Norris tops wet and wild Sprint qualifying in Shanghai

Lando Norris will start Saturday’s Shanghai Sprint race from pole position after mastering a wet and wild sprint qualifying session at the Chinese Grand Prix.

In soaking-wet conditions Norris was dramatically promoted to top spot when he had a previously deleted lap time reinstated by the stewards. His pole time, a 1m57.940s, had been erased for Norris having run off the track at the last corner on the previous lap. Ordinarily that warrants the deletion of both that lap and the following tour to minimize the risk of a driver gaining an advantage from a mistake. But the treacherously slippery conditions following a sudden deluge meant there was no way to argue Norris had been advantaged by his mistake.

Lando Norris leads the way in the wet. Andy Hone/Motorsport Images

Apparently acknowledging that the McLaren driver set slower times in the first two sectors than on his previous laps, the stewards allowed the lap to stand, returning the Briton to top spot with a 1.261-second margin on Lewis Hamilton.

“It was tricky,” he said. “You’re always nervous going into a session like this. You’ve just got to risk lot. You’ve got to push for tire temperature and so forth.

“I’m sad it’s not for a proper qualifying, but it’s good enough.”

The downpour shortly before the start of the Sprint pole-getting segment completely changed the complexion of the session.

The circuit yielded extremely low grip, which not only made the track very slippery but made tire warm-up painfully difficult. Lap times were almost half a minute slower than in the dry during FP1.

Hamilton was an unlikely front-row starter in that context, having struggled badly for tire temperature at the start of the segment. He was the only driver to voluntarily choose to pit for a new set of intermediates, fresh from their blankets, which paid big dividends by delivering a time quick enough to start second alongside Norris.

Fernando Alonso qualified third ahead of Max Verstappen, who lost two of three laps spearing off the road in the slippery conditions, once at Turn 6 and later through the gravel at the final turn.

Carlos Sainz will start fifth ahead of Sergio Perez and a fortunate Charles Leclerc, who spun off the road and into the barriers at the start of SQ3 but escaped without serious damage and was able to continue.

Oscar Piastri qualified eighth ahead of Sauber teammates Valtteri Bottas and home favorite Zhou Guanyu.

George Russell was knocked out in SQ2 by just 0.038s after rain arrived to disrupt the final minutes of the segment, calling off the final laps..

Ironically the start of SQ2 had been delayed by several minutes due to a grass fire at Turn 7. It was the second fire of the day at that corner, believed to be caused by the sparks generated by the cars as they bottomed out on a bump in the middle of that corner.

Haas teammates Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg will lines up 12th and 13th for Saturday’s Sprint ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and an underwhelming Lance Stroll in 14th and 15th.

Pierre Gasly beat Esteban Ocon to 16th by 0.088s despite not running the upgrades enjoyed by his Alpine teammate.

Alex Albon was 18th ahead of a frustrated Yuki Tsunoda, who waited until late to set a representative time, and Logan Sargeant.

Story originally appeared on Racer