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Formula 1

Verstappen dominates China sprint featuring best racing of 2024

by Matt Beer
3 min read

For almost half of the Chinese Grand Prix sprint there seemed a very real prospect of Lewis Hamilton finally taking a first Formula 1 race win since December 2021.

Then Max Verstappen got going properly and swiftly crushed that.

But in his ultimately massively dominant wake, a slow-burn battle for third eventually erupted into the best racing of the 2024 season so far and provided a decent endorsement of the entertainment potential of sprint races (helped by a mixed-up grid).

Polesitter Lando Norris's time near the front was brief - a better start by front row partner Hamilton meant the Mercedes was clearly ahead into Turn 1 and Norris's attempt to hang on around the outside to get the inside for the next corner ended in him slewing wide over the run-off area and completing the first lap in seventh after several corners wheel-to-wheel with Charles Leclerc's Ferrari.

Fernando Alonso's Aston Martin emerged in second and for a few laps this seemed like it really might be a Hamilton vs Alonso battle for victory as they put a two-second cushion on Verstappen, who sounded like he was grappling with engine settings as he complained of a flat battery on his Red Bull. He was even under pressure from behind as Carlos Sainz's Ferrari chased him.

Once everything was to his liking, though, Verstappen resumed normal 2024 form.

Alonso, who had begun to drift away from Hamilton, was dismissed on lap eight and an error at the hairpin next time around cost Hamilton - who was unhappy with his car's slow-corner performance - most of his remaining lead.

Just past half-distance Verstappen cruised down the Mercedes' inside at the hairpin and duly disappeared, building a humbling 13-second lead over the second half of the short race.

Hamilton had a quiet time from there, as Alonso came under heavy pressure from Sainz, Sergio Perez and Leclerc.

At first this was a classic 'DRS train' of cars unable to pass each other, but when it erupted it did so in style.

A wheel-banging dive by Sainz got him through to third but an even bolder retaliatory dive by Alonso (featuring more contact) gave Perez a chance to overtake them both.

Sainz then hurled his Ferrari back at Alonso, who lost out to both Ferraris and then pitted with a puncture while Sainz and Leclerc went at each other.

Leclerc - to his frustration over the radio - was initially taken well wide at the hairpin by his team-mate before making it through for good at the start of the next lap, as Sainz shed mild debris from his car.

Norris couldn't get close enough to capitalise on all that, finishing sixth behind Perez, Leclerc and Sainz but having always been safely clear of McLaren team-mate Oscar Piastri behind.

Sole soft-tyre runner George Russell progressed from 11th on the grid to eighth as Valtteri Bottas went the other way after Sauber's encouraging qualifying - dropping from ninth to 12th.

His team-mate Zhou Guanyu at least gave Sauber its first top 10 finish of a tough year so far as he took ninth on home ground, though it doesn't pay any points in the sprint.

Chinese GP sprint result

1Max Verstappen
2Lewis Hamilton
3Sergio Pérez
4Charles Leclerc
5Carlos Sainz
6Lando Norris
7Oscar Piastri
8George Russell
9Guanyu Zhou
10Kevin Magnussen
11Daniel Ricciardo
12Valtteri Bottas
13Esteban Ocon
14Lance Stroll
15Pierre Gasly
16Yuki Tsunoda
17Alex Albon
18Logan Sargeant
19Nico Hülkenberg
Fernando Alonso
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