Chinese GP Sprint Qualifying: Norris King of the rain, tops a thriller

Chinese GP Sprint Qualifying: Norris King of the rain, tops a thriller

Chinese GP Sprint Qualifying: Norris King of the rain, tops a thriller

Lando Norris will start the first Sprint Race of the 2024 Formula 1 season from pole after mastering the tricky raining conditions as big names fumbled.

Norris’ lap was briefly deleted for exceeding track conditions which gave Lewis Hamilton hope of pole, but then the McLaren driver’s lap was reinstated and pole was in the bag.

Hamilton had to settle for second, not a bad result given the seven-time F1 Champion’s recent struggle with an under-performing Mercedes W15.

Fernando Alonso was third fastest for Aston Martin showing once again the value of his experience on a day when the rain caught out the best of the best, and by that we mean Max Verstappen who was a disappointing fourth after being out of sorts on the wet tarmac.

With the track being green and evolving all the time, how the session would be managed was tricky, as ideally it would be better to wait as late as possible before setting a lap time since the track would be most evolved, but there was also the risk of Yellow/Red flags not to mention the rain.

In the end the rain had its say and the Chinese Grand Prix return to the F1 calendar has been a thrilling show.

Norris: No clue about the Sprint Race

Speaking after qualifying, Norris said: “I’m extremely happy. Big thanks to the whole team. It was tricky. You are always nervous going into a Qualifying like this, especially when you almost know it’s going to rain.

“The conditions, you just have to risk a lot and push to build tyre temperature. I was quick but just kept catching the Ferraris, so had to keep backing off so I didn’t do the first two laps well but I did a good final one.

“I’m happy. Sad it’s not for a proper Qualifying, but it’s good enough,” he maintained.

On how he managed the conditions, the Briton added: “You only have three laps. The first two I aborted and the last lap was all or nothing.

“But it was getting wetter and wetter, so the conditions on the final two laps were a lot worse than the second lap at least, so I made a few mistakes and started to aquaplane quite a bit.

“But it’s good fun and it gets your heart going. To end up on top was a nice surprise and it’s a good position for tomorrow,” he admitted.

Asked about his chances in the Sprint, Norris responded: “Not a clue. We did some work this morning and consecutive laps to try and understand.

“It depends what the weather is like. If it’s like this, then the chances are relatively decent but the race is very different to Qualifying.

“The pace is good, whether it’s wet or dry, so we are in a decent position. The team did a good job, the car feels good and so do I,” the McLaren star concluded.

SQ3: Norris stars, Verstappen fumbles

Chinese GP Sprint Qualifying: Norris King of the rain, tops a thriller

The final stage of Sprint qualifying started in proper rainy conditions with Intermediate tyres being the order of the day.

And soon Charles Leclerc was off spinning when he hit the throttle and hit the barriers, he radioed he was worried about his front wing, while replay showed Verstappen going off again as the drivers struggled to deal with the treacherous conditions.

Verstappen’s first lap was deleted for exceeding the track limits at Turn 6 and had less than three minutes to set another one. The same applied to Hamilton. Verstappen went off also on his second lap while Norris had a huge off in the final corner while on a strong lap. Lap times deleted for both.

In the end the best lap came from Norris, a 1:57.940, and 1.261s ahead of Hamilton in second with Alonso third, 1.975s off the pace.

Verstappen was fourth fastest with a 2:00.028, two second off the pace of Norris and 0.186s faster than Carlos Sainz, fifth fastest in the Ferrari.

Sergio Perez was sixth fastest in the other Red Bull and ahead of Leclerc who was seventh in the #16 Ferrari.

Oscar Piastri was eighth fastest in the other McLaren, but team boss Andrea Stella revealed the Australian suffered from a brief gearbox issue which ruined his final lap, a shame as he was quite strong until that moment.

Valtteri Bottas was ninth fastest while local hero Zhou Guanyu was tenth fastest, his best showing in 2024, all to the joy of the Chinese crowds.


SQ2: Zhou keeps going, George Russell drops out

With the fire – at Turn 5 – extinguished again, the rain getting harder, SQ2 started as the drivers rushed on the Medium compounds to try and set a dry time before the weather got worse.

A radio to Magnussen informed him that the rain won’t hit hard until five minutes from the start of the ten-minute session.

The cars set on track after queuing in the pitlane with Norris leading the pack while both Red Bulls took their time and exited their garages just as all their rivals were already on track.

With first runs done the top ten was: Verstappen – Leclerc – Perez – Piastri – Norris – Sainz – Bottas – Alonso – Hamilton – Zhou.

With two minutes remaining the rain arrived and that meant no one could improve the biggest loser being Russell who was 11th fastest on his first attempt and was denied another crack by the weather.

Verstappen led the way into SQ3 with a 1:35.606, 0.105s ahead of Leclerc in second with Perez third, 0.070s behind the Ferrari.

Zhou gave the Chinese fans something to cheer about by making it into SQ3, denying Russell, the first of the losers and will start the Sprint from 11th on the grid missing out by 0.038s.

Kevin Magnussen was 12th fastest, 0.128s behind Russell and 0.005s ahead of teammate Nico Hulkenberg who was 13th fastest.

Daniel Ricciardo did not make it as well and was 14th fastest, but at least he beat his teammate for a change and was ahead of Lance Stroll who was 15th.


SQ1: Zhou goes through, Ricciardo beats his teammate for once

The session started under dry conditions but with 60% risk of rain, the track temperature was at 29 degrees Celsius as the ambient temperature was 20 degrees.

As the rules dictate, the drivers are only allowed to use the Medium compound in SQ1 and SQ2, so it was the Yellow Pirellis bolted on all the cars.

There was no waste of time as the drivers lined up in the pitlane and waited for the green light at the pit exit ready for action.

Soon Piastri in the McLaren reported light drops of rain just three minutes into the session, while Russell asked his team to inform him if any driver are “going off” since it was “spitting more”.

The drivers starting putting in the laps as the times tumbled with the grip developing and the everyone racing to put in some decent bankers in case the rain increased.

Logan Sargeant reported that he was impeded by Pierre Gasly in the Alpine, the latter having a brief snap moments later in the final corner.

Other than heading back to the pit for some minor adjustments on the cars, all the drivers remained on tracks doing lap after lap as the tyres got better, the track grippier, the times dropping.

Sainz soon reported the Haas of Magnussen who was on the racing line, the Spaniard asking for a penalty to be given to the Dane.

In the end Perez led the pack into SQ2, fastest of all, 0.274s ahead of Norris who was second fastest with Verstappen third fastest, 0.346s slower than his teammate.

First to drop out was Gasly in the Alpine, 16th fastest ahead of Esteban Ocon who was 0.088s behind in 17th while Alex Albon was 18th fastest in the Williams.

Yuki Tsunoda was 19th fastest – while Ricciardo made it through – as Sargeant was dead last again.

Just as the cars were heading back to the pits, the fire broke once again this time in the grass on the side of Turn five. Weird!!