GRR

2024 Chinese Grand Prix | 5 talking points

22nd April 2024
Damien Smith

Yes, Max Verstappen won – again. And yes, he was utterly dominant – again. So that helps explain why Lando Norris admitted second place felt like a win at the first Chinese Grand Prix to be held in five years. Such is the state of Formula 1 under Verstappen and Red Bull’s vice-like grip right now.

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1. Verstappen’s latest trick

The Dutch three-time world champion hardly broke a sweat in Shanghai as he claimed his 58th career victory. On the Saturday, he won the Sprint from fourth on the grid following a rain-affected qualifying. Then on Sunday, he stroked away from pole position and left his team-mate Sergio Pérez far in his wake.

Fernando Alonso did him an early favour by getting ahead of the second Red Bull off the start, the Spaniard holding up the Mexican for the first five laps. But even when Pérez found a way past he had no answer to his team leader’s pace. On lap 13, when Verstappen made his first pitstop, he was 10 seconds to the good, which allowed Pérez to make his own stop on the same lap without delay. The only surprise was that Verstappen’s final gap for victory was ‘only’ 13 seconds. But that was down to a pair of safety car interruptions – and also, it wasn’t Pérez who was next up.

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2. Norris shows his class

McLaren’s Lando Norris took a fine pole for the sprint, only to make a mess of the first corner – which naturally he self-deprecatingly beat himself up for. But the following day he made up for it with a brilliantly measured and intelligent drive to claim second place.

A strong first stint was the backbone to his ‘win’, then a pair of safety car interventions allowed him to switch from his planned two-stop strategy, with both he and Charles Leclerc jumping ahead of Pérez. The difference was, when racing resumed, Pérez wasted little time picking off Leclerc – but he could do nothing about Norris and was forced to settle for third. Norris is increasingly recognised as one of the F1 elite, but that coveted (real) first grand prix victory has so far remained out of reach, simply because he has come of age in the Verstappen era. It will likely happen, in a McLaren team that has made the best progress of any from its admittedly lowly base at the start of last season. But when might well require a dose of misfortune for Verstappen.

Norris is a class act who, even though he has yet to win a race, appears to have world championship-winning all-round ability. But is the same true of McLaren? Another admirable trait is Norris’s loyalty to a team that feels like home to him. But it remains to be seen if he is in the right place that will allow him to fulfill his plain and obvious potential.

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3. Alonso entertains for Aston Martin

In the first race since Fernando Alonso recommitted his future to Aston Martin, the ever-green (geddit?) 42-year-old showed precisely why F1 still needs him by brightening up a less than thrilling grand prix. First of all, he made that great start to hold up Pérez. A two-stop strategy, including a middle stint on the soft tyre, then dropped him to 11 th.

But on fresh mediums he then carved his way past Esteban Ocon’s Alpine, Nico Hülkenberg’s Haas, Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes and Oscar Piastri’s McLaren to claim a hard-earned seventh place. And in the middle of it all, while chasing Hamilton, he made the mother and father of all saves when he dropped a wheel out of a corner. Alonso lives on his instincts, and as ever they’re serving him well.

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4. Stroll’s latest clanger

The two safety car interludes shaped the final outcome, as we’ve said. The first was to clear Valtteri Bottas’s Sauber, which was stranded on the track following an engine failure. The second was much more messy. As the field prepared for the restart, Alonso locked a wheel which caused a concertina effect behind him – and resulted in his team-mate Lance Stroll slamming into the back of Daniel Ricciardio’s RB, which then caused some damage to Piastri’s McLaren. The race restarted, only for Kevin Magnussen to collide with the other RB of Yuki Tsunonda, ensuring the safety car was called upon again.

Both Stroll and Magnussen were penalised – but the former appeared to blame Ricciardo for the rear-ending by calling the Aussie (or perhaps collectively all those ahead of him) an “idiot” (or “idiots”). That left Ricciardo fuming – and frankly made Stroll look more than a little foolish. Not for the first time this year. There was more grief for Ricciardo when he was later handed a three- place grid penalty for the Miami GP following a separate offence under the safety car involving Hülkenberg. With Liam Lawson waiting at the wings to step into his drive, Ricciardo really needs a break to prove he deserves to remain in F1. Right now, it’s simply not happening for him.

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5. More woe for Hamilton

The same could be said for Lewis Hamilton. Following the positivity of finishing second in the Sprint, the seven-time champion slumped to 18 th in qualifying for the grand prix, then drove a low-key race to finish ninth. What a strange and depressing time he’s having since lining up that Ferrari drive for 2025.

The final order behind the podium finishers was a Ferrari four-five for Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr; George Russell in sixth ahead of Alonso; Piastri in eighth, one place up from Hamilton; then Hülkenberg completed the top 10. That leaves the American-owned team seventh in the constructors’ standings on five points, two behind RB, with Williams, Alpine and Sauber still yet to get off the mark with five races down. Miami is next, on May 5.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images

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