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The story behind Shanghai's "painted" F1 track surprise

Formula 1 drivers were handed a surprise during their track walks in Shanghai on Thursday by the fresh dark appearance of the Chinese Grand Prix venue.

Circuit detail

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Having had no notification in pre-event notes from the FIA regarding any resurfacing, the colour of the asphalt – which has already worn away on the racing line in places – left some concluding that the circuit had had a paintbrush taken to it.

As Daniel Ricciardo said: "It looks like they've painted the track or something. They've done something to the surface.

"I don't know how the track's going to change, or if it's going to be the same or super slippery. But maybe that changes the way the tyres behave."

Ricciardo was not the only driver questioning what the impact would be on a weekend when teams are mindful that there is just one hour of practice before sprint qualifying starts.

World champion Max Verstappen said he hadn't seen anything like it since his karting days when efforts were made to improve grip on old tracks.

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

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz explained that the situation had left drivers and team a bit confused.

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

"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.

A view of the track

A view of the track

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

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

But research by Autosport has uncovered that while the track looks like it has been painted, what has happened is actually a bitumen surface treatment that is commonly used on roads in the United States and Asia.

Bitumen is applied in fluid form to the track surface to help bind with the surface of the existing circuit. The idea is that it helps eliminate dust, improves waterproofing and also prevents disintegration of the track.

It is understood that this work was done in Shanghai last year, and the varied colouring around the track is the result of this treatment having been worn away from track running that has taken place since.

The manner of the treatment means it will likely further be worn away over the F1 weekend, which could open the door to varied levels of grip around different parts of the track.

Haas team principal Ayao Komatsu said differences in grip triggered by the treatment being present or not could deliver some headaches.

"I think it looks a bit inconsistent," he said. "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."

No Turkey repeat

The appearance of the dark surface layer has inevitably triggered memories of Turkey 2020, when teams and drivers were caught out by a remarkable lack of grip on a newly layered surface.

But Sainz was pretty confident things were not going to be that dramatic – as sources suggested the treatment should actually help improve grip rather than reduce it.

"I have the feeling it's not going to be like Turkey," he said. "Turkey was a very particular case. But if suddenly there's graining and all that, that could throw some question marks on your choices for the rest of the weekend."

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF1000, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W11

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF1000, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W11

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

But while the track treatment may not trigger the kind of chaos we saw in Turkey, it could certainly have an impact on how the tyres perform.

Teams are not sure yet if the current cars and tyres are going to lean towards a weekend where front graining is the limit, or if the highest pressures of the year so far will trigger huge degradation issues.

A weekend of graining, like in Australia, could be good news for Ferrari – whereas degradation would better suit Red Bull.

As Sainz said: "I think, honestly, for us, graining is very tarmac dependent. That is why we were talking so much about the surface, what they've done with the treatment of the tarmac, because graining is very tarmac-dependent.

"Once you take that out of the equation, the long-duration corners are something that stresses the tyre massively and here, we have plenty of those.

"There have been years where China has been front-limited, years where China has been rear-limited, so adapting the car to whichever demand, you have to be very careful when setting up the car."

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