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Max fourth in Chinese GP sprint qualifying: 'Like driving on ice'

Published on 19 April 2024 by Florence Cobben

Max Verstappen came fourth in the Chinese Grand Prix's sprint qualifying. The presiding portion of the session was dominated by rain, raising complaints from the drivers regarding the track’s slippery conditions. Lando Norris made the best of the situation and went fastest. Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso completed the top three.

“It was incredibly slippery. I struggled a lot to get the temperature in the tyres. It was difficult to keep the car on the track. It never really switched on for me, it was like driving on ice. That’s why I think it’s quite deserved where we are in qualifying; it was not really working for me in the wet. I think in the dry we look quite good, so of course I’m happy about that.”

Looking ahead, Max predicts. “It’s not ideal to start on the inside here. There’s a lot lower grip (…) we have to try and have the best start possible, and then it’s going to be quite a long stint on one set of tyres. But I think that makes it quite interesting.”

An hour before the sprint qualifying starts, the Shanghai International Circuit is visited by light rain, but at the beginning of the session, all drivers still appear on track with the required medium tyres. Already during the outlap the conditions seem to change. Oscar Piastri reports on the team radio that he feels light rain, with George Russell reporting the same. Nevertheless, all drivers manage to set a time on the medium tyres. Max immediately sets a fast time, but suffers from understeer in the last turn, losing some time. Initially, Oracle Red Bull Racing-teammate Sergio Perez goes fastest. He is three-tenths faster than Max in P2. Alonso is in third, around seven-tenths slower than Perez.

Once the flag is waved, most drivers manage to improve on their time. Both Red Bulls choose to go into the pits and leave their times. By the end of Q1, Perez and Max are through to Q2 in first and third place respectively. Norris managed to claim second position. Hometown hero Zhou Guanyu just gets into SQ2, in fifteenth place. Logan Sargeant (P20), Yuki Tsunoda (P19), Alexander Albon (P18), Esteban Ocon (P17) and Pierre Gasly (P16), fall just short of joining Zhou, and don’t proceed to SQ2.

The end of SQ1 is marked by yet another mishap. Just like in free practice, a fire starts on the grass next to the circuit. After a brief delay, the flames are extinguished, and the session can proceed.

As SQ2 begins, there is considerable traffic in the pitlane. Rain is looming and nobody wants to be its victim. The Red Bulls bide their time. They wait longer, so the tyres don’t cool off too much queueing in the pitlane. After everyone’s initial lap, Max is the fastest. With a 1:35.606, he is a tenth faster than Charles Leclerc. Perez takes third, two-tenths off the fastest time.

The drivers don’t get to set a second time; with only a couple of minutes to go, it starts to rain. Lance Stroll (P15), Daniel Ricciardo (P14), Nico Hulkenberg (P13), Kevin Magnussen (P12) and Russell (P11) are the losers of SQ2. Zhou Guanyu gives his Chinese fans something to celebrate, just pulling through to SQ3.

In SQ3, everyone takes to the track on intermediates. Initial outlaps indicate the track is very slippery. Leclerc spins and touches the wall. Max, too, is struggling, shooting off track in his first timed lap. The drivers nevertheless remain on intermediates. Norris and Max both set fast sectors but shoot off the track in the last turn of the circuit. Nevertheless, Max manages to set a time, claiming fourth place. The fastest man of the rainy session is Norris. His lap initially got deleted but is eventually reinstated. Next is Hamilton, who after a difficult SQ1 and SQ2 managed second place. Alonso completes the top three.

Contest GP China: win a by Max Verstappen signed Racing cap!

Results sprint qualifying China:

1Lando NorrisNORMcLaren Mercedes1:36.3841:36.0471:57.940
2Lewis HamiltonHAMMercedes1:37.1811:36.2871:59.201
3Fernando AlonsoALOAston Martin Mercedes1:36.8831:36.1191:59.915
4Max VerstappenVERRed Bull Racing Honda RBPT1:36.4561:35.6062:00.028
5Carlos SainzSAIFerrari1:36.7191:36.0522:00.214
6Sergio PerezPERRed Bull Racing Honda RBPT1:36.1101:35.7812:00.375
7Charles LeclercLECFerrari1:36.5371:35.7112:00.566
8Oscar PiastriPIAMcLaren Mercedes1:36.5421:35.8532:00.990
9Valtteri BottasBOTKick Sauber Ferrari1:37.1121:36.0562:01.044
10Zhou GuanyuZHOKick Sauber Ferrari1:37.5441:36.3072:03.537
11George RussellRUSMercedes1:37.3101:36.345
12Kevin MagnussenMAGHaas Ferrari1:37.0331:36.473
13Nico HulkenbergHULHaas Ferrari1:36.9241:36.478
14Daniel RicciardoRICRB Honda RBPT1:37.3211:36.553
15Lance StrollSTRAston Martin Mercedes1:36.9611:36.677
16Pierre GaslyGASAlpine Renault1:37.632
17Esteban OconOCOAlpine Renault1:37.720
18Alexander AlbonALBWilliams Mercedes1:37.812
19Yuki TsunodaTSURB Honda RBPT1:37.892
20Logan SargeantSARWilliams Mercedes1:37.923