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F1 Chinese Grand Prix Sprint Qualifying: Norris takes pole, Mayhem reigns with the rains

Written by Meghana Sree, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

Formula One returns to China after its last visit to the venue in 2019, and to spice things up on our return to the Shanghai International Circuit, it’s a Sprint weekend.

This is the first Sprint weekend of the six planned for the 2024 season, and the format has been modified this year, with the Sprint Qualifying taking place on Friday, as opposed to last year with it being held on Saturday.

After the chaotic lone practice session, drivers geared up for an even more dramatic Sprint Shootout; complete with grass on fire, showers, and Lando Norris delivering a lap when it counted the most. 

Lando Norris secures pole position for the Sprint Race; Image Credits: Bryn Lennon

Sprint Q1 (SQ1) - The calm before the storm

As everyone headed onto the track on medium tyres with 12 minutes on the clock, Oscar Piastri immediately reported drops of rain, signalling the unpredictable weather to come.

Four minutes into the session, Logan Sargeant expressed frustration for being impeded by Pierre Gasly, as did Carlos Sainz after Kevin Magnussen got in his way at the sweeping turn six left-hander.

With one minute to go, both Williams found themselves in the elimination zone, along with George Russell and Yuki Tsunoda. However, Russell delivered a lap in the nick of time, one that knocked Gasly’s chances of progressing into the next round.

As the session ended, a fire erupted on the grass near turn five, similar to the flames that hindered that morning’s practice session. A yellow flag was brought out, and it was declared that SQ2 would be delayed, but the crowd was still jubilant as their home hero Zhou Guanyu had made it out of the first round of qualifying in any format, for the first time this season.

SQ1 Exits

Pierre Gasly

Esteban Ocon

Alex Albon

Yuki Tsunoda

Logan Sargeant

SQ2 -  The rain sets in

After the delayed SQ2 resumed, drivers were warned to put their best laps on the time sheets before heavier rain could hit.

The McLarens went ahead first and set solid lap times, but were soon beaten by Charles Leclerc, then Max Verstappen with a 1:35.606.

With the risk of rain just around the corner, the elimination zone was occupied by FP1 leader Lance Stroll, Russell, Daniel Ricciardo, and both the Haas drivers.

Meanwhile, the grandstands cheered as both Stake F1 drivers managed to set safe lap times, and as the track was officially declared wet, it was clear that no one would be able to improve their times. SQ2 concluded with an unpredicted Mercedes exit, and a strong effort from the Stake F1 team to secure their place in SQ3. 

Image Credits: Bryn Lennon

SQ2 Exits

George Russell

Kevin Magnussen

Nico Hulkenberg

Daniel Ricciardo

Lance Stroll

SQ3 -  Cloudy with a chance of chaos 

As the rain continued to pour down, drivers braved the slippery track on the intermediate tyres, knowing that it was all or nothing for their final laps of Sprint qualifying.

Straight off the bat, it was clear that there was zero grip, with drivers slipping and sliding all over the track, including current World Champion Verstappen, and Leclerc — who spun his Ferrari into the barriers and picked up light damage on the front wing.

As the seconds ticked down, each driver’s ability to put together the best lap in unprecedented conditions was truly put to the test.

Image Credits: Lars Baron

Hearts raced as drivers frantically made their way through the spray, and spectators were in for shock after shock with Lewis Hamilton being on provisional pole, Valtteri Bottas making it up to P2 at one stage, and lap times continually being deleted.

It was a heart-in-the-mouth session for everyone involved, and the Papaya fans roared as Norris delivered a clean lap that shot him up to P1. Further drama ensued as this lap time was initially deleted for track limits, causing momentary confusion, but it was quickly reinstated – confirming the order for the upcoming Sprint Race.    

The chaotic session concluded with the top three drivers being Norris, setting a 1:57.940, Hamilton joining him on the front row, followed by Fernando Alonso. 

Norris summed up the session by stating: “The car’s feeling good, and so am I.” It remains to be seen if he can clinch his first win in any format in Saturday’s Sprint Race, or if the weather and track conditions will mix things up for everyone once more.

Sprint Race Starting Grid - Sprint Qualifying Results

1st - Lando Norris, McLaren

2nd - Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

3rd - Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin

4th - Max Verstappen, Red Bull

5th - Carlos Sainz, Ferrari

6th - Sergio Perez, Red Bull

7th - Charles Leclerc, Ferrari

8th - Oscar Piastri, McLaren

9th - Valtteri Bottas, Kick Sauber

10th - Zhou Guanyu, Kick Sauber

11th - George Russell, Mercedes

12th - Kevin Magnussen, Haas

13th - Nico Hulkenberg, Haas

14th - Daniel Ricciardo, RB

15th - Lance Stroll, Aston Martin

16th - Pierre Gasly, Alpine

17th - Esteban Ocon, Alpine

18th - Alex Albon, Williams

19th - Yuki Tsunoda, RB

20th - Logan Sargeant, Williams


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