Chinese GP quali data: Fernando Alonso shines as Mercedes go back to square one

Pablo Hidalgo
A McLaren during qualifying in China

It was an interesting hour out on track in Shanhai.

A busy Saturday ended with qualifying for the grand prix and while Red Bull were in a class of their own, there were notable data points across the grid.

Max Verstappen enjoyed a perfect day with followed in the sprint followed by pole but the likes of Fernando Alonso and McLaren will be pleased with their efforts.

Track temps swing wildly with Q2 red flag

Additional reporting from Sam Cooper

The first thing to note is the effect cars being off track for an extended period of time has on track temperature. Carlos Sainz brought out the red flag towards the end of Q2 and it caused a lengthy delay before the session was eventually started again. During that time, the temperatures dropped and it is why we saw the likes of Charles Leclerc opt to use an extra set of new softs in Q1.

A disappointing Mercedes and Hamilton performance

Mercedes arrived in China with big expectations, just to only once again show that they lack a lot of pace, especially in qualifying. Today in qualifying they were closer to Haas and Sauber than to Aston Martin and McLaren.

And to make matters worse, a mistake by Lewis Hamilton will see him start from near the back of the grid ahead of an equally disappointing Yuki Tsunoda and Logan Sargeant.

The tail wind on the long back straight made drivers struggle with braking smoothly at Turn 14, but this is a mistake that a seven-time World Champion cannot afford to make and one that sees his team-mate go 4-1 in the head-to-head this season.

Nonetheless, tomorrow should be a better day for them as their race pace is more promising as we saw during the sprint event. George Russell is in a good position to really put McLaren into trouble while Hamilton will have to play with a different strategy and wait for maybe a red flag or a safety car to have a chance to rejoin the chasing pack group.

An extraordinary Fernando Alonso outclasses a surprising McLaren

Having just confirmed he will stay in F1 until he is at least 45 years old, Fernando Alonso is living an Indian summer. At one of his favourite tracks where he achieved pole back in 2005 and 2006, the Spaniard stopped McLaren from securing P3 and P4, an unimaginable result for the Woking-based team before arriving at Shanghai.

With an amazing first sector, the Aston Martin is a car that makes the best out of the qualifying sessions to then suffer during the race, but making their rivals suffer the hardest when they have to go after a very technically complete car.

Surely, the Silverstone team has setup the car looking to maximise their chances tomorrow against McLaren and Mercedes, that should be at their same race pace.

Ferrari: heads focused on the race, minimising damage

As Charles Leclerc confirmed to Spanish broadcaster DAZN F1 Spain, Ferrari will show its real pace tomorrow when the points are rewarded. The Monegasque admitted though that they expected to be faster than McLaren today on a one lap pace.

After a minor incident for Carlos Sainz that led to a red flag in Q2 session, the Italian team just missed to get a perfect lap in to beat the two McLarens and Fernando Alonso. They know what their strengths are, but starting behind them will be a big handicap if they really intend to fight for victory against Red Bull.

Red Bull, in a league of their own

Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez secured a 1-2 for the Austrian team and if they were already considered the favourites for the race, with their Ferrari rivals starting further back than expected, it is hard to imagine that tomorrow anyone can take another 1-2 away from them.

As we’ve seen from the previous sprint race, good degradation management by the Bulls and very consistent long run pace that should transform into an easy win tomorrow if there are no surprises.

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