Max Verstappen Storms to Sprint Win, F1 Chinese Grand Prix Pole

f1 grand prix of china sprint

Formula 1 World Champion Max Verstappen pulverized the opposition during F1’s opening Sprint Race of the season at the Chinese Grand Prix on Saturday in Shanghai.

Since Formula 1 introduced its Saturday Sprint Races at select Grands Prix in 2021 it has proven to provide a strong preview of what to expect from Sunday’s main event. And, unsurprisingly given recent history, Sunday's F1 Chinese Grand Prix is likely to be another Verstappen roadshow, as he won Saturday’s Sprint Race in spite of a few setbacks.

The win was worth eight championship points for Verstappen. Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez completed the podium and picked up seven and six points, respectively.

Verstappen started only fourth at the Shanghai International Circuit, the result of a thrilling rain-hit sprint qualifying session on Friday topped by Lando Norris, and opted for used tires for the mini-race.

Verstappen encountered a battery issue through the first few laps—it wasn’t charging properly, leaving him needing to make switch changes on the steering wheel—and he had to resist pressure from Carlos Sainz. But once that minor ailment was sorted he motored forwards, chasing Fernando Alonso and early leader Hamilton, as the three world champions in the field ran 1-2-3.

f1 grand prix of china qualifying
Saturday proved to be a sweep day with a Sprint win and a pole in China for Max Verstappen, left, and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.Mark Thompson - Getty Images

Verstappen easily passed Alonso, and then Hamilton for the lead on lap 9 of 19, and stretched his advantage to a whopping 13 seconds by the checkered flag.

“The first two laps I had to really defend, and at the same time also my battery ran out, it was not charging,” he said. “It takes like two or three laps before you have a bit of a battery back in the pack and then my pace started to pick up because before that I was just clipping a lot and losing a lot of top speed.

“Once I had that all under control, and then also the peak of the new tire [for rivals] was a bit gone basically I could ease up to Fernando, get him, then ease up to Lewis and just rely on the pace of the car.”

Hamilton had his strongest showing for some time, finishing second, having been aided by the track position from an excellent sprint qualifying display and a fast start from the front row.

Hamilton ducked past Norris on the short run to Turn 1 and repelled Norris’ bold but fruitless attempt to hang on around the outside, though could do nothing to hold back the flying Verstappen.

f1 grand prix of china sprint qualifying
Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton finished 1-2 on Saturday in China.Kym Illman - Getty Images

“That’s the best result I’ve had in a long time, so of course I’m super, super happy and grateful,” said Hamilton. “Of course we couldn’t fight the Red Bull today, but it’s a huge step and huge improvement, at least with the rain [on Friday], I think that really helped naturally.”

There was at least a fun fight for third, with the spot claimed by Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Perez.

Alonso and Sainz scrapped for the position but they took each other wide and Perez snuck through to gain the spot. The Spaniards picked up damage by rubbing wheels, leaving Alonso with a puncture and out of the running. Sainz dropped to fifth, behind Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc, via a couple of close calls that irritated Leclerc.

Stewards intervened post-Sprint and hit Alonso with a 10-second penalty (which made no difference because he retired, prompting stewards to highlight that the regulation regarding Sprint Race penalties needs amending) but more notable was three penalty points being added to his Super Licence, bringing him up to six penalty points, which is halfway to a ban. It was a ludicrous call by the stewards to sanction a piece of good racing, given Formula 1 has been relentlessly promoting and hyping its Sprint races, wanting to deliver more on-track action.

As part of an amended Sprint format in 2024 qualifying for the Grand Prix now takes place after the Sprint Race—rather than on Friday as it did in 2023—with drivers allowed to make set-up changes between the sessions.

That meant drivers switched from race mode to qualifying mode on Saturday afternoon.

It was a smooth session for Verstappen as he preserved his perfect Saturday record in 2024—making him a perfect five-for-five in pole positions—ahead of Perez, with Alonso third, setting the grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix.

It was the 36th pole position of Verstappen’s career, and marked the 100th in the history of Red Bull Racing.

“I think after the Sprint race, it gave us a few more ideas for the car, and I think the car worked even better in qualifying now,” said Verstappen, in an ominous warning to the field.

But it was not such good news for Sprint runner-up Hamilton as he failed to make it out of Q1 after a mistake into the hairpin, with Hamilton claiming he was running an experimental set-up on the W15 that backfired. It means Hamilton will start Sunday’s race from 18th on the grid, faster only than Yuki Tsunoda and Logan Sargeant, whose difficult season continued with a spin.

F1 Chinese Grand Prix

Saturday Sprint Results

  1. Max Verstappen, Red Bull, 19 laps, 8 points

  2. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, +13.043 seconds, 7 points

  3. Sergio Perez, Red Bull, +15.258, 6 points

  4. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, +17.48, 5 points

  5. Carlos Sainz, Ferrari, +20.696, 4 points

  6. Lando Norris. McLaren, +22.088, 3 points

  7. Oscar Piastri, McLaren, +24.713, 2 points

  8. George Russell, Mercedes, +25.696, 1 point

  9. Zhou Guanyu, Kick Sauber, +31.951

  10. Kevin Magnussen, Haas, +37.398

  11. Daniel Ricciardo, RB, +37.840s

  12. Valtteri Bottas, Kick Sauber, +38.295

  13. Esteban Ocon, Alpine, +39.841

  14. Lance Stroll, Aston Martin, +40.299

  15. Pierre Gasly, Alpine, +40.838

  16. Yuki Tsunoda, RB, +41.870

  17. Alexander Albon, Williams, +42.998

  18. Logan Sargeant, Williams, +46.352

  19. Nico Hulkenberg, Haas, +49.630

  20. Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin, DNF