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F1 Drivers Surprised by China Track That’s Been ‘Repainted, Not Resurfaced’

It’s been five years since F1’s raced in China, and things are off to a funky start.

byJerry Perez|
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The Formula 1 circus is returning to China's Shanghai International Circuit this weekend, following a five-year break due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Like everywhere else, the venue's changed considerably in the intervening years and this weekend's happenings will be different from the last time F1 cars roared around the 3.4-mile circuit—especially the track's surface.

While performing their usual Thursday track walks, F1 drivers noticed a mysterious, dark finish on the asphalt. While the FIA and teams were notified that the circuit had been treated to a full resurfacing slightly over a year ago in preparations for this year's race, reportedly no one knew about the dark "paint" used as a top coat. This has caused concern among teams, as they can't assume how the tires will react to it.

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"It will be a bit of an unknown," F1 champ Max Verstappen told Sky Sports. "From the trackside, it looks like they have repainted it, rather than resurfaced it. I don't know what that does to the grip of the track, so that's something we have to get on top of."

If Verstappen, who is currently leading the championship with a 13-point gap to Sergio Perez, is concerned with the track's performance, surely other drivers fighting to score points will be, too. Racing Bulls' Daniel Ricciardo spoke to the media about the weird paint, saying that performance will be very hard to predict.

"It looks like they've painted the track or something," Ricciardo told the media. "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 tires behave."

Meanwhile, Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, who will be trying his best to beat his teammate Carlos Sainz, said the paint could "cause multiple different issues or no issues at all," emphasizing that it will be "very hard to predict."

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According to Motorsport.com, the paint believed to be coating the Chinese GP is actually a "bitumen surface treatment" that's commonly used on Chinese roads (and even in the U.S.) for sealing and waterproofing. According to their research, it's not so much the coating that could frustrate F1 drivers and teams, but the inconsistency of the application found throughout the track.

The material had been laid down in specific areas, then worn away to varying degrees by other track activity that's taken place since the asphalt was treated. That means the application isn't uniform, as Haas team principal Ayao Komatsu explained to the outlet.

"I think it looks a bit inconsistent. 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," Komatsu told Motorsport.com. "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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