Round 5 of the 2024 Formula One World Championship would see the first Sprint weekend of the season. Having had a difficult start to his season, Shanghai native Zhou Guanyu was hoping to have a good start to the weekend at the Shanghai International Circuit, and would do just that. Asian Motorsport reviews all the action from the Sprint at the Chinese Grand Prix.

By Seb Tirado

Free Practice

The only Free Practice session of the weekend would see a great mix of setups and run plans done by the teams as they all sought to make the most of the hour of running. However, the red flag would be thrown a quarter of the way through the session for an unusual reason – the grass catching fire.

Credit: Formula One

Sparks generated by the cars ignited the dry grass on the inside of T7, causing the red flag as marshals went to extinguish the small fire.
In the end, Lance Stroll would top the timing sheets for Aston Martin with a 1:36.302. Albon would finish 8th with a 1:37.229, Zhou would finish in 11th with a 1:37.626 and just under a tenth of a second behind his teammate Bottas, and Tsunoda would finish 12th with a 1:38.006.

Sprint Qualifying 

The first part of Sprint Qualifying would see Sergio Perez go fastest with a 1:36.110. Albon and Tsunoda would both be eliminated from the session in 18th and 19th with a 1:37.812 and 1:37.892 respectively, along with Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon and Logan Sargeant. Zhou would narrowly progress through to SQ2 in 15th with a 1:37.544.

The same area of grass would once again catch fire at the end of SQ1, delaying the start to SQ2. Rain at the end of the session would cause many to abort their final laps, with Max Verstappen going fastest with a 1:35.606. Zhou would put his Kick Sauber in 10th with a 1:36.307 and progress into SQ3 along with Bottas in 7th. George Russell, Kevin Magnussen, Nico Hülkenberg, Daniel Ricciardo and Lance Stroll would be eliminated from the session.

Norris would take his second career Sprint pole whilst Zhou would have his highest start of the season so far. | Credit: Formula One

A wet and chaotic session thanks to the low grip of the freshly resurfaced track would see Lando Norris take Pole Position for the Sprint with a 1:57.940 after some drama of having his fastest lap deleted for track limits and then very quickly reinstated by the stewards. Zhou would ultimately qualify 10th with a 2:03.537, two and a half seconds behind his teammate in 9th.

Sprint

Norris and his MCL38 going wide at the start of the Sprint | Credit: Formula One

The 19 lap Sprint would see pole-sitter Norris get jumped at the start by Hamilton before going wide at T2 and falling down to 7th, with Hamilton pulling an early lead. Zhou would gain a place at the start and go up to 9th whilst his teammate would drop to 12th. Elsewhere, Tsunoda would overtake Albon for 18th, the two drivers essentially swapping positions.

Lap 8 would see Hamilton lock up heading into T14, allowing Verstappen to catch up to him. He would overtake Hamilton a lap later into the same corner, whilst Zhou would be overtaken by Russell and go down to 10th. Further down the field, Tsunoda and Albon would both overtake Hülkenberg for 17th and 18th on Lap 11 and 14 respectively.

A tense battle between Fernando Alonso, Carlos Sainz and Sergio Pérez for 3rd on Lap 16 would result in contact between the two Spaniards heading into T7, giving the two-time World Champion a puncture and forcing him to retire from the Sprint. As a result, Zhou, Tsunoda and Albon would all be promoted up a place to their final finishing positions of 9th, 16th and 17th.

Credit: Formula One

Max Verstappen would take his eighth career Sprint victory, ahead of Lewis Hamilton in 2nd and teammate Sergio Pérez in 3rd. Whilst not scoring any points, Zhou would still impress in front of his home fans with his best finish of the season so far. “We knew this weekend had the potential to be challenging, but we have plenty of positives to look back to today,” he said. “I feel we maximised all we could get out of the Sprint: P9 was not enough for a point, but we can feel really confident about the pace we displayed in those 19 laps, as we knew we needed some exceptional circumstances to come away with a place in the top eight. We know we can push to the limit and make progress tomorrow: much can happen here and I’m looking forward to the race.”

Tsunoda and Albon during the Sprint | Credit: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Tsunoda and Albon’s lowly starts and final finishing positions made this Sprint one to forget, particularly for the Japanese driver after his recent run of form. “It’s been tough,” he said. “This morning during the Sprint, I tried to find my way, work the car, and learn a bit more, but I was still struggling. I’ve been struggling with rear grip all weekend and looking at the steering trace compared to other cars, I’m fighting my car a lot but I’ve been working hard together with the engineers to improve it and find a solution, and they helped me a lot. Looking ahead to tomorrow, we have to change something to find more pace and hopefully, we can be close to the points.”

Formula One Drivers’ Championship Top 10

  1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 85
  2. Sergio Pérez (Red Bull) – 70
  3. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) – 64
  4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) – 59
  5. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 40
  6. Oscar Piastri (McLaren) – 34
  7. George Russell (Mercedes) – 25
  8. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) – 24
  9. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 17
  10. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) – 9

Formula One Constructors’ Championship Top 5

  1. Red Bull Racing – 155
  2. Scuderia Ferrari – 129
  3. McLaren – 74
  4. Mercedes-AMG – 42
  5. Aston Martin – 33

Header image credit: Formula One

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