Chinese GP: Dominant Verstappen delivers 100th Red Bull pole

(L to R): Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing celebrates his pole position with second placed team mate Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing in qualifying parc ferme. 20.04.2024. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 5, Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai, China, Sprint and Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images
© XPB 

Red Bull secured another 1-2 lock-out in qualifying, with Max Verstappen taking the team's 100th pole in F1 in dominant style and Sergio Perez joining him on the front row ahead of Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso, who was best of the rest.

A spin by Carlos Sainz triggered a red flag midway through Q2 but the Ferrari was able to continue and ended up qualifying in P7, putting Sainz behind the two McLarens and his own team mate Charles Leclerc.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was a shock elimination at the end of the first round leaving him P18 on the grid tomorrow, with home favourite Zhou Guanyu in the Sauber also failing to make the first cut.

Fresh from the morning Sprint race, the drivers were back in action at
Shanghai International Circuit on Saturday for qualifying for the first Chinese Grand Prix in five years. Conditions continued to be dry albeit still overcast just as they had been for the Sprint, which was good news as far as Red Bull were concerned given Max Verstappen's earlier romp to victory.

The new Sprint weekend format meant teams could work on their cars since then free of parc ferme restrictions, meaning that nothing was set in stone heading into the first round. Could anyone find a little extra to improve their performance and their Sunday grid position?

Circuit atmosphere - fans in the grandstand.
20.04.2024. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 5, Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai, China, Sprint and Qualifying Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Coates / XPB Images

Q1: Verstappen quickest as Hamilton and Zhou miss the cut

After Friday's Sprint qualifying rules it was back to 'normal' today with with 18 minutes allotted to Q1. First out in Q1 was Williams' Alex Albon ahead of the two Haas cars of Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg. Red Bull held back as has been their habit of late, and Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Charles Leclerc were similarly tardy with everyone on softs.

Hulkenberg and then Magnussen had brief spells at the top, but Yuki Tsunoda was complaining about DRS issues on the RB after his slow first effort. George Russell was then quickest but his time of 1:36.436s was only two tenths ahead of the Haas drivers, suggesting the Mercedes was still struggling to find pace here this weekend. Sure enough, Charles Leclerc soon swept him off the top with a time almost half a second quicker.

Fernando Alonso put any annoyance over his three point penalty for his Sprint clash with Sainz to go top with a time of 1:35.116s. Not even Verstappen could beat that at this stage as the Red Bull fell 0.055s short of the Aston. Perez' own attempt was thwarted by catching up to Albon; he was left without a time, but the stewards decided against any penalty for impeding. Instead it was Valtteri Bottas who went P3, confirming decent pace for the Sauber this weekend.

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1. 20.04.2024. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 5, Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai, China, Sprint and Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

McLaren's Oscar Piastri posted a lap of 1:35.014s to go a tenth quicker than Alonso, but Sainz immediately found an extra 0.044s to squeeze ahead with six minute to go. Norris had been lagging behind Piastri up to this point but now took his turn on top with a time of 1:34.842s, with the track continuing to improve as the session went on.

The fans erupted in roars of delight as Zhou Guanyu leapt to the temporary safety of P8 with his latest run. Hamilton likewise left it late before improving to 12th after a lock-up in the hairpin. However both were being rapidly pushed back into the danger zone by improved laps throughout the field. Russell was also at risk but he had time to scramble into the top ten. Hamilton had no such opportunity to go again and was duly eliminated, despite being only a little over eighth tenths slower than Verstappen who was now back on top.

Perez did finally get a time in, and it was just enough to put him on the bubble in 15th and through to round 2. That was at the expense of Zhou who had been bumped down to 16th meaning he was eliminated along with Magnussen, Hamilton, Tsunoda and Logan Sargeant who had brought out local yellow flags by running wide in the final seconds of Q1.

Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) Ferrari SF-24 crashed during qualifying.
20.04.2024. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 5, Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai, China, Sprint and Qualifying Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

Q2: Verstappen and Perez in charge as Sainz spin triggers red flag

In no time at all, the remaining 15 cars were hustling back out of pit lane for round 2. Nico Hulkenberg set the first time of Q@ with a lap of 1:34.979s. The two McLarens then reported for duty and took the top two spots ahead of Alonso, but the papaya domination lasted only as long as it took Verstappen to reach the line in 1:33.946s. Perez could only manage fifth fastest in response.

Leclerc was the only driver to make his initial foray on used tyres, but it was his Ferrari team mate who went for a spin coming out of the final corner. Sainz dapped a rear wheel into a gravel sending him into a slide across the track and contact with the barrier. Race control declared a red flag stoppage even though Sainz was eventually able to get the crumpled SF-24 back underway and heading back to pit lane for a new front wing and damage assessment on the suspension.

Only Sainz and Russell had yet to set an initial time with just under seven minutes remaining on the stopped clock. Also in the drop zone during the hiatus were Albon and Alpine pair Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly. Russell was the only car to come straight out when the session resumed, and he used the clear track to set a banker time good enough to split the McLarens in P3.

Verstappen was also back in action, extending his advantage over Norris. Sainz had made it out in the repaired Ferrari and was immediately up to speed, showing few concerns about any damage to the car as he went second. Leclerc couldn't match his team mate, and both were over half a second slower than Verstappen. Only Perez managed to get closer with his final run, ending Q2 in second place by 0.232s.

The late improvements meant Hulkenberg and Bottas just made it through in ninth and tenth respectively. However, Lance Stroll ended up on the wrong side of the cut and he was duly sidelined along with Ricciardo, Ocon, Albon and Gasly.

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Aston Martin F1 Team AMR24.
20.04.2024. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 5, Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai, China, Sprint and Qualifying Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Coates / XPB Images

Q3: Verstappen and Perez lock out Shanghai front row with Alonso best of the rest

Hulkenberg was quick to get going at the start of the final round. Russell followed him out on track with Bottas the only driver to hang back, content to sit out the initial burst of activity.

The Haas' benchmark of 1:35.400s proved two tenths quicker than the Mercedes, but it paled into comparison with Verstappen who set a scorching time of 1:33.977s, four tenths quicker than Alonso who had edged in front of Perez. Leclerc's first run was only good enough for seventh.

The second and final runs of Q3 began with four minutes remaining on the clock. Hulkenberg and Russell once again led the way with Bottas finally joining the fray at the back. Hulkenberg improved to sixth and Russell jumped into the top three ahead of Perez, with the Ferraris showing their hand with Leclerc second and Sainz third.

McLaren proved even quicker, Norris and Piastri displacing the Ferrari pair. But even they weren't fast enough to prevent Perez from muscling his way onto the front row with Alonso an impressive P3, leaving Norris and Piastri in P4 and P5 and Leclerc bumped down to sixth.

But there was no question about pole. Verstappen's final time of 1:33.660s delivered Red Bull's 100th pole at the same venue where they earned their first-ever pole in 2009 courtesy of Sebastian Vettel. Time sure flies when you're winning!

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