Chinese Grand Prix data: What we learned from practice on Shanghai Sprint Friday

Pablo Hidalgo
Chinese Grand Prix data examined.

Lando Norris took pole for the Sprint at the Chinese Grand Prix on Friday.

There were more variables than usual heading into the Chinese Grand Prix this weekend, not least the fact this is the first visit Formula 1 has taken to Shanghai since 2019.

The track has been resurfaced in that time, Formula 1 cars have changed completely in terms of aerodynamic philosophy and new drivers have entered the fray. With that, here is a look at what we learned from Friday’s running in China.

Chinese Grand Prix: What we learned from Friday in Shanghai

Additional reporting by Henry Valantine

Key to the weekend and learning as much as possible on Friday was the fact that there was only one hour of free practice before heading into Sprint qualifying.

Max Verstappen called it “not the smartest idea” to return to a circuit after five years and dive straight into a Sprint weekend, but the qualifying session it served up in mixed conditions was enough entertainment to perhaps vindicate that decision for the fans watching on.

With that, the drivers had to make the most of running on what was an extremely green circuit, with several drivers struggling through the Turn 6 hairpin and the banked Turn 13 in particular.

Setup-wise, changes were made throughout the session as well as the drivers and teams looked to find the best compromise between cornering capability and top speed for the 1.2km back straight between Turns 13 and 14.

Based on the data available, the Haas drivers, who have a host of upgrades bolted on their VF-24s this weekend, appeared to be running with plenty of straight-line speed enabled on their cars, as did the Aston Martin duo of Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll, with McLaren, Alpine and Mercedes towards the lower end of the scale – but engine modes could well have played a part in this too.

Different aero setups or engine maps were also evident between team-mates: we can see in Ferrari Sainz being faster on the back straight and Lando Norris faster than Oscar Piastri.

Long running was limited in FP1, but there was a chance to see drivers on relatively lengthy stints – but the new track surface and conditions contributed to, as George Russell put it after Sprint qualifying, lap times being significantly slower than the teams had prepared for so far.

“Grip’s really, really low here compared to what we were expecting for everybody,” he explained.

“I think the lap times are probably three or four seconds slower than than anticipated. There’s no other junior series here like F2 or F3 to help rubber the track in.

“So for everyone, you’re slipping and sliding around. We’ve only done practice on the hard tyre, obviously just two laps in qualifying on the medium tyre. It’s really quite challenging to judge.”

Given the grip limitations, it may be difficult to read deeply into the long runs the front-running teams put together – but given the lack of time drop-off on the medium tyre for Max Verstappen, this indicates there was plenty of pace in hand for the reigning World Champion.

The same could be said for Ferrari, who appeared to be sandbagging heavily with an off-pace Sector 1 and no better in Sector 2 and Sector 3. However, they still showed some good pace on a used soft tyre of 12 laps tyre age for their long run test.

The soft tyre may potentially be an option in Saturday’s Sprint, and evaluating this as an option will have been a wise decision. However, this will come at a cost to Ferrari as they will go completely blind to the races without trying the medium and hard on long run pace – though if they run either of those compounds in the Sprint, that could double up and act as their simulation they would have planned in FP2. recommends

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While Lewis Hamilton said Mercedes were “not quick enough” in dry conditions compared to their rivals, the fact he was just one tenth faster than a handicapped Pierre Gasly, who endured an ERS isolation issue, could well mean that the Silver Arrows were running on a very conservative engine map themselves.

McLaren had been concerned about their pace heading into the weekend, but they were not looking as bad as they expected. There is a chance were running with less fuel load than the rest of their competitors for their long run, and Norris’ pole in wet conditions showed off all his skill, while team principal Andrea Stella said Oscar Piastri was hindered by a momentary gearbox issue on his fastest lap.

In practice, McLaren showed up with a strong Sector 1 with the soft tyre, which was initially one of the biggest concerns for the papaya team. Still, we need to wait for Red Bull and Ferrari’s real pace to emerge in the Sprint and qualifying to compare with them.

Now that Sprint qualifying has been completed, the cars are under parc fermé conditions until the end of the Sprint race, which is the first session on Saturday.

After the chequered flag, parc fermé conditions will reopen again and a window of opportunity will allow the teams to make any further changes to their cars they feel may benefit them for a full race.

Whatever happens, an intriguing race weekend is in front of us at the Chinese Grand Prix.

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