Dominant Verstappen takes pole for Chinese GP after sprint victory

In Sports
April 20, 2024



SHANGHAI:

Triple world champion Max Verstappen took pole position on Saturday for the Chinese Grand Prix, 0.322 seconds ahead of Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso third.

Verstappen clocked a fastest lap of 1min 33.660sec to cap a perfect day after earlier cruising to a sprint race victory at the Shanghai International Circuit.

“The car worked even better in qualifying,” said Verstappen, who recorded the Red Bull team’s 100th pole position and his first in China.

“That final lap felt pretty decent and very happy to drive here in the dry, it was a lot of fun.”

Lando Norris will start on the second row in his McLaren alongside Alonso for Sunday’s race, the first grand prix to be held in China since 2019 because of Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.

Oscar Piastri was fifth fastest in the second McLaren ahead of the Ferrari pair of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, with George Russell’s Mercedes eighth.

Perez only got through to Q2 on his final flying lap and was relieved to be on the front row.

“Very intense, I nearly got knocked out in Q1,” said the Mexican.

“Unfortunately in the end just not enough to get Max, but it was a tremendous team result.”

It was a dominant day for the Dutchman who overcame electrical gremlins to blast from fourth on the grid to an emphatic victory in the morning sprint, 13 seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton.

The win increased his championship lead over teammate Perez to 25 points.

But Hamilton’s joy at coming second in the sprint turned to despair in the first qualifying stint when the Englishman locked up near the end of his final flying lap, relegating him to only 18th fastest.

It was the first time since the 2022 Saudi Grand Prix that the seven-time world champion had been knocked out in Q1.

“I made massive changes into qualifying,” said Hamilton who won the last Chinese Grand Prix five years ago.

“It wasn’t too bad in some places. I couldn’t stop in turn 14. It is what it is.

“This morning George (Russell) and I had very similar cars, but this afternoon we were trying to experiment still with the car so I went one way and he went the other.”

Sainz is the only driver to win a grand prix apart from Verstappen in 2024 and he survived a huge scare in Q2.

The Spaniard ran wide at the final bend and spun across the start-finish straight to lose his nose cone in the barriers.

It brought out the red flags, but Sainz was able to limp back to the pits for repairs before emerging when the session restarted to clock the third-fastest time and make it to the top 10 shootout.

On the first Chinese Grand Prix weekend since 2019, huge crowds turned out to see Shanghai native Zhou Guanyu, China’s first Formula One driver, make his home debut in his third season in the premier racing class.

Tickets for Sunday’s main race sold out in minutes and fans had plenty to cheer Friday when Zhou propelled his Sauber into the top 10 in a wet sprint qualifying session.

But he narrowly missed out on scoring a point after finishing ninth in Saturday morning’s sprint.

And in the afternoon, as at the previous four grands prix this season, Zhou failed to make it out of Q1, finishing 16th by just four one hundredths of a second.

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