until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

Norris splits Red Bulls in incident-filled F1 Chinese Grand Prix

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
5 min read

Formula 1 championship leader Max Verstappen dominated a double safety car-interrupted Chinese Grand Prix in F1's first full-distance race at the venue since 2019.

The ease with which Verstappen won the sprint race the day before despite starting fourth foreshadowed a walkover, and that proved accurate - but Red Bull was denied 1-2 as circumstances of the race dropped Sergio Perez behind McLaren's Lando Norris and he couldn't recover the place.

Any possibility of an early challenge to Verstappen was snuffed out instantly at the start, as Perez got overtaken by Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso round the outside of the long right-hander - and Verstappen then cleared Alonso by as much as 1.6s over the rest of the lap.

It took Perez until the fifth lap to overtake the clearly inferior Aston, doing so under braking into the hairpin, by which point Verstappen was already nearly five seconds clear - and the Dutchman's lead only grew from there.

The action, as it so often does, unfolded behind the Red Bulls instead. Alonso quickly fell into the clutches of Norris, who soon dealt with him at the end of the back straight and began to build up a crucial gap to the Ferraris - who, fighting one another at the start, had dropped behind Mercedes' George Russell and Haas' Nico Hulkenberg.

Both were back past Hulkenberg very soon after, but it took Charles Leclerc until lap nine to work his way past Russell and set off after Norris - albeit making very little in the way of progress as both extended their opening stints.

In fact, Norris and Leclerc would stay out long enough to where a failure for Valtteri Bottas' Sauber, running in fringe points contention, on lap 20 allowed them both a 'discount' pitstop under the virtual safety car.

With Bottas parked up in the run-off at Turn 11 after an apparent engine failure, it took a long time for local yellow flags to turn into the aforementioned VSC stoppage, which was then upgraded to a full safety car as removing the Sauber required the use of a track assistance vehicle.

Both Red Bulls - and most everyone else - pitted once the safety car was called out, yet it meant Perez dropped back behind Norris and Leclerc, taking the restart in fourth.

Before that restart began in earnest, there was already a collision in the pack at Turn 14, with Alonso locking up into the corner and creating a concertina effect that meant his team-mate Lance Stroll steamed into the back of Daniel Ricciardo's RB, punting it airborne.

It wasn't enough chaos for the race to be re-suspended right away. That would come shortly afterwards, once Kevin Magnussen's over-ambitious lunge into the Turn 6 hairpin resulted in a collision with the other RB, that of Yuki Tsunoda, ending Tsunoda's race on the spot and forcing Magnussen into the pits with damage to his Haas.

The second safety car period made it more straightforward for most to make it to the chequered flag from there on, and - with Verstappen still firmly in control - reduced the amount of laps team-mate Perez had to make his way back into second.

Perez successfully divebombed Leclerc for third place into Turn 6 on lap 39 of 56, but found himself facing a gap of over five seconds to Norris, who had so swiftly broken away from the Ferrari after the restart.

And despite an error for Norris that cost him a second or so at one point, Perez ultimately had no answer at all for the Briton - who celebrated his 15th podium in F1 in second place, finishing 13.7s behind Verstappen.

Perez and Leclerc completed the top four, with Leclerc's team-mate Carlos Sainz 10 seconds back in fifth.

Russell was the lead Mercedes in sixth after mounting half-a-challenge against Sainz late on, while Alonso took seventh. The two-time champion had gambled on the soft tyre during the race interruption, which meant he had to pit again during the final stint of the race.

He was sixth when Bottas' car failed, cleared Sainz for fifth, but dropped out of the points once he pitted.

But with the use of fresher tyres Alonso naturally made his way back through, including a sequence in which he had a huge moment catching the gravel at the final corner and very nearly replicating Sainz's crash from qualifying, only to straighten it out, keep up the momentum and overtake Lewis Hamilton and Oscar Piastri in very quick succession after that.

Piastri was a quiet eighth in the end, seemingly hampered by damage sustained in that Stroll/Ricciardo concertina.

Hamilton took ninth after starting 18th, having made relatively little progress in the early going but ultimately making his way through into the points through overtakes on Alpine's Esteban Ocon and Hulkenberg.

The final point belonged to Hulkenberg and Haas, taking the American team's tally to five for the season, albeit with Hulkenberg under investigation for a potential safety car infringement - seemingly related to him overtaking Ricciardo after the RB was hit by Stroll.

Should that yield a penalty, Ocon would be promoted to 10th to score Alpine's first point of the campaign.

Race result

PosNameCarLapsLaps LedTotal TimeFastest LapPitstopsPts
1Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPT56561h40m52.554s1m38.406s233
2Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes560+13.773s1m38.751s121
3Sergio PérezRed Bull-Honda RBPT560+19.160s1m39.388s221
4Charles LeclercFerrari560+23.623s1m39.384s117
5Carlos SainzFerrari560+33.983s1m39.764s114
6George RussellMercedes560+38.724s1m40.112s29
7Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-Mercedes560+43.414s1m37.810s37
8Oscar PiastriMcLaren-Mercedes560+56.198s1m39.739s26
9Lewis HamiltonMercedes560+57.986s1m40.835s29
10Nico HülkenbergHaas-Ferrari560+0.476s1m40.815s21
11Esteban OconAlpine-Renault560+2.812s1m40.937s20
12Alex AlbonWilliams-Mercedes560+5.506s1m40.790s20
13Pierre GaslyAlpine-Renault560+9.223s1m39.198s30
14Guanyu ZhouSauber-Ferrari560+11.689s1m38.633s30
15Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes560+22.786s1m39.444s40
16Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari560+27.533s1m41.077s20
17Logan SargeantWilliams-Mercedes560+35.110s1m41.000s20
Daniel RicciardoRB-Honda RBPT330DNF1m40.994s20
Yuki TsunodaRB-Honda RBPT260DNF1m41.593s20
Valtteri BottasSauber-Ferrari190DNF1m41.276s10
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