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Verstappen blasts past Hamilton to win Chinese GP sprint

By AFP

April 20, 2024 10:47 AM


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Max Verstappen overcame early electrical gremlins to blast from fourth on the grid to an emphatic victory in the Chinese Grand Prix sprint race Saturday, 13 seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton.

The Dutchman charged past the seven-time world champion Hamilton's Mercedes on lap nine of the 19-lap dash.

Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez was third after a thrilling battle with the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, and the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso.

"The first few laps were hectic," said Verstappen after claiming the eight points on offer for the winner of the first sprint of the season at the Shanghai International Circuit.

"The wind is changing a lot which makes it difficult to drive.

"Once we sorted (the battery) out we were OK," Verstappen added as he extended his championship lead to 25 points over Perez.

Leclerc and Sainz ended up fourth and fifth after swapping places numerous times in the dramatic tussle for the minor places with Perez and Alonso.

Aston Martin's Alonso came out worst as he went wheel-to-wheel with the Ferraris, having to retire his car on lap 18 with a puncture suffered in the skirmish.

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

- Costly 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 Norris ran wide.

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

Alonso inherited second place and Verstappen third, despite the championship leader complaining of a flat battery.

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

Verstappen solved his electrical issue by lap seven and reeled in Alonso on the long back straight.

Two laps later he had the measure of Hamilton 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.

"That's the best result I've had in a long time, so I'm super happy and grateful," said an ecstatic Hamilton, who picked up seven points having scored only 10 the four previous races this season.

"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.

It means grand prix qualifying remains in its usual Saturday afternoon slot where the cars will prepare for Sunday's main event.

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.

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 in his third season in the premier racing class.

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 late on by Russell, who started down in 11th on the grid but made the most of starting on quicker soft tyres.


AFP


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