Winners and losers from the 2024 Chinese Grand Prix Sprint Qualifying

Thomas Maher
Max Verstappen, Lando Norris, 2024 Chinese Grand Prix.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen and McLaren's Lando Norris feature on our list of Winners and Losers from the 2024 Chinese GP Sprint Qualifying.

Lando Norris took the pole position for the Chinese Grand Prix Sprint, with the McLaren driver delivering when it mattered most.

Granted, it’s not a particularly important session in the grander scheme of the weekend, but that doesn’t mean the drivers didn’t apply themselves as much as they would normally…

Winners

Lando Norris

Norris delivered a stonking lap in the increasingly wet conditions as the timer ticked down the final minute of the SQ3 session, with the McLaren man recovering from his off-track moment at the final corner preceding his pole time.

Having started the lap slower than usual as a consequence, Norris was up against it right from the off – making his pole advantage of over a second all the more impressive.

Thankfully, common sense was applied to give him back the lap after it was initially deleted, but it shows just how little regard the drivers have for the entire sprint format when Norris ruefully said “Sad it’s not for a proper qualifying, but good enough.”

Norris continues to show his mettle when the circumstances fall right – when might the pieces finally fall into place for him?

Lewis Hamilton

With rain often regarded as the great equaliser, Hamilton’s talents shone through in the wet conditions as he had the measure of George Russell in SQ1 and enjoyed slightly better timing in SQ2 to get in his lap before the worst of the weather hit.

With the rain properly falling for SQ3, Hamilton looked like he had pole in the bag as Verstappen, Alonso, Sainz and Leclerc all fell short, before Norris had his lap deservedly restored.

It’s in the trickiest of conditions that teams need to rely on their drivers’ innate talent and car control, and Hamilton duly delivered.

Fernando Alonso

Did we really expect anything different from the Spaniard, really? Like Hamilton, Alonso kept his head on and his car straight as he delivered the third-fastest time of the session.

Having beaten the man around whom the Aston Martin project is moulded around, Lance Stroll, by half a second in SQ2, Alonso said he found SQ3 difficult to judge as he weighed up how much risk to take.

Too wise to have thrown caution to the wind, Alonso’s pace still proved good enough to end up near the sharp end and, if conditions remain tricky for Saturday, don’t discount the two-time World Champion from a podium challenge.

Daniel Ricciardo

New chassis, who dis?

Ricciardo badly needed a pick-me-up after a poor start to the season and, at a track where he delivered one of his best-ever drives when he won back in 2018, finally got one over on Yuki Tsunoda – by half a second!

With the Japanese driver out in SQ1, Ricciardo made it through to SQ2 and then finished with a second of Verstappen en route to P14 and ahead of Stroll in a vastly superior Aston Martin.

Can he keep up the good work when it matters on Saturday and Sunday?

Zhou Guanyu/Valtteri Bottas/Sauber

There was nothing simple about delivering a strong lap in qualifying, in particular in front of an expectant home crowd, but that’s exactly what Zhou Guanyu did throughout all three sections.

Sauber, in general, had a fantastic qualifying with both Zhou and Valtteri Bottas making it through into Q3 – something that not even the Mercedes and Aston Martins managed.

Zhou got into SQ3 but the Chinese driver did languish some distance behind the very impressive Bottas – the Finn’s experience around Shanghai shining through as he had several tenths of a second in hand at all times.

The upgrades appear to be taking the team in the right direction – a good and welcome step as both drivers try to keep their best foot forward in the driver market as contract time looms.

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Losers

Max Verstappen

In as much as you can possibly ever put Max Verstappen in this category, the Dutch driver had an unusually off-colour session as he badly struggled for grip in SQ3.

Had it remained dry, Verstappen looked a near-certainty for pole but, in the rain, the RB20 looked a difficult beast to tame as he slid wide at Turn 6 on his first flying lap.

Unusually for Verstappen, having done all the hard work of hooking together a great lap, he got it all wrong at the final corner and lost his lap again – had he not done so, he likely would have been there or thereabouts for pole position.

With the Red Bull easy on its tyres, Damon Hill’s theory that Verstappen was likely struggling to generate tyre temperatures is a valid one – but it means the Dutch driver should be potent when it comes to the Sprint race.

Charles Leclerc

When it comes to a Ferrari going off in tricky conditions, is it really all that shocking that it was Charles Leclerc to do so?

Fortunately for Leclerc, he got away without any proper damage and, once he regathered himself, set about delivering a solid final part of qualifying.

But, once again, it was Carlos Sainz who A. didn’t crash, and B. went quicker.

A big day is needed from Leclerc to get back on top and re-assert himself at Ferrari.

George Russell

Not the British driver’s fault he’s ended up in the losers category after the Sprint Qualifying session, but things didn’t go his way on the day.

Losing out to Hamilton by just over a tenth in SQ1, Russell’s only proper chance in SQ2 came after he’d lost time in the pitlane queue and had lower than desired tyre temperature for his flying lap.

By the time he’d got sorted out for another run, his chance was gone – the rain had arrived.

With Hamilton going on to take second place, Russell’s failure to get through SQ2 could mean a big opportunity missed by Mercedes.

Read next: Japanese GP: Max Verstappen’s qualifying dominance continues with a P1 in Suzuka