Max Verstappen charges to victory in F1 Sprint at the Chinese Grand Prix

Rainy conditions at the end of qualifying for the Sprint Race at the Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix saw Max Verstappen settle for a fourth-place spot on the grid. Lando Norris captured pole position, putting himself in contention for his first F1 victory of any kind. With Lewis Hamilton starting second, and Fernando Alonso starting third, Verstappen had some work to do if he wanted to get to the top step of the podium.

By Lap 9 he was at the front of the field.

A tremendous start from Hamilton saw the Mercedes driver get the early edge against his countryman, as Norris slid off the track on the opening lap after a quick battle, falling down into P7. That left Hamilton running up front, with Alonso behind him, setting up a potential battle between two of the sport’s living legends.

But Verstappen was lurking.

And he did not lurk for long.

After complaining about his battery level on the third lap, Verstappen slid right behind Alonso, and then around him, on Lap 7. Those expecting Alonso, one of the sport’s greatest defensive drivers, to put up a fight might have been disappointed. But Alonso realized in the moment that his fight was not with Verstappen, and he needed to keep his powder dry for others in the field.

That just left Hamilton ahead. And while the Mercedes driver was well aware of who was coming up behind him, Hamilton did not have an answer for the speed of the Red Bull. Hamilton radioed to his team that his W15 was struggling to turn in the slow-speed corners — of which there are many at Shanghai International Circuit — and that inability to get the car to rotate through those slower corners left the door open for Verstappen.

And the Red Bull driver stormed through that open door on Lap 9, surging by Hamilton, and eventually away from the pack for the victory. When he took the checkered flag, he was well over 12 seconds ahead of Hamilton in second place.

An almost inevitable performance.

And when you remember that he passed Hamilton on Lap 9, and won by almost 13 seconds, that is quite the warning shot to the rest of the field for what to expect in the Grand Prix.

Here are the results from the F1 Sprint Race at the Chinese Grand Prix, as well as some more winners and losers:

Winner: Lewis Hamilton

It has been a slow, and difficult, start to the season for Mercedes. And for Hamilton, who arrived in China with just ten points on the season.

He almost doubled that with his second-place finish, adding seven points to his account for the 2024 campaign. But perhaps more noteworthy? It was just his first top-six finish of any race this season. While he could not hold off Verstappen for his first win since the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, it was still a tremendous result for Hamilton, who felt the warmth from the crowd following the finish.

“The crowd here, every year I’ve come here, the crowd has been so so supporting,” said Hamilton to Jessica Hawkins after the race. “This is a huge step, a huge improvement.

“I found out a lot about the car through this short stint, this short race. So I’m excited about tomorrow.”

Interestingly enough, when Hamilton took the checkered flag and climbed out of his W15 he went right over to Verstappen’s RB20, conducting a post-race inspection of his own.

Perhaps trying to find an answer for what Red Bull and Verstappen are doing right now. But who knows if any such answers can be found.

Winner: Sergio Pérez

With things settled up front, the biggest battle on the track in the closing stages was for the final spot on the podium. With the laps ticking down, a four-way fight between Alonso, Carlos Sainz Jr,. Sergio Pérez, and Charles Leclerc was shaping up.

On Lap 16, through Turn 7, it was Alonso and Sainz battling it out for P3. But as the two Spanish drivers fought and got side-by-side, they left the door open for Pérez, who took advantage of the fight between Alonso and Sainz and rocketed up into P3.

“I saw an opportunity, and I went for it,” said Pérez following the Sprint Race.

This gives Pérez yet another podium on the season, to go with a trio of P2 finishes already in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Japan.

The year began with speculation following Pérez, and his potential F1 future. Conventional wisdom held that his seat at Red Bull was rather warm, if not downright hot. With drivers such as Yuki Tsunoda, Daniel Ricciardo, and Liam Lawson lurking — not to mention Sainz as well given his impending free agency — many believed Pérez would eventually be the odd driver out at Red Bull.

But his solid start to the season is absolutely quelling that chatter.

While nothing is official yet, one has to believe that Pérez has given himself the inside track to another year, or more, at Red Bull.

Loser: Fernando Alonso

The closing laps of the Sprint Race, and the four-way fight for P3, provided fans with some thrilling racing.

However, it came at a price. Specifically, one of Fernando Alonso’s front tires. Due to a puncture, Alonso was forced to retire his AMR24 in the closing stages, turning what could have been a points — or podium — finish into a day to forget.

Although, it has not been all bad for Alonso the past 24 hours.

Because Taylor Swift might have penned a song lyric about him.

That’s right. On the track imgonnagetyoubackfrom The Tortured Poets Department: Anthology, Swift sings the line “I’m an Aston Martin that you steered straight into the ditch.”

The crossover F1 fans/Swifties among us immediately thought of the rumor floating around last year of a relationship between Swift and Alonso, before the cultural icon became the most popular Kansas City Chiefs fan on the planet. Was the line truly a reference to Alonso, and confirmation of one of the more fascinating rumors floating around the sport a year ago?

Well, Aston Martin had some fun with it, at least:

So, Alonso’s got that going for him. Which is nice.

Winner: George Russell

When the Sprint Race began, 19 of the 20 drivers on the grid were using a set of medium tires.

The only one who was not? George Russell, who had a set of soft tires bolted on his W15.

Could he make it work for all 19 laps? Or would the grip offered at the start give way down the stretch, seeing him fade back through the field?

Somehow, Russell made it work, picking up a few spots to finish P8, securing the final point on this Sprint Saturday.

Perhaps more importantly, that result gives Mercedes a ton of data on the soft compound to work with the rest of the weekend. This could pay off in a big way for the Silver Arrows in the qualifying session later Saturday for the Grand Prix, as well as in the race itself. Depending on how qualifying unfolds, the team might be confident starting Hamilton and/or Russell on a set of softs to gain an early advantage.

After a tough qualifying session for Russell, this was a great result.

Loser: Nico Hülkenberg

Heading into the Sprint Race, Haas was one of the teams to watch, given the pace that Kevin Magnussen and Nico Húlkenberg showed during FP1.

However, that did not materialize into points in the Sprint Race, as Magnusses finished P10, and Hülkenberg down in P19, ahead of only Alonso who endured a DNF.

Perhaps more concerning for Hülkenberg and Haas is the fact that there seemed to be a problem with his steering wheel, that the team was dealing with in the moments ahead of the Sprint Race.

Could the team have a bigger problem to sort out ahead of qualifying, and the Grand Prix itself? Only time will tell.

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