Max Verstappen, Sergio Pérez, and Red Bull make some history at qualifying for F1 Chinese GP

We are now five grand prix qualifying sessions into the 2024 Formula 1 season.

Max Verstappen has qualified on pole in all five sessions.

It was another dominant performance from Verstappen and Red Bull at qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix. While Red Bull’s rivals — particularly McLaren, Ferrari, and Fernando Alonso — threw everything they had at them, Verstappen and teammate Sergio Pérez responded. When the checkered flag flew at the end of Q3 it was another Red Bull front row lockout, with Verstappen in P1, and Pérez in P2.

For Verstappen, that now makes it five-straight grand prix pole positions to start the year, the first time since two-time champion champion Mika Hakkinen accomplished that feat back in 1999.

“I think the car worked even better in qualifying now. So yeah, definitely very happy with how the whole of qualifying went,” reported Verstappen after qualifying. “The car was really nice to drive. And also in Q3, I think that final lap felt really decent, and also very happy to be able to drive here in the dry. Yeah, the conditions were pretty good. So it was a lot of fun.”

Verstappen’s result was also some history for the team, as it marked their 100th pole position in F1.

“Yeah, before I jumped in the car, Christian [Horner] told me that if I get pole today it could be number 100 for the team. So I said “OK, that’s nice, I’ll try, you know, I’ll give it a good go’. Of course, that’s an incredible achievement for the whole team. Of course a big contribution from Seb [Vettel], back in the day,” described Verstappen. “But yeah fantastic to have the 1-2 in qualifying. It shows the car is again working really well and from my side it’s been a really good start to the year. I feel very confident in qualifying even compared to last year. Just a shame that we retired in Melbourne as we could have had already a very strong lead bit overall, still a great start.”

As for Pérez, it was a tremendous result given just how close he was to being eliminated in Q1. As you will see in a moment, Pérez advanced to Q2 by the narrowest of margins, but made the most of the rest of his qualifying session.

“Yeah, it was very intense. I nearly got knocked out in Q1. I had traffic with one of the Williams and I had to abort my lap. I came back, go back out on hot, used [tires] and just made it through, P15. It was just a very messy start to qualifying. And then Q2 was a little bit more straightforward. I could really get a read into the balance. And we were making some nice progress through the session,” described Pérez after qualifying. “And yeah, unfortunately there in the end, it was just not enough to get Max but overall it’s a tremendous team result because the track has changed a lot. We changed a lot the car as well to adapt to the conditions. So hopefully that will also pay out tomorrow.”

Can Pérez fight his teammate at the front?

Only time will tell.

“Yeah, I think it’s everything to play for tomorrow. We can be fighting from there. And we can definitely have a strong rhythm,” added Pérez. “And we’ve shown today that we have a fairly good pace in the long run. So I look forward for tomorrow.”

Here are the full qualifying results, as well as some more winners and losers from qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix:

Winners: Alpine

It has been a while since we were able to type those words.

But this was a promising qualifying session for Alpine.

For the first time all season both Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon advanced into Q2, a welcome result after what has been a challenging start to the 2024 campaign. Coming out of pre-season testing, Alpine knew they needed to work quickly to upgrade the A524, a process which has begun in earnest the past few weeks. After bringing an upgrade package to the Japanese Grand Prix, the team rolled out another substantial upgrade this week, bringing a new floor for Ocon’s A524 to Shanghai International Circuit.

So far, so good.

While both drivers saw their day end in Q2, it was still a step forward for the team, and a promising one. Ocon ended the qualifying session in P13, and Gasly behind him in P15.

“It is our best starting position of the year and both cars into Q2, so it is a satisfying session from that perspective. It is a small step in performance but not a negligible one,” said Ocon in the team’s Saturday media report.

“We have made quite some aggressive set-up changes ahead of Qualifying and we knew it was going to be a difficult session, as it has been tricky to get into Q2 for us this season so far. So, I am pleased we have managed to put a clean weekend together up to this point, getting on top of the [tires] between each session,” added Gasly. “The race tomorrow will be very interesting, especially in terms of [tire] degradation. We will continue to push hard and get as much out of the car as possible tomorrow.”

Still, signs of life from Alpine.

F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Previews

Photo by Clive Rose – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

Winners: McLaren

Talk about gaming expectations.

Heading into the Chinese Grand Prix, the talk from McLaren was about minimizing expectations, given how the layout of Shanghai International Circuit might not suit the MCL38. With its low-speed corners — and the MCL38’s struggles with such sectors — McLaren did their best to downplay their chances headed into this weekend.

It will be hard for them to downplay things now headed into the Grand Prix.

After qualifying for the Sprint Race saw Lando Norris capture pole position, the team turned in another strong performance in qualifying for the race. Norris again edged out teammate Oscar Piastri, but when the checkered flag flew at the end of Q3 Norris was in P4, and Piastri right behind him in P5.

That put the Papaya Boys ahead of both Ferraris, and both Mercedes drivers, giving them a chance to bank a big chunk of points in the Grand Prix.

“Qualifying in Shanghai confirmed our car is competitive with new [tires], in Qualifying trim. P4 and P5 is a strong position from which to start the race tomorrow, hopefully to score important points. At the same time, we saw in the Sprint that the challenge becomes more difficult across a race stint,” described Team Principal Andrea Stella. “We have to improve this, and have already made some set-up tweaks between Sprint and Qualifying today. We’ll see tomorrow exactly how helpful those are, but for the moment, well done to the team and drivers for maximising the potential of the car this afternoon.”

They might be trying to game expectation yet again, but we are not buying.

They look strong heading into Sunday.

Loser: Lewis Hamilton

If there was a true shocker from Q1, it was seeing Lewis Hamilton — who qualified in P2 for the Sprint Race and finished on the podium in second — end his day after Q1.

The team tried a few setup changes for his W15 following the Sprint Race, where Hamilton noticeably struggled in the many low-speed corners that Shanghai International Circuit offers. However, those changes did not do the trick. On Hamilton’s final push lap he locked up at Turn 14, which cost him critical time as Q1 came to a close. When all was said and done Hamilton ended Q1 down in P18, his day having come to an end.

It was his first Q1 elimination since the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

“We knew Qualifying would be much more tough this afternoon though. I made some sizeable set-up changes after the Sprint to try and improve the car in the slow speed turns. It wasn’t too bad in some corners, but I struggled elsewhere,” described Hamilton in the team’s media report. “It was challenging to get the rear [tires] to stop into turn 14 and that’s where I locked up on my final lap. If I hadn’t had that, I would have made it through to Q2. I’ll be giving it my best shot tomorrow. We can still have some fun even if we are starting from P18.”

Perhaps adding insult to injury, without that lockup at Turn 14 Hamilton would likely have been through, and eliminated Sergio Pérez in the process. Instead the Red Bull driver was through, and Hamilton was out.

Andrew Shovlin, the team’s Trackside Engineering Director, went into detail on the changes the team made, and why.

“It was great to be able to hang onto P2 with Lewis in the Sprint and for George to make enough places up to get into the points. However, neither driver was happy with the car. The wind rotated overnight and made the balance very inconsistent. In some corners we were suffering with understeer and in others the rear was very weak,” described Shovlin. To try to address that, we made extensive changes to both cars going into Qualifying. The car was quite different and ultimately that caught Lewis out in Q1 with a big lock into the hairpin on his final lap. Without that he would have gone through comfortably.”

F1 Grand Prix of China - Qualifying

Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images

Winner: Valtteri Bottas

By a narrow margin, Valtteri Bottas was in Q2, and Lance Stroll was out.

Bottas’ final push lap in Q2 was enough for P10, just 0.069 seconds faster than Stroll. The Sauber driver was moving on, and Stroll was headed to the garage.

The Sauber driver ended his day in P10, but that result gives the team their best shot yet at securing points this season.

“Qualifying was a different business; it was a straightforward job from our side, and everything went smoothly, allowing us to make it past the Q3 threshold for the first time this season,” reported Bottas following the session. “Overall, it’s been good to see our progress on track this weekend so far; we got pretty close to Nico [Hülkenberg] in Q3, so we should be in for some fun tomorrow, and hopefully some action. I think we have a realistic chance to score points, so we’ll need to execute everything to perfection. As a plus, we are getting lots of support from the grandstands, which is surely a great boost to do well. Everyone is really motivated ahead of the race, and we are really raring to go.”

Losers: Ferrari

This was a rather strange Saturday for the Scuderia.

During the Sprint Race earlier in the day, a four-way scrap for P3 in the closing stages eventually saw Sergio Pérez bolt through into P3, and teammates Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. fighting hard for P4.

Against each other.

Leclerc eventually won that fight, but there was some frustration in the air as the Sprint Race came to a close. “I think it was aggressive, maybe, between Carlos and I – a bit too aggressive. I think Carlos was a bit over the limit today,” reflected Leclerc following the Sprint Race. “In the past we’ve had other fights where sometimes I was over the limit, sometimes he was over the limit. Today I think it was on his side. We’ll have to discuss, like we always do in these kind of situations.

“But we have a great relationship with Carlos so I have no worries… I think we’ll clear the air very, very quickly and it will be all fine, but obviously today I think we were pretty lucky to both finish the race,” continued Leclerc. “The contact was a bit unnecessary.”

Qualifying brought even more frustration.

Both drivers advanced into Q2, but for a moment it looked as if Sainz’s day would come to a close there. The driver ran wide at the final turn on a push lap, putting his two right tires onto the gravel. That caused a spin that sent him across the track and into the opposite barrier, knocking his front wing off and drawing a red flag.

Remarkably, Ferrari was able to get him back running, and he and Leclerc both advanced into Q3. Aston Martin did lodge a protest over this, challenging Sainz being allowed to continue after “stopping” in Q2. But that protest was dismissed after the qualifying session.

Still, in Q3 the Scuderia duo could not find the times they needed, and when the dust settled it was Leclerc in P6, and Sainz down in P7.

Looking up at the McLarens, Alonso, and of course the Bulls.

Leclerc believes bigger things are possible on Sunday.

“We compromised our qualifying by prioritising the race tomorrow and struggled slightly more than we expected. Our race pace is strong and it will be a long one, with [tire] degradation playing a big role here,” reported the Ferrari driver. “Even the smallest change of wind can influence the car balance, so anything can happen. We will push tomorrow and let’s see what is possible.”

Perhaps Team Principal Frederic Vasseur summed it up best.

“We were expecting a better result to be honest.”

They may still find that better result tomorrow.

Winner: Daniel Ricciardo

For a driver under increasing pressure, this was a solid result.

Daniel Ricciardo’s 2024 campaign has gotten off to a slow start, but in both qualifying for the Sprint Race, and now qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix, the Visa Cash App RB F1 Team driver out performed his teammate, a result that might lessen some of the pressure he is facing. While Tsunoda was knocked out in Q1, Ricciardo advanced to Q2.

While his day ended there, with Ricciardo qualifying 12th, the driver is very positive heading into the race.

“So far, it’s been a more positive weekend for us and my best one of the year. We changed the chassis this weekend and I feel the car better and have more confidence in it, so that’s encouraging, but it’s just one track. I’ve always enjoyed Shanghai and I also have a pretty good past here, so I think we need to continue proving our performance in the course of the next few races,” described Ricciardo in the team’s Saturday media report.

“Given track conditions changed quite a lot from yesterday, there were different circumstances; the rain made the track more slippery and the wind changed quite a lot, hence there were quite a few challenges before quali. I was happy with my lap in quali and feel there wasn’t much more in it. There were a couple of our direct rivals in Q3 and they found a bit more pace, but I do feel we have a bit more pace than some cars around us,” added Ricciardo.

“I’m excited to go racing again tomorrow; the sprint this morning has been encouraging, so I hope we can show a bit more in the long run,” continued the VCARB driver. “It’s probably a one-stop race, but it’s quite a unique front-limited circuit, so potentially even two. I think P12 is a decent place to start and offers the opportunity to try catching the ones in front and get some points.”

Loser: Yuki Tsunoda

On the other side of the VCARB garage, Yuki Tsunoda’s difficult Chinese Grand Prix rolls on.

After failing to advance out of SQ1 in qualifying for the Sprint Race, Tsunoda again found himself at the bottom of the timing sheets in Q1, finishing down in P19. It was a tough session for Tsunoda, who reported early in Q1 that his DRS was not working. That left him with little margin for error once the problem was finally rectified, but it was not enough for him to advance.

“It’s been tough,” said Tsunoda after the qualifying session in the team’s post-qualifying report.

“This morning during the sprint, I tried to find my way, work the car, and learn a bit more, but I was still struggling. We looked into the data and felt like we made a step forward for qualifying. It’s mixed feelings,” added Tsunoda.

“In sprint qualifying, I felt I wasn’t able to put it together from my side, but in today’s qualifying, I was pretty happy with my lap,” continued the VCARB driver. “I’ve been struggling with rear grip all weekend and looking at the steering trace compared to other cars, I’m fighting my car a lot but I’ve been working hard together with the engineers to improve it and find a solution, and they helped me a lot.

“Coming into qualifying, we felt good and confident we found an answer for our package. The lap itself I’m fairly happy with but the time doesn’t reflect the feeling, so it feels like we’re just stuck. Ending up P19 again is frustrating and a shame, but we’ll analyse, try to understand, and find the solution. Looking ahead to tomorrow, we have to change something to find more pace and hopefully, we can be close to the points.”

F1 Grand Prix of China - Sprint & Qualifying

Photo by Kym Illman/Getty Images

Winner: Nico Hülkenberg

A fascinating fight is shaping up in the midfield. Heading into the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday, VCARB sits sixth in the Constructors’ Championship with seven points on the year, while Haas sits seventh with three points.

But thanks to Nico Hülkenberg, Haas has a chance to cut into that lead on Sunday.

After a disappointing Sprint Race saw Hülkenberg finish at the back of the field, he put his VF-24 into Q3 on Sunday, and will start the Grand Prix in P9.

“I was very happy with quali, it was very clean, not sure I could have asked for more in terms of execution and my laps,” said Hülkenberg following the session. “We remedied things from the Sprint, things were more in-line with what we expected – so I’m happy. I expect a tough race tomorrow, I think it will be a stretch for us, but I look forward to it.”

In qualifying this afternoon, car performance over one lap on the soft tire was pretty good. We’re targeting to get into Q3, and with Nico we achieved that today – being the fastest car from outside the top five teams. That’s the best we can do, so it was a good job. On the other side, we couldn’t make it into Q2 with Kevin [Magnussen]. He was a bit unfortunate in terms of timing, but we could have done a bit better in terms of preparing him better for his second run – we just missed it by a tiny margin,” described Team Principal Ayao Komatsu. “Those margins are tight these days, we just have to aim to do the perfect job. So – bit mixed, but it’s good that we showed the potential of the car with Nico, we’ll see what we can do from there tomorrow.”

Haas and Hülkenberg got some more good news following the session, as the driver was summoned for a potential pit lane infringement. Race stewards simply issued a reprimand to the team, rather than a grid penalty which could have dropped him out of the top ten.

The potential is there from Haas, and the team looks to have taken a step forward on the tire degradation issues that plagued them a season ago. With Hülkenberg up in the top ten, a similarly strong result on Sunday could see them head to Miami a bit higher up the grid.

Winner: Fernando Alonso

This was a whirlwind day for Fernando Alonso.

The veteran driver started the Sprint Race up in P3, but a late-stage fight for the position saw him make contact with Sainz, and suffer a front tire puncture that ended his day. Adding insult to injury, Alonso was hit with a ten-second penalty for causing that collision, and saw three points added to his Super License.

Adding those to the three points he was given for an incident at the end of the Australian Grand Prix, Alonso now has six points on his Super License, putting him halfway towards a one-race ban.

However, talk about finishing on a high note.

After the Red Bull one-two, it was Alonso who was up next, the Aston Martin driver qualifying third for the Chinese Grand Prix.

“It was very good, but not perfect,” said Alonso of his qualifying performance.

“I had a moment Turn 1 and 2. I lost the car. And actually, in Turn 3, I was just thinking if it was better to abort the lap and come in, or keep on going. And I said I will brake very late into 6, try to recover that time,” added the Aston Martin driver. “I recovered one tenth and I said, ‘OK, I keep going’. I recovered another tenth in Turns 9 and 10. And I said, ‘OK, now let’s go for the final two corners’. And it was very much needed, because within two tenths there are like six cars, and we are leading that group of those two tenths, so happy with the lap, happy with qualifying.”

Alonso looked at the result as “encouraging” for the future.

“And these kind of laps and moments are very encouraging for the future. Happy for the team, proud of all of them,” continued Alonso. “We never give up. We are not in a strong position yet, especially on race conditions, we are still maybe the fourth, fifth fastest team, but we still fighting to be better and better and today’s result shows that.”

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