Verstappen wins Chinese Grand Prix sprint race

SHANGHAI — Max Verstappen won the Chinese Grand Prix sprint race Saturday ahead of Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez to increase his Formula One world championship lead.

Verstappen finished 13 seconds in front after starting fourth on the grid for the 19-lap sprint at the Shanghai International Circuit to claim the eight points on offer for the winner.

“The first few laps were hectic,” said Verstappen.

“The wind is changing a lot which makes it difficult to drive. Once we sorted (the battery) out we were OK.”

Ferrari pair Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were fourth and fifth after surviving a thrilling battle for the minor places with Perez and Fernando Alonso, who had to retire his Aston Martin on lap 18 after a puncture.

Lando Norris started from pole but could only come sixth in his McLaren ahead of teammate Oscar Piastri with George Russell eighth to round out the points scorers.

“That’s the best result I’ve had in a long time, so I’m super happy and grateful,” said an ecstatic Hamilton.

“We couldn’t fight the Red Bulls, the race was tough but I found out a lot about the car through this short stint so I’m excited for the race tomorrow.”

It was the first of six sprints on the bumper 24-race Formula One calendar in 2024, and the first where the new weekend format was used.

Sprint qualifying that in previous years took place on Saturday morning was the second session on Friday.

It means grand prix qualifying can remain in its usual Saturday afternoon slot on sprint weekends.

The changes were welcomed by drivers and teams who can now adjust their car set-ups after the sprint race for GP qualifying, which wasn’t allowed previously.

Costly error for Norris

Hamilton started from second on the grid but got away quickest, holding the inside line on the long first two corners to emerge in front after pole-sitter Norris ran wide.

It was costly for the McLaren man who found himself down in seventh after the first lap.

Alonso moved up to second and Verstappen to third, despite the championship leader complaining of a flat battery.

By the fifth lap Hamilton had opened up a 1.3 second lead and crucially was out of range for Alonso to attack with his DRS.

Verstappen seemed to have solved his power problems by lap seven and soon took second from Alonso by using DRS on the long back straight and set about catching Hamilton.

Two laps later he had the measure of the seven-time world champions and nipped past on the final hairpin.

With a clear track in front Verstappen cruised off into the distance, increasing the gap by almost a second a lap on the Mercedes as Hamilton settled for second.

On the first Chinese Grand Prix weekend since 2019, huge crowds turned out to see Shanghai native Zhou Guanyu, China’s first Formula One driver, make his home debut.

Tickets for Sunday’s main race sold out in minutes and fans had plenty to cheer Friday when Zhou propelled his Sauber into the top 10 in a wet sprint qualifying session.

He started from 10th and in dry conditions for the race and moved up one place after the opening skirmishes.

Zhou agonisingly finished just out of the points in ninth after being passed by Russell, who was 11th on the grid and the only driver to start on soft tyres.

The 24-year-old Zhou has been behind the wheel in F1 since 2022, scoring a point on his debut at Bahrain that year, but had to wait till his third season to race on his home circuit. — AFP