Chinese Grand Prix conclusions: Lando Norris response, Lewis Hamilton pain and more

Oliver Harden
Lando Norris on the podium at the 2024 Chinese Grand Prix with a conclusions banner

Oscar who? Lando Norris has responded to Piastri's rise by making a strong start to 2024 with McLaren

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen claimed his fourth victory of the F1 2024 season at the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.

The reigning World Champion once again dominated from pole position to extend his lead in the World Championship, but McLaren’s Lando Norris denied Red Bull another one-two finish by beating Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez to second place. Here are our conclusions from F1’s long-awaited return to China…

Conclusions from the 2024 Chinese Grand Prix

Lando Norris has responded brilliantly to the Oscar Piastri threat

Lando Norris was in an interesting position at the end of last season.

In many ways he had never had it so good in F1, equalling his best result of P2 six times in the second half of the season with an ever-improving McLaren underneath him, yet so too came the first little hints that there might actually be a limit to his overall potential.

His highly emotional reaction to Oscar Piastri’s sprint win in Qatar offered a very telling glimpse into just how agonising, and potentially self-destructive, his own extended wait for a first F1 victory had become.

And little on-track snapshots – blowing his SQ3 lap in Qatar at the last corner, losing the lead in an instant at the start of the sprint in Brazil, jumping out of Verstappen’s way at the first sign of a Red Bull in his mirrors in Austin – built the impression of a driver still worryingly susceptible to pressure more than two years on from Sochi 2021.

Add to that the peak performances of Piastri, who outqualified his established team-mate on his first visits to those great driver circuits of Spa and Suzuka, and it was tempting to conclude that Norris would struggle to contain him for much longer.

That, after all, was the great unspoken risk of McLaren’s decision to replace Daniel Ricciardo with Piastri at the end of 2022. recommends

Follow’s WhatsApp channel for all the F1 breaking news!

F1 2024 driver salaries revealed: Who are the highest-paid drivers on the grid?

Was Norris going to be inspired by a serious racing driver on the opposite side of the garage? Would, as McLaren no doubt hoped, Piastri’s presence help push his own performance to an even higher level?

Or would Lando be threatened, intimidated – diminished even – by the arrival of this Verstappen clone, having done all the hard work over the previous two seasons to make McLaren his team?

Throughout history, F1 teams have been drawn into thinking that having the strongest possible drivers is the way to go, yet it is remarkable how often these dream teams backfire.

This one could have gone either way (and it still might if Piastri can finally find a way to start making sense of those notoriously tricky Pirelli tyres), but Norris has responded brilliantly to those first little question marks hanging over him in these early weeks of 2024.

Two podiums and a sprint pole from the first five races have consolidated convincingly his status as McLaren’s team leader, Lando driving with a poise – plus a resilience, a toughness few thought he possessed beneath all those layers of boyish charm – to systematically smother the noise around Piastri from the tail end of 2023.

Those familiar frailties remain, of course, and the way he braved it around Lewis Hamilton’s outside at Turn 1 in the sprint – and kept braving it, all the way until he ran himself out of road and dropped to seventh – was very Interlagos-esque in the way the hope from his excellent qualifying lap unravelled so rapidly.

That maiden victory continues to elude him, but with Red Bull still so dominant re-establishing himself as McLaren’s main hope will do very nicely for now.

Over to you, Oscar…

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes: What does it matter anymore?

“S**t happens.”

This is what it’s come to for Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes.

Those words, delivered after his latest early exit from qualifying on Saturday, captured how futile the attempts to recapture their former glories by the most successful team-driver partnership in F1 history have now become.

What’s the point in getting emotional about it anymore? Everyone knows Lewis is out of there at the end of the year anyway.

This season is pretty much over already – it has been since it became obvious back in Saudi Arabia that the W15 is little better than its two direct predecessors.

Tomorrow is another day. Next year? A different world entirely.

All that’s left is 19 more race weekends to get through before the inevitable parting of ways – unless Lewis once again takes PF1’s advice and takes this unique opportunity to have a break.

So, from that perspective, the most instructive part of Hamilton’s weekend was not his slide from second to 18th on the grid in the space of a couple of hours.

Nor was it the decision to try yet more setup “experiments” between the sprint and main qualifying, nor his frustrated radio message just two laps into the race as he ran 19th, ahead only of Logan Sargeant’s Williams.

No, that came instead in the closing minutes of Friday’s sprint qualifying session.

During his struggles over the last couple of years, Hamilton has occasionally admitted to moments of self-doubt – is it the car or is it me? – when the Mercedes has been at its worst.

As the rain hit an already slippery track on Friday, however, almost all the limitations of his machinery faded away to create a contest built on a racing driver’s fundamental skills: touch, feel, judgement, nerve.

In qualifying on the front row for the sprint race, a little glimmer of light in the darkness, Hamilton proved – most of all to himself – that the old magic is still accessible in the right car and the right conditions.

That reassurance – the comfort that he can still do it after all – is all he really needs to sustain him ahead of his new life with Ferrari.

And the rest?

Well, “s**t happens” doesn’t it?

Aston Martin are too reliant on Fernando Alonso’s genius right now

Most of us are familiar with Fernando Alonso’s schtick by now.

His last qualifying lap was the greatest lap in history and his last race was the best race any of us would have seen in our lives, if only the blasted television broadcast would have paid a bit more attention to it.

Normally all this would be Typical Fernando, president of his own fan club and F1’s most shameless self-promoter…

But what if he’s actually on to something this time?

The landscape at Aston Martin is very different to this time a year ago when the sun seemed to be shining out of his rear end on a weekly basis, Alonso looking a million dollars grinning away underneath his lime-green cap after yet another podium finish.

Both driver and team have been consistent from the start of this season that the AMR24 in its current state should be capable of nothing more than the lower reaches of the top 10, yet even by his standards Alonso has transcended the car’s natural level to an astounding degree.

Even after a significant upgrade in Japan, there remains a suspicion that the team are slightly more reliant on Alonso’s genius right now than they would ideally like.

It is to their great advantage, then, that Alonso is more than comfortable going back and again to the well for more heroics.

Having gone to “uncomfortable” extremes to magic fifth on the grid at Suzuka, he had no right to start third in both the sprint and the main race in China but still he made it happen anyway – even utilising his special dirty air trick to briefly steal second from Perez at the start.

Yet was Aston Martin’s odd decision to place Alonso on softs during the Safety Car indicative of the team’s lack of faith in the AMR24 right now – an admission that, even with Alonso Power on their side, the car has no chance against the McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes on an identical tyre?

Alonso recovered well from a late stop to salvage seventh in the closing laps, but improving the car to a sufficient standard would reduce the need for such strategic punts.

And ease the burden on Fernando to keep on springing surprises.

Charles Leclerc vs Carlos Sainz will test Fred Vasseur’s management at Ferrari

The easiest thing for Ferrari in 2024 would have been if Carlos Sainz had taken his bad news over the winter to heart and faded away.

But Carlos Sainz doesn’t do fading away, self-pity or resignation.

He does defiance. Specialises in it, in fact.

So Sainz responded by producing his best-ever start to an F1 season and now Fred Vasseur is facing the trickiest test of management for a Ferrari team principal since Charles Leclerc was unleashed against a wounded Sebastian Vettel, a faded force stubbornly raging against the dying of the light, back in 2019.

From the moment it became obvious that Sainz would not be going away quietly, winning in Australia on a weekend Leclerc was much the faster driver until qualifying, a rise in tensions between the usually placid Ferrari team-mates has been inevitable.

It is shaping up to be a classic F1 rivalry with a unique twist between the future and the soon-to-be past.

In the red corner there is Sainz, out to prove Ferrari made the wrong choice and doing his damnedest to try and avoid being shuffled off into a kind of semi-retirement with Audi.

And in the, er, other red corner is Leclerc, still unable to shake off Sainz, without a win for almost two years now, strangely unable to get out of his own way on the rare weekends the car is a victory contender and fully aware that losing to a driver soon to be discarded by the team is no way to prepare for the arrival of Hamilton.

Hell, even when Sainz finally made a mistake in qualifying – spinning at the last corner in an incident typical of a driver of his spiky technique and abrupt inputs – he still managed to get away with it.

Leclerc? His own tap with the wall in sprint qualifying on Friday left him with bent steering and to rue yet another day in which he failed to extract the maximum from the Ferrari.

Them’s the breaks, you might say, but such little quirks of fortune only add to the bubbling resentment between two competitive souls.

Ferrari suffered their least competitive showing of 2024 so far in China, the team’s run of consecutive podium finishes coming to an end.

Yet those juicy little scuffles between Leclerc and Sainz at the hairpin in the sprint and at the first corner on Sunday?

They might have just set the tone for the rest of Ferrari’s season.

Daniel Ricciardo is right – Lance Stroll makes the ‘blood boil’

It’s not so much the mistake itself, but the lack of remorse.

That’s what, in the words of Daniel Ricciardo, really makes the “blood boil.”

Lance Stroll has that kind of effect on people, and as his F1 career plunges deeper into crisis so his sense of entitlement has become ever more evident and just as much unpalatable.

Where does it come from?

Easy: with his father Lawrence the owner of the Aston Martin team, Stroll has never really had anyone to hold him accountable in F1.

Hence why, despite benefiting from the guidance of the esteemed driver coach Rob Wilson, he has never developed in the way someone of his natural talent – and his peaks suggest there really is a very capable driver in there somewhere – might have done since his debut with Williams in 2017.

Hence why he feels he can shove his own trainer after falling in Q1 in Qatar before treating the media’s questions with contempt.

And hence why, after losing his concentration and piling into the back of Ricciardo at the restart of the Chinese Grand Prix, his instinctive reaction is to call Ricciardo “an idiot.”

It’s never Lance, you see, but always the fault of something or somebody else.

Compare and contrast his stinking attitude to that of Norris, Piastri, Leclerc and almost every other young driver to have arrived in F1 over the last decade, all touched with that crucial self-critical trait that characterises the very highest achievers in sport.

In a world of glass-half-empty Landos and “I am stupid” Charles radio self-rebukes, Stroll’s utter refusal to take responsibility for anything is glaring.

His latest major error on track comes at a time when his F1 future – against the backdrop of his constant beating by Alonso since the start of 2023 – is coming under growing scrutiny with Eddie Jordan, F1’s answer to Mystic Meg, among those convinced that this will be Stroll’s last season.

His departure would naturally have significant repercussions for Aston Martin, Lance being the very reason the team exists in its current form (team principal Mike Krack admitted as much on Thursday, remarking that “the whole project has always been around him”).

The hard truth, though? Few outside of the team would be sad to see him go.

Read next: Sorry Lance Stroll, but is it really that difficult to apologise for driving into Daniel Ricciardo?