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Catching up with Formula One: China

Written by Sofía Costantino, Edited by Tarun Suresh

With the results seen in the previous episode “A New Hope”, with Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc achieving 1-2 for Ferrari in Australia, in the Empire of the Rising Sun (Japan), everything returned to normal, with a generous third win by Max Verstappen and, together with Sergio Pérez, also the third 1-2 for Red Bull in the 2024 season, just completed the first 4 of the 24 races scheduled.

Image credits: Motorsport images

For this upcoming Grand Prix, Red Bull has already introduced some planned modifications to try and complete them as soon as possible to spend more time, as they did last year, on developing the 2025 car.

Aston Martin also introduced some new solutions, which seemed to provide positive results, considering Fernando Alonso’s fantastic 5th place in qualifying and finishing the race in sixth place ahead of one of the McLarens and the Mercedes duo.

Part of the success was due to his own talent and determination, with a defensive play (this time not penalized), using the same tactics employed by Carlos Sainz in Singapore 2023, keeping Oscar Piastri in the DRS range to delay George Russell's push in the endgame, who finally managed to dispose of the Australian for seventh place, but was too late to overtake the Spaniard.

Image credits: Motorsport images

With McLaren, Aston Martin and Mercedes competing alternately for third to fifth place in the standings, the Woking team seems to have a better single-seater at the moment.

They have been comfortably ahead of their British compatriots, barring some strategic mistakes that have cost them crucial positions towards the end of some races. Without a doubt, these variations will continue to happen throughout the season, depending on how successful the modifications are in each of the three teams.

On the other hand, Ferrari has been much more regular in finishing as the best of the rest and proving to be closer (or better said, less far) to Red Bull.

Considering that it is the only team on the podium in all four races, it has been very noticeable that Carlos Sainz, the driver who still does not have a secured place, has always finished ahead of “il predestinato” Charles Leclerc.

Even though the Monegasque is undoubtedly faster on one lap, the smooth operator has been better for the races, understanding better how to preserve tyres and maintain a pace sometimes similar to those of Red Bull.

Image credits: Motorsport images

Particularly in the previous race at Suzuka, Leclerc had to keep a good pace to be able to achieve his fourth place finish with a single pit stop (very difficult on the Japanese track) to make the strategy of gaining several positions successful due to his eighth place start on the grid, knowing that most of them ahead were two stops.

Holding out on medium compound tyres and a comparatively higher load of petrol till the middle of the race also says a lot about Ferrari's good tyre management with the SF-24, one of the bigger problems with last year’s SF-23.

It has only been six months since the last Japanese Grand Prix took place in very similar environmental conditions. That race saw the leading Ferrari about 40 seconds behind first place.

The gap has halved to 20 now - albeit not worrying for Verstappen/Red Bull - is significant in terms of better performance of the single-seater, and there could likely be circuits where they are even closer and, yes, something more worrying (like Monaco, Hungaroring, Singapore and Las Vegas).

Image credits: Motorsport images

From a driver's point of view, while Sergio Pérez is consolidating his position at Red Bull, thanks to his three second places behind Verstappen, there are not many who are making a good impression, especially Daniel Ricciardo, for whom a second chance is not working well, and his team-mate, the tiny Yuki Tsunoda, has done much better, with the last two runs on points.


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