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Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix 2024

The factors that will make the Chinese GP unmissable

The Shanghai International Circuit will again host the Chinese Grand Prix, after a break of five years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a number of contributing factors meaning the fifth round of the season could be one of the most unpredictable all year.

China GP
To news overview © XPBimages

The Chinese Grand Prix is back after a five-year hiatus, and in that time, a lot in F1 has changed.

When the series last graced the Shanghai International Circuit in April 2019, the sport was still over two-and-a-half years from Max Verstappen clinching his maiden drivers’ championship.

Lewis Hamilton brought led Valtteri Bottas home for a Mercedes one-two, with the pair being joined on the podium by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. Pierre Gasly took the extra point for the fastest lap – in a Red Bull.

Since then, a whole new generation of F1 cars has been introduced, as well as the sprint weekend format.

Since the new technical regulations came into play, Max Verstappen has won more than 75 percent of the grand prix held, taking 37 of Red Bull’s 41 victories in the 48 races held since the start of 2022.

Therefore, it would be fair to assume that this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix will offer up more of the same – but that is not necessarily the case.

In fact, this weekend could see F1’s return to China bucking some on-going trends, making it a ‘can’t-miss’ event.

New home for new cars

Firstly, the current generation of cars are very different to the ones that last raced at the Shanghai International Circuit back in 2019.

Ground-effect is in, and how the aerodynamics work – not to mention their relationship with the new floors – is radically different, too.

On top of that, 18-inch tyres are now in place of the previous 13-inch versions, which is a relative step into the unknown for the teams.

This could act as an equaliser between the drivers, with past experience being less important than it otherwise would have been. This will be to the advantage of Yuki Tsunoda, Zhou Guanyu, Oscar Piastri and Logan Sargeant – who are all making their first Chinese Grand Prix starts.

Further compounding these factors is that having been seldom used in five years, the track could be in a less-than-ideal condition. Remember the Turkish Grand Prix in 2020?

Recent work to re-profile and resurface areas of the track, on account of the new cars suffering on bumps, may further contribute to difficulties facing the teams, with some of them openly admitting to not being completely sure what tyre degradation will be like.

			© FIA Pool Image for Editorial Use
	© FIA Pool Image for Editorial Use

New approach to a new format

Due to the ‘green-ness’ of the track surface, high circuit evolution is expected to take place as the weekend unfolds. This issue is exacerbated by the Chinese Grand Prix holding the first sprint of the season – the second major factor.

Having a sprint alone is not the problem – in fact, the new format, which allows for changes between the sprint race and grand prix qualifying, could be considered somewhat of a mitigator – but teams and drivers will have just one hour of practice to get up to speed.

This means that any issue during that single session could prove costly, and even if everything runs to plan, without the time to cover all bases, a compromise must be made somewhere. But get it wrong, and you could be facing an entire weekend on the back foot.

It is undoubtedly the most important practice session of the season. An emphasis will likely be placed on set-up and understanding outright pace – with teams perhaps hoping to learn more about long-run form in the sprint itself.

Ultimately, the new format will go one of two ways: it will either see the sprint weekend remain fresh and interesting, as opposed to the rehearsals we saw for what would end up being a predictable grand prix last year, or it will indeed let teams off the hook for issues or mistakes in practice, with sprint qualifying and the sprint itself serving as an audition for the main event.

Let us hope it is the former, but even if it is the latter – a chaotic sprint qualifying and race might just be a worthwhile consolation prize.

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