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Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix 2024

Why Verstappen and Red Bull might only be third-best in China

Things did not go smoothly for Max Verstappen during sprint qualifying in China. Especially the rain was a problem. However, a look at the data also shows that Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez were not as fast in the longruns.

Verstappen sprint China
To news overview © Red Bull Content Pool

Things did not go to plan for Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez in the final part of sprint qualifying, at the first Chinese Grand Prix since 2019.

Verstappen and Perez cruised through to SQ3 but had to settle for fourth and sixth respectively, after a sudden downpour caused chaos. Both Red Bull drivers looked uncomfortable in the wet conditions and struggled to keep their RB20 on the Shanghai International Circuit.

The reigning world champion explained afterwards what the problem was and why he ultimately was not a pole position contender.

"I had trouble getting temperature in the tyres," Verstappen explained. "It was difficult to keep the car on the track. It felt like I was driving on ice. I think that's why it's justified where we are in this qualifying. It didn't work for me in the wet conditions."

Despite the outcome of sprint qualifying, Red Bull will be mildly confident looking ahead to the qualifying session for Sunday's race tomorrow afternoon.

Dry conditions are forecast on Saturday which bodes well for the Austrians, as Perez was fastest in SQ1, when it was still dry, ahead of Lando Norris and Verstappen – Perez was more than two-tenths faster than the Briton. Charles Leclerc was Ferrari's fastest man in SQ1 but was four-tenths adrift of Perez.

Should it rain on Saturday, then Red Bull has an additional advantage. If it does rain again on Saturday, they can adjust Verstappen's set-up after the sprint race in order to be able to perform well on a wet track. As a result, Red Bull will be ready for rain or shine in qualifying.

Race pace concerns

Whilst Red Bull will be okay for qualifying on Saturday and will likely find performance during the sprint race, they might be worried about their race pace following the first free practice session.

The track in China is quite unpredictable in terms of tyre wear and grip, and things did not look too good for Verstappen and Perez in the practice session.

Both drivers were on average half a second to eight-tenths slower on the mediums than Lando Norris, who was also driving on the hard compound. Fernando Alonso, usually slower in the Aston Martin, also matched Red Bull on the hard tyre.

Why is this? It is possible that Verstappen and Perez drove with more fuel and Norris drove a fairly short long-run due to the lack of practice time. The question marks come mainly from the words of Red Bull advisor Dr. Helmut Marko.

Marko indicated after the free practice session that there was still much to be improved to be at the front and suggested after sprint qualifying that Verstappen's RB20 has been tinkered with.

Marko said the following: "After the dry first free practice, in which we were at the front anyway, we found a fault in Max's car. We also made some small adjustments and that seemed to pay off."

His final sentence is positive, which in itself is not surprising, as Red Bull also made adjustments in Australia and Japan to be strong. The only problem is that there is no extra free practice to gather data.

Verstappen and Red Bull will look for confirmation in the sprint race as to what direction the set-up needs to go, before potentially making changes for the traditional qualifying session.

Long runs first free practice GP China

Lap Verstappen Perez Norris Alonso
1. 1:42.280 1:42.882 1:41.717 1:41.945
2. 1:42.038 1:42.660 1:41.766 1:42.227
3. 1:42.277 1:42.903 1:41.810 1:42.548
4. 1:42.697 1:42.743 1:42.345 1:42.293
5. 1:42.128 1:42.697 1:42.847
6. 1:42.308 1:43.328
7. 1:42.961 1:43.145
8. 1:42.549

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