Chinese GP Takeaways: Formula 1's welcome return to Shanghai

Chinese GP Takeaways: Formula 1’s welcome return to Shanghai

Chinese GP Takeaways: Formula 1's welcome return to Shanghai

Formula 1 was back racing in China for the first time since the 2019 season, and it was a great return, as for a moment we almost forgot how great a track the Shanghai International Circuit is.

Seeing those F1 cars going through the never-ending Turn 1 of the track in Shanghai was a glorious view, not to mention the overtakes on the outside several drivers made stick.

What made last weekend in China more challenging was the fact that the teams did not have any data with the current generation of cars as well as the 18″ Pirellis, with the Sprint format adding to the difficulty of the task they faced.

But as they say, the cream rises to the top, and despite the challenge Red Bull were again the team to beat, aside from a hiccup in Sprint qualifying they were as dominant as they could’ve been.

Ferrari underperformed while McLaren overdelivered with Mercedes running around the Chinese track like a headless chicken, Aston Martin in their usual place with Fernando Alonso flattering them as usual.

So without further ado, here are our Takeaways from the 2024 Chinese GP.

Red Bull Racing: I stand corrected

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 21: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB20 makes a pitstop during the F1 Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 21, 2024 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

In a previous takeaway, I mentioned that Red Bull are yet to understand their 2024 RB20 fully and may not be enjoying the same gap to their rivals like in 2023.

Now in my defense, I did mention that in time they will get fully on top of the RB20 and will cruise towards another F1 Title double, but unless they did that in the two weeks between Japan and China, I stand corrected.

Aside from Max Verstappen’s fumble in Sprint qualifying where he was all over the place in the mixed wet conditions, the way he bounced back in the Sprint race was no doubt petrifying for his rivals.

It took him nine laps to take the lead of the Sprint race and from there he was pulling a gap of over one second per lap to Lewis Hamilton in second.

Qualifying saw the Dutchman restore the order and during the race even a Virtual Safety Car period and two Safety Cars did not stop him from crossing the line 14s clear of Lando Norris in the McLaren.

Sergio Perez was again close to his teammate in qualifying and in the grand prix, he may have finished third but his race was compromised by the Safety Cars which meant he had to fight his way up the order leaving him with no tyres to attack Norris.

That’s on the drivers’ front, but the Red Bull team were in no way less impressive, that double stack pitstop Verstappen serviced in 2.1s, Perez in 2.0 showed just how solid the team remains. They did not need to do that, Perez could’ve pitted one lap later, but they did it because they can, to simply humiliate their rivals.

It’s F1 as we know, and no one can expect anything, but for some reason the Christian Horner scandal seems to be a very distant memory…

Lance Stroll’s joke

Ricciardo: Stroll not even watching me

While Alonso was going on with his business, delivering heroics in the Aston Martin, P3 in qualifying not to mention that brilliant save in the race, Stroll in the sister AMR24 was once again proving he does not deserve a seat in F1.

The problem with Stroll was not the stupid error he committed ramming Daniel Ricciardo after the race restart, but rather how he reacted to it, entitlement at its best.

He called Ricciardo an idiot for slamming the brakes and then went on to label the ten-second penalty the stewards slapped him with “a joke”.

Sadly the joke is Stroll keeping his F1 seat just because his father is the big boss at Aston Martin, and it’s not even a funny joke anymore.

Five races into the 2024 season and Alonso is showing that he is carrying Aston Martin on his shoulders on his own scoring 31 points to Stroll’s 9, that is more the three times what the latter has scored, and with Lawrence Stroll’s ambitions of developing the team into a Title contender from 2026 and beyond – when Honda come on board – the driver situation cannot continue like this.

Mike Krack spoke of Stroll’s race in Aston Martin’s team report, he said: “Lance’s strong race was undone by the incident under the Safety Car: we need to fully analyze what happened but it was a chain reaction caused by cars ahead.”

What’s there to analyze? Stroll wasn’t looking where he was going! Did they even read this presser before they sent it? I understand that a team boss should defend his driver, but this is ridiculous!

Mercedes’ dilemma

Hamilton being second fastest in the Sprint qualifying in the wet showed that he has still got what it takes to be a top driver and that Ferrari have nothing to worry about when he joins them in 2025.

But the setup change Mercedes did between the Sprint race and qualifying simply showed they do not know what the hell they are doing with that W15.

Hamilton was knocked out from Q1 and in the race he was nowhere, while George Russell ran an anonymous race despite finishing sixth on a different setup.

Mercedes, in their heyday, always presented a united front when they bungled the occasional race, but something their boss Toto Wolff said in the team’s Chinese GP race report hinted at a blame game starting.

In a clear dig at the trackside engineering team, he said: “We must make sure that we are not trying to find a silver bullet each weekend when it comes to how we run the car; we need to focus on getting the basics right, and maximising the package we have.”

Is it me? Or will the we win as a team and lose as a team concept be soon scrapped from the Mercedes handbook?

Chinese GP Quick Hits

Points or no points, Zhou is China's F1 hero

  • It was a great performance by Lando Norris, pole in the Sprint qualifying and second place in the grand prix, but the McLaren star needs to avoid making errors like the one he did while defending from Hamilton on the opening lap of the Sprint Race. He may be young, but he doesn’t lack experience.
  • Former F1 driver turned commentator on F1 TV Jolyon Palmer said he once asked for a new chassis when he was still driving for Renault and was politely told it will not make a difference.
    But Ricciardo got his new chassis in China, and he outqualified Yuki Tsunoda, who was mystified about his pace. Did VCARB switch chassis? Was it only Dan’s head playing games on him? Was his chassis really defected?
    Who knows, but most importantly, will the real Honey Badger return now?
  • What’s with those mysterious grass fires in China?
  • A final word for Zhou Guanyu, the first Chinese F1 driver to race in front of his home crowd. He may not have been a sensation since joining F1 but he is far from being a “Logan Sargeant”. He’s had the right attitude and it was great to see the Chinese fans embracing him.
    From what we’ve seen in Shanghai last weekend, Zhou will be around for some time.