Horner and Marko wary of tougher challenge in China


The Japanese Grand Prix could hardly have gone more smoothly for Red Bull, with Max Verstappen describing the team's 1-2 victory at Suzuka as "lovely". But Christian Horner and Helmut Marko expect a tougher time of it in China.

It will be the first time that Formula 1 has raced at Shanghai International Circuit since the pandemic, meaning that the last time the teams were in China it was Mercedes that was the dominant force.

None of the teams can be certain how today's ground effect cars will perform there, and it's an opportunity for Red Bull's closest rivals including Ferrari and McLaren to compete on what could prove to be a more level playing field.

Both teams have been slowly but surely making in-roads into cutting the gap to Red Bull over the first races of 2024. In addition, next weekend will see the first sprint race weekend of the year.

Team principal Horner acknowledged that Ferrari had shown impressive pace of late, with Carlos Sainz winning at Australia's Albert Park Circuit after Verstappen was sidelined with a brake fire early in the race.

"Ferrari definitely at that circuit were competitive," said Horner, adding that their race pace had also been impressive at Suzuka. "We expect them to probably be our closest competitor [in China].

“It's got a sprint race as well - first sprint race of the year – so that's another challenge. A lot of points available, so it’ll be interesting to see how that goes.”

Shanghai is a circuit that features high tyre wear as a result of big traction zones and long corners. “The first corner goes on forever," Horner told the media last week.

"With the high-speed corners onto the back street as well, it's always been very punishing on the front left tyre," he added.

Tyre wear caught Red Bull out in Melbourne, which is why the team's motorsports advisor Dr Marko is wary about China. A new, possibly more abrasive track surface will also add to the concerns.

Promoters for the Chinese Grand Prix have been working to grind down the more egregious and reseal areas of particular concern of the new surface before next week's event, the first at the venue in five years.

"I hope we won't have any surprises like in Melbourne," Marko told Sky Sports F1 last week. "There the asphalt was so aggressive. We were completely wrong about tyre wear, which is precisely one of our strengths."

The sprint race format means that all teams will have just a single hour of practice before going into qualifying and race parc ferme conditions for the rest of the weekend, giving them little time to nail the set-up.

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