Five big questions ahead of the return of the Chinese Grand Prix

Sam Cooper
The cars set off at the 2019 Chinese Grand Prix

F1 cars have not raced at Shanghai since 2019.

The Chinese Grand Prix returns this week after a five-year hiatus with drivers having to become re-acquainted with the Shanghai International Circuit.

With just one practice session due to the sprint weekend, it will be a tough task for the teams and here are five questions we want answering.

How will the China track fare in the new age of F1?

Additional reporting by Pablo Hidalgo

The first thing to consider is how the Shanghai International Circuit will fare under the new regulations. Since we last raced in China, F1 cars have ballooned in size and as we have seen at tracks like Monaco, it has made racing in tight sections extremely difficult.

Luckily for viewers this weekend, China is a purpose built track and therefore overtaking should be plentiful.

After Turn 13, drivers have 1,170m of straight road making it one of the longest straights on the F1 calendar and with DRS, it will be an easy sport for an overtake.

Turns 3 and 6 are the sharpest but aside from that, these cars should in theory not struggle in Shanghai.

Can Daniel Ricciardo stop the rising tide of Yuki Tsunoda?

One man under a lot of pressure it would seem heading into this race is Daniel Ricciardo with already some reports that his future is being reconsidered.

So far in 2024, Yuki Tsunoda has had the beating of the Australian with Tsunoda having out-qualified Ricciardo at every race and beaten him in the race three out of four times.

But crucially, Tsunoda is the one scoring the points. Ricciardo’s highest finishing spot so far has been 12th while Tsunoda has been as high as seventh. With a midfield as tight as it is, Tsunoda’s point-scoring ability now is a lot more valuable than the potential of Ricciardo later.

As for Ricciardo’s record in China, he won here in 2018 so will have good memories of the circuit.

Yuki Tsunoda vs Daniel Ricciardo

McLaren to struggle and a Mercedes comeback?

Both McLaren and Mercedes approach this weekend with two different mentalities. Andrea Stella, McLaren’s team principal, said this is one of the worst possible layouts for the MCL38 with long slow and medium speed turns.

The reality is that, although the Shanghai track mixes slow, heavy braking and long corners – McLaren’s Achilles’ heel this year – they should be fighting with Mercedes at least in the long run as we saw in Bahrain. Qualifying might get spicy between these two as Ferrari should be a level between them and Red Bull.

Lando Norris and George Russell telemetry

Let’s go back again to Bahrain, which is the closest reference in terms of similarities to the Shanghai layout, to compare their strengths and weak points. It was very clear in Suzuka that fast corners are Red Bull and McLaren territory at the moment. But now we head into a completely different and mysterious track for 2024.

In this track dominance graph we can see a better performance from McLaren on medium/high speed corners as can be seen in the linked curves T5-T6-T7 while the Mercedes has a better performance on slow and heavy braking corner approach. This eventually gave Russell a surprising P3 on the first quali of the season, while on Sunday the battle was even for the Papaya and the Silver Arrows.

Lando Norris vs George Russell in Bahrain

Now, both are lacking top speed and this can be quite a negative handicap for both on what is going to be a frenetic sprint weekend.

Zhou Guanyu to impress in front of his home crowd?

Of all the home drivers this season, Zhou Guanyu faces the toughest task when it comes to bringing a smile to the fans’ faces.

Yes, he is the first Chinese driver ever to race in the country, but as we saw with Oscar Piastri in Melbourne, there is nothing fans love more than a good result for the home favourite.

The problem is Stake have looked well off good results for all four races this year.

His P11 in Bahrain was his best of the year but his last race saw him finish in lap 12 with gearbox issues.

Not to mention the pit stop problems that continue to hamper the team and seemingly do not have a quick resolution in sight.

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How will the new sprint format fare?

F1 has made some further tweaks to the sprint format with qualifying moving back to Saturday and instead the shortened race taking place in the morning.

As to how well that will work, the proof will be in the pudding in China but one prediction is teams will not be too risky in a sprint race knowing the more important qualifying session is just a few hours away.

But perhaps the more important change comes with regards to parc fermé. Previously, setups were locked in after FP1 leading to plenty of complaints from the teams and thankfully F1 has relented.

Now, teams can make setup changes right up until qualifying, meaning incidents like Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc’s Austin disqualification are less likely to happen.

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