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Saturday at the Chinese Grand Prix: Verstappen dominates sprint and qualifying to take top honours

Written by Ria Ann Sam and Maria Fashchevskaya, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri


Formula 1 returned to China after five years, and for a sprint race nonetheless. With an unusual practice session which saw Lance Stroll finish top of the time sheets, sprint qualifying took place soon after. 


Lando Norris took a second consecutive sprint pole from Brazil, with Lewis Hamilton behind him, and Fernando Alonso set to start from third. After 19 laps, Verstappen finished on top.


China is the first of six sprint races this year. There has been some controversy surrounding the new sprint format given that if something goes wrong during the sprint race, your entire weekend could be ruined — qualifying for Sunday’s grand prix takes place soon after the sprint.


As soon as lights went out, Lewis Hamilton was quick off the start and challenged Lando Norris for the lead. Norris unfortunately went wide, and onto the run-off, losing six places. 


Credit: Formula One

For a while, it looked as though Fernando Alonso could hold off Max Verstappen, however the Dutchman overtook him on lap eight. On the same lap, Hamilton complained of tyre issues on low-speed corners and later locked up into the hairpin of turn 15, bringing Verstappen into his DRS range. 


Verstappen made his move on lap nine and overtook the seven-time world champion. By lap 14, he was almost six seconds ahead, stamping his dominance.


Both the McLarens seemed to be performing relatively poorly with tyre degradation, and neither of the drivers being able to make any overtakes. 


The main fight was between Alonso, Sainz, Perez, Leclerc, the quartet separated by less than a second. It all came to a head in lap 16 where surprisingly Checo managed to come out ahead of the chaos, and Fernando Alonso came off worse — with a puncture following contact with Sainz! 


This meant the Aston Martin driver had to pit and unfortunately later retire — definitely not how the Spaniard would have wanted his morning to go. This battle also took its toll on Carlos Sainz as it brought Lando Norris back into fighting position.


Credit: Formula One

The sprint finished with Max Verstappen first, Hamilton in second — his best race finish this season so far, followed by Perez in third after a gruelling battle. Homeboy Zhou Guanyu finished ninth — unfortunately just outside the points, yet, an incredible performance from him regardless. 



Qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix: Max Verstappen storms to pole in Shanghai


Red Bull dominated qualifying once again – Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez secured the front row in an action-packed qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, with Spaniard Fernando Alonso, who is staying at Aston Martin at least till 2026 — set to start third on the grid. 


Max Verstappen on pole position in China. Image Credits: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Q1

As a much anticipated qualifying session got underway, half of the grid lined up in the pits to go out on track. It was the second big event of the day, after Max Verstappen coasted to victory in the first sprint race of the season earlier on. 


Home hero Zhou Guanyu was one of the first to start a flying lap around the Shanghai International Circuit, however, he drove into the pits aborting his lap. Most cars went out on the soft tyres for Q1 whereas Carlos Sainz finished his lap on medium tyres. 


Moreover, Nico Hulkenberg would be investigated after the session, having overtaken cars in the pitlane at the start of the session. 


George Russell set one of the first times with a 1:36.436s on the clock, followed by McLaren’s Lando Norris who finished his flying lap with a margin of 0.092s to the Mercedes. 

With 10 minutes to go, Fernando Alonso soared to first place before rival Max Verstappen followed to provisional second by 0.055s to the Spaniard. Not long to wait from there, as Oscar Piastri rushed in front of both with a time of 1:35.014s, securing himself in front of the Aston Martin. 


In his second lap of Q1 Carlos Sainz started – then on soft tyres – and pushed himself in front of the Australian by 0.044s. With less than six minutes to go, Red Bull’s Sergio Perez still had not set a representative time on the board. 


Alex Albon in the Williams impeded his first try and accidentally got in the way of the Mexican, thus, the Red Bull aborted the lap. Stewards did not go further with an investigation on impeding following that incident. 


The Kick Sauber around the track in Shanghai. Image credits: Formula One

Yellow flags were waved as Logan Sargeant went wide and into the gravel, but managed to hold the car and return on the track. Williams must preserve the chassis, as the team doesn’t have a spare one in China, and a new one would only arrive at the race in Miami in two weeks.


At risk at that point of Q1 were Ricciardo, Norris, Hamilton, Magnussen and Perez, respectively. Everyone was on timed laps around the Shanghai International Circuit, as Lando Norris was the first to eclipse out of the elimination zone. 


Under the cheers of the crowd, Zhou in the Kick Sauber finished his last flying lap out of risk but was later knocked out of Q1. He missed out by half of a tenth, bemoaning a lack of grip on his lap.


With the chequered flag waved, the last cars finished their laps, trying to get out of the elimination zone. In a surprise turn of events, Lewis Hamilton was knocked out of qualifying, starting well down in 18th in tomorrow’s race. 


After a second-place finish in the sprint earlier that day, it came as a surprise to the already struggling Mercedes team. Locking up on their flying laps would have cost Hamilton and Zhou around six-tenths of a second according to the strategists. 


Knocked out: Zhou, Magnussen, Hamilton, Tsunoda, Sargeant.


Q2

With the start of Q2, the first cars rolled out of the pits with 13 minutes to go, creating quite the traffic in the pitlane. Everyone came out on softs for Q2, as only Charles Leclerc drove out on used tyres which could prove tricky with windy conditions on track. 


Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari dipping into the gravel in Shanghai; Image Credits: Clive Mason/Formula 1

Red Flags were waved halfway through the session, as Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz went wide and hit the gravel behind the curb. Spinning out he hit the wall on the other side of the track, however, he did not damage the car much. He was able to return the car to the pits himself, driving around without a front wing, while debris from the incident was cleared. 


As the red flags period ended, George Russell – without a time in Q2 – was the first on track, followed by Max Verstappen. Russell finished his first flying lap on a free track, rushing to a provisional third place. With one minute to go, only McLaren’s Norris did not come out of the pits, sitting comfortably in P2 in Q2.


As Sainz started his only flying lap, the chequered flag was waved – leaving the Spaniard one chance to make it out of Q2, and into Q3. 


Ricciardo on track in Shanghai. Image credits: Formula One

At the end of Q2, at risk of elimination was Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who was finishing a flying lap. As Carlos Sainz improved to Q3, his teammate followed to improve himself, too. 


Albon, Ricciardo, and the Alpine drovers finished Q2 without improvement and stayed in the elimination zone. Lastly, Lance Stroll was knocked out by Sauber’s Valtteri Bottas who finished in tenth place at the last minute. 


Knocked out: Stroll, Ricciardo, Ocon, Albon, Gasly.


Q3

The last segment of qualifying unfolded with ten cars being set to decide their respective grid positions for tomorrow’s race. Max Verstappen set out a first flying lap with a 1:33.977s on the clock, beating his previous times so far. 


He was followed by Fernando Alonso in the Aston Martin, while Nico Hulkenberg and George Russell trailed behind with a gap of more than a second to the provisional pole sitter.


Seven minutes until the end, and all cars finished a flying lap, except for Valtteri Bottas in the Sauber. Verstappen and Alonso stood at the top ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez. Norris and Piastri followed in fourth and fifth place respectively, while Piastri asked the team to check on the floor, after hitting the gravel previously on his flying lap. 


Max Verstappen was eager to secure another pole in his career; Image Credits: Formula One

The Ferrari duo of Leclerc and Sainz could not finish higher than sixth and seventh place, finishing ahead of the likes of Russell and Nico Hulkenberg in the Haas. Everyone pitted for one last stop – with four minutes to go in Q3 – before the last try in qualifying today. Max Verstappen already secured pole, as he had a gap of 0.394s to Fernando Alonso on the time board. 


The chequered flag was waved: the Ferrari’s sped over the line and usurped Alonso, securing second and third. However, they were beaten by both McLarens, as Norris and Piastri both stormed over the line. 


Spaniard Alonso – himself on a flying lap – surpassed everyone by finishing third, after Red Bull’s Perez beat him for second place. Thus, it was a front-row lock-up for the Red Bull team, while the Dutchman secured pole by a 0.322s margin to his teammate. 


Sainz and Leclerc would start from sixth and seventh place, respectively, followed by George Russell and Nico Hulkenberg. Valtteri Bottas could not improve his time and would start from P10 tomorrow. Norris and Piastri would start fourth and fifth on the grid in the race. 


Who will win the returning Chinese Grand Prix? Let’s watch and see tomorrow at 3 p.m. track time (8 a.m. UK).





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