Chinese GP: Lance Stroll takes the fight to Red Bull as a trackside fire pauses FP1

Michelle Foster
Lance Stroll up close in the Aston Martin

Lance Stroll up close in the Aston Martin

Stepping into the unknown as Formula 1 returned to Shanghai after a five-year hiatus, it was Lance Stroll who surprised as he set the pace in the weekend’s only practice ahead of Oscar Piastri.

From a trackside fire to a feisty moment between Nico Hulkenberg, Lewis Hamilton and then Oscar Piastri, the one and only practice session of the Chinese GP did not disappoint.

Lance Stroll pipped Oscar Piastri and Max Verstappen to P1 in China

Billed by some pundits as the most important practice session of the season given the many unknowns, capped by FP1 being the only practice hour in the Sprint weekend, Esteban Ocon with his new floor completed the first timed lap of the Shanghai circuit in five years with a 1:41.1.

But that was destroyed as Max Verstappen came through with a 1:39.4 while Lewis Hamilton notably twitched his way around the track, one of the drivers to feel the Turn 1 bump.

At the start of a session where grip, or the lack thereof, was one of the big unknowns, local lad Zhou Guanyu reported that it is not “great” but also “not bad”.

10 minutes in, Verstappen lowered the benchmark to a 1:39.1, Sergio Perez made it a Red Bull 1-2, and Nico Hulkenberg put his upgraded VF-24 with its new engine cover into third place.

The session was red-flagged 15 minutes in due to a fire on the grass by the side of the track. “There is a fire in the grass at Turn 7,” reported Ocon. A marshal took a minute to run down with a fire extinguisher before a truck arrived with additional equipment.

The drivers returned to the pits with Verstappen’s benchmark a 1:38.4.

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The session was back underway a few minutes later with Carlos Sainz kissing the gravel at Turn 10, which had been brought in to deter the drivers from running wide, Charles Leclerc improving to fourth, Zhou up to P7, and Hamilton complaining he was “pushed off” the track by a McLaren.

Having initially forced Hulkenberg off the track, Hamilton drew alongside Oscar Piastri but ran out of room and was forced to dive into the pit lane. Hamilton was shown the black-and-white flag for failing to listen to the Race Director’s instructions by failing to stay to the right hand side of the entry bollard.

Mercedes blamed the McLaren: “Lewis gets stuck in some traffic at the final corner and is forced to take an unplanned trip through the pit lane, after being pushed into the pit entry by one of the McLarens.”

Laying down the laps with all three compounds out on track, Leclerc and Sainz on the soft tyres made it a Ferrari 1-2 heading into the final 20 minutes of practice – the Scuderia teammates sitting ahead of the Red Bull’s medium tyre times, and the hard tyre lap times of Norris and George Russell.

Alonso had a big moment as he locked up heading into the pits and instead found himself dodging bollards down an escape road. Minutes later, Piastri mimicked Alonso’s antics.

Swapping to the soft tyres for the traditional late-session qualifying simulations, Logan Sargeant shot up the timesheet into second place – such was the track evolution. His teammate Alex Albon then went P1 with a 1:37.1 while Sainz and Perez both locked up on their flying laps.

Verstappen didn’t have the same issue as his team-mate and went purple, purple, and green on his way to a 1:36.6. He, though, was pipped by Piastri by 0.031. Norris was on a charge but traffic and a small mistake where he ran a bit wide and touched the gravel forced him to abort his lap.

And then Lance Stroll came through with a late effort to beat them all with a 1:36.302. The Aston Martin driver was three-tenths up on Piastri with Verstappen third fastest.

Times

1 Lance STROLL 1:36.302
2 Oscar PIASTRI +0.327
3 Max VERSTAPPEN +0.358
4 Sergio PEREZ +0.388
5 Nico HULKENBERG +0.799
6 Kevin MAGNUSSEN +0.816
7 Esteban OCON +0.911
8 Alexander ALBON +0.927
9 Daniel RICCIARDO +0.936
10 Valtteri BOTTAS +1.228
11 Guanyu ZHOU +1.324
12 Yuki TSUNODA +1.704
13 Charles LECLERC +1.788
14 Carlos SAINZ +1.982
15 Logan SARGEANT +1.984
16 Lando NORRIS +2.328
17 George RUSSELL +2.504
18 Lewis HAMILTON +2.537
19 Fernando ALONSO +2.634
20 Pierre GASLY +2.974

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