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Catching up with Formula One: Miami

Written by Sofia Costantino, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

After a long time, Formula One returned to Shanghai for the Chinese GP, with several unknowns lingering over the horizon, such as a circuit untested by the new single-seaters, the possibility of a single free practice, the format of a sprint race for the first time in 2024, and the apparent re-asphalting of the track (which turned out to be just a bitumen bath).

One person, completely deciphered the Chinese riddle to take away practically all the prizes of the valid fifth of the seventy-fifth season of F1. It was again “Krypton” extraterrestrial Max Verstappen, who secured his sixth straight pole position, his fourth win in five races (all of which were in 2024), and his eighth Sprint race win. 

Just a setback. He did not grab pole position on the starting grid for the Sprint race, in difficult conditions on the Chinese track due to rain in the third part of sprint qualifying (SQ3), starting in fourth place behind Lando Norris (pole), Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.

Image credits: Motorsport images

By the tenth lap, he was already in first place, passing Lewis Hamilton with relative ease, as he had previously done the other two, before finishing a whopping 13 seconds ahead of his British rival, in a 19-lap sprint. 

In the race, it was practically the same. He would be unchallenged, once again finishing 13 seconds ahead of second-placed Lando Norris. The Briton managed to get between the two Red Bulls, finishing ahead of Sergio Pérez, partly helped by making a single stop under the Virtual Safety Car (VSC), to then maintain a pace that was enough to keep the Mexican behind, eventually finishing over five seconds ahead. 

Photo credits: Motorsport images

A new podium for the popular McLaren driver, who has 15 in total (eight in second and seven in third place) to increase the record of the largest number of podiums without a race victory. He surpassed Nick Heidfeld's previous one with 13, and he equalled the German in the highest number of races led without a win (8).

Minimising the deterioration of the tyres was perhaps the most important aspect of both the Sprint race and the main race on Sunday. Again, it was Verstappen who did it best. He even came out for the Sprint with used medium (C3) compounds, attracting extraordinary attention, knowing that he had new ones available. 

The explanation that was given was that, coming out of 4th place, he did not have to defend hard, and although the used ones had worse performance in the first two laps, his pace then improved as the tyres became less prone to degradation when the first layer has been consumed.

Ferrari, for the first time of the season, could not place one of its single-seaters on the podium. With both drivers having the same result (fourth and fifth) in the shorter sprint and the longer race, the difficulties come from the fact that the SF-24 is not able to induce enough energy in the tyres, effectively switching them on, independent of that produced by the tilt of the wings.

Therefore, when you unload the fins for higher speed, you lose grip, overheat the tyres by slipping and lose even more. Modifications are expected at Imola to increase the aerodynamic load by the chassis, giving more strategic possibilities with the wings depending on the characteristics of the particular route.

Photo credits: Motorsport images

Separating the Sprint race from the main race, it allowed the teams to make modifications in the preparation (tuning) of their cars with what was observed, but not everyone was better off doing so. 

Due to changes in floor temperature, new track rubber, wind and duration, several teams realised that the fixes were to get worse during the main race, rather than improve. 

This was the case for Mercedes and Ferrari after the Sprint, and even Perez’s Red Bull. Perhaps that's one of the benefits of racing with the new Sprint format, with less time for practice. 

But it also gives rise to those who don't like the addition of these short races, as they're just a trailer of what's coming on Sunday, and prefer to shorten the weekend to two days, with only one long free practice on Saturday, pole in the afternoon and race on Sunday (more races can be done per season).


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