Last year's refuelling ban combined with the crumbling Pirelli tyres of 2011 have transformed grands prix from sprints into Le Mans-style endurance events.
"It's no longer enough to have the fastest car or the best driver, you have to get to the end of the races in a position to keep fighting or defend your position," veteran engineer Joan Villadelprat wrote in his latest column for El Pais.
McLaren's Lewis Hamilton broke championship leader Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull's stranglehold in China by concentrating all weekend on conserving tyres for the race and devising the best pit strategy.
"It took the experience of the last race to be able to do what I did," said the Briton, referring also to Sepang, where he grappled miserably to the chequered flag having damaged a crucial set of tyres in qualifying the day before.
China was a breakthrough for McLaren but Hamilton knows his team has work to do to beat Red Bull's RB7 on outright pace.
"We are definitely the second quickest team," he said. "For now, because we are not as fast as them on pure speed, it's about trying to outsmart them elsewhere."
"As a category it's changed a lot," Mark Webber, one such purist who scythed through the field to the podium in Shanghai having started 18th, told Reuters.
"In terms of the pace, there certainly is an element now of endurance mentality. People like to watch cars being driven on the limit so we should still try to get that balance right," he added.