumen wearing away more on frequently used sections like the racing line.

It’s unclear of the uneven wear pattern could lead to inconsistent grip levels across the track throughout the F1 weekend.

Regardless, the unexpected development adds an extra layer of intrigue heading into the Chinese GP weekend.

"I think it looks a bit inconsistent," commented Haas team principal Ayao Komatsu. "That inconsistency is what I worry about the most - the inconsistency from entry to mid-corner to exit in each corner. If it's variable, that's going to be pretty tricky.

"Then, of course, it's a sprint weekend. You have only got one hour, probably three runs to sort your car, both low and high fuel. I think it's going to be a very tough challenge."

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