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Why the Chinese GP battle behind Red Bull will be intense

The Chinese Grand Prix has delivered some very exciting races but it would be a surprise to see a big battle for the win this year

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Anything but a Max Verstappen victory at the 2024 Chinese Grand Prix would be a huge shock as a dominant Saturday underlined his advantage over the rest of the Formula 1 field.

Verstappen, who had never been victorious in Shanghai, won the first Sprint of 2024 by 13 seconds from Lewis Hamilton despite only taking the lead at the halfway point of the 19-lap race.

The three-time F1 world champion then took pole position by more than three tenths of a second and it’s hard to see how he doesn’t make it a perfect weekend on Sunday.

An easy Verstappen win?

As exciting as a Sprint race is, more so than a practice session of course, it tells you exactly what will happen in the Grand Prix a day later.

We now know Red Bull and Verstappen easily have the pace over everyone else when there would have still been this unknown without the Sprint race.

Verstappen even had some engine mode problems at the start of the Sprint, but now he knows how to get on top of this which will make his life even easier.

Max Verstappen of Red Bull leads Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes during the 2024 Chinese Grand Prix Sprint | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
Max Verstappen of Red Bull leads Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes during the 2024 Chinese Grand Prix Sprint | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

In the hands of Verstappen, tyre degradation will not be an issue and he has track position, plus the raw speed to do whatever he wants and simply react to the strategies of the drivers behind him.

Even if Sergio Perez jumps him at the start, you just can’t help but feel Verstappen will cruise by and only a reliability failure can deny him a fourth victory of 2024.

“The Sprint definitely gave you a bit more of an idea with the degradation, what to look at, what to work on,” said Verstappen.

“Of course, the wind direction is going to change again, so the balance of the car in some corners will be a bit different again, but I think if the car is even half as good as what it as in the Sprint I think we will be alright.”

Alonso looking over his shoulder

Fernando Alonso may have a similar Grand Prix to his Sprint where he towed the Ferraris and McLarens around before his tyre wear got too high and he was forced to get his elbows out.

It was brilliant to see Alonso go for it against Carlos Sainz and his penalty for contact with his compatriot was not fair. We want to see that kind of hard racing.

Ferrari have much better tyre wear than Aston Martin and McLaren, so you would expect to see Sainz or Charles Leclerc on the podium on Sunday.

Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso speak in the press conference after qualifying for the 2024 Chinese GP | Bryn Lennon / Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso speak in the press conference after qualifying for the 2024 Chinese GP | Bryn Lennon / Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

“On my side, I knew the setup I chose was not ideal for qualifying but I did not expect to be behind the Astons and McLaren,” Leclerc told Sky Sports F1

“But I believe it’s a good sign in that we have the right car to perform well. It will all be about how fast we pass the others to get in front.”.

Alonso has shown that he is a tough driver to pass though, so Leclerc may need to be patient when racing the two-time world champion.

With Lando Norris in fourth, Oscar Piastri in fifth then Leclerc and Sainz of Ferrari, Alonso will be vulnerable to any team tactics too, as his teammate Lance Stroll is only 11th. It should be a fierce battle behind Red Bull.

“I expect a difficult race,” said Alonso. “I mean, we are slower than the Ferraris, slower than the McLarens and probably the Mercedes.

“We are outqualifying them often and then in the race we just need to wait and see. When they come, how fast they come and how many laps we can defend those positions. But it happened so far in the first four races, so I guess this fifth race is going to be no different.

“So I expect a race that is going to be difficult for us. But, we can’t say sorry for being too fast in qualifying, so let’s take it.”

Different tyre strategies

Similarly to the 2024 Japanese GP, we should see a two-stop race where we don’t know which tyre out of the hard and medium performs best.

The Red Bulls and Ferraris have two sets of hards and one set of mediums left but the McLarens, Mercedes and Aston Martins only have one set of the hard compound but two sets of mediums.

This means we will see a medium-hard-hard strategy from Red Bull and Ferrari then medium-hard-medium or medium-medium-hard for the other top teams.

There is a high chance of a safety car or virtual safety car in Shanghai, so the timing of this will be crucial. You will lose around 23-24 seconds when making a pit stop under green flag conditions but this will come down to approximately 14 seconds when pitting under a SC or VSC.

John Smith
John Smithhttps://total-motorsport.com
Editor at Total-Motorsport.com and all round Motorsport journalist specialising in Formula 1, IndyCar and Formula E.
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