Race Weekend Central

F1 Review: Max Verstappen Dynasty Continues With Dominant Win in Chinese GP

Max Verstappen parlayed pole position and his customarily fast Red Bull into an easy win in the Formula 1 Lenovo Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday morning (April 21) at Shanghai International Circuit, outpacing runner up Lando Norris by over 14 seconds. Verstappen mastered two safety car restarts to gain his first win in China and his fourth victory in five races this season.

“This was definitely one that I wanted to win,” Verstappen said. “I’ve been on the podium here, but I haven’t won here before, so that was great, for sure. I definitely just enjoyed the whole weekend. It’s been really nice with a great car.

“Throughout the race, I mean, with the Safety Car and stuff, as always, things that you have to do well – the restarts and stuff – I guess they’re tense moments. The actual start, too. And after that, just a management race, looking after your tires, trying to extend the gap. So busy enough, but also enjoyable.”

Sergio Perez finished third after starting second, while the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz finished fourth and fifth, respectively. George Russell finished sixth, ahead of the charging Fernando Alonso in seventh. Alonso also nabbed an extra point for fastest lap. Oscar Piastri held on to eighth despite suffering damage in the second safety car restart. Lewis Hamilton took ninth after starting 18th, and Nico Hulkenberg snatched the final points-paying position.  

In the drivers’ standings, Verstappen now leads Perez by 25, 110 to 85. Perez’s lead over Leclerc for second is only nine points, 85 to 76.

In the constructors’ standings, Red Bull leads Ferrari 195 to 151, with McLaren well back in third with 96, 44 ahead of Mercedes in fourth.

The Race

Verstappen was off well at lights out and easily covered Perez, who was left to deal with a great start from Alonso. Alonso stole the position from Perez into turn three as Verstappen zipped away from both, leading to a margin that has so often been a harbinger of a dominant Verstappen victory.

Leclerc and Sainz both lost spots at the start to Russell, who went from eighth to sixth, while Hamilton lost a position despite being on soft tires. 

Verstappen’s lead after one lap was 1.6 seconds, and extended it to over three seconds by the end of lap three. 

Perez reclaimed second from Alonso, overtaking the Aston Martin under braking at turn 6. Perez had loads of clean air ahead, with Verstappen over five seconds ahead of him. Alonso was then left to deal with Norris, who took the spot from the Spaniard on lap eight.

Leclerc overtook Russell for sixth on lap nine and targeted the McLaren of Piastri, while Sainz stalked Russell, looking to take seventh position.

By lap 10, Verstappen’s lead was a whopping eight seconds, and if there was a “Snooze” button on his steering wheel, he pressed it. 

Zhou’s start to his home race was so far a huge disappointment, as he was in last place after an early pit stop for hard tires. 

Leclerc picked off Piastri for fourth down the front straight on lap 12, while Alonso and Russell both pitted, Alonso for hard tires and Russell for mediums. Russell came out ahead of Alonso, a huge win for the Mercedes team.

While the Red Bulls were cruising up front, an interesting battle between the Ferraris and McLarens was developing for a podium spot, likely to be determined by pit strategy and tire management. 

Both Red Bulls pitted on lap 14, and with Verstappen’s huge lead, could you even consider it a real double stack? Verstappen returned in fourth, set to resume the lead when pit cycles completed, while Perez returned in sixth. Verstappen was quickly past Piastri and followed suit on Leclerc on lap 16.

Norris assumed the lead, seven seconds ahead of Leclerc. Piastri pitted on lap 17 for medium tires and returned to the track in ninth.

Sainz pitted on lap 18 for medium tires and emerged in tenth, with Hulkenberg in between he and Piastri.

Leclerc, running in third, was considering a one stop strategy. Norris and McLaren thought of doing the same in hopes of gaining an advantage over Perez for second.

Verstappen passed Norris for the lead at the end of lap 19 and with a fastest lap, quickly built a sizable lead, serving notice that the race outcome was not in doubt.

Valtteri Bottas’s engine expired on lap 21, eventually resulting in a Virtual Safety Car on lap 22.

Leclerc was the first to pit, but Norris nearly missed the opportunity, but was able to pit a lap later as the VSC was still in effect (track stewards were having trouble removing Bottas’ Sauber).

Leclerc returned in fifth, on hard tires, while Norris was third, also on hard tires.

The VSC became a full safety car on lap 24, and the Red Bull’s both pitted, both for hard tires. Alonso also pitted, and fitted soft tires on his Aston Martin. Verstappen maintained the lead, while Perez was fourth, behind Norris and Leclerc, with Alonso in seventh.

The caution eliminated Verstappen’s lead, of which he was sure to re-establish, but the safety car also made the battle for second much more intriguing and also made the cars on one-stop strategies feel much better about their decisions, particularly Norris, who was now in a great position to take second. The Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz hoped to play roles in that battle.

Green flag racing resumed on lap 27, and Verstappen controlled the start and immediately placed some distance between Norris. 

Another Safety Car was deployed after the field bunched up, navigating the final hairpin before Verstappen’s launch. Stroll erred mightily and ran into the back of Daniel Ricciardo, the damage of which eventually led to Ricciardo’s retirement. Then Kevin Magnussen clipped Yuki Tsunoda’s RB. Tsunoda’s car was out, which initiated the second safety car. Just like that, both RB cars were done. Stroll and Magnussen were both issued well-deserved ten-second penalties. After the race, Ricciardo was handed a three-spot grid penalty for passing Hülkenberg under Safety Car conditions.

The Safety Car ended on lap 31, and again, Verstappen was off without a challenge, although Norris kept the gap near one second after two laps of racing.

Verstappen’s lead was approaching three seconds by lap 35, while Norris enjoyed a healthy three second lead on Leclerc.

Some of the most exciting racing of the day occurred when Stroll and Magnussen went wheel-to-wheel and scrapped side-by-side, culminating in Stroll taking the position in the turns 1-2 complex.

Perez, in fourth, was in striking distance of Leclerc, and if Perez was to make a run for second, he would need to quickly dispatch the Ferrari and get after Norris. Perez made the overtake at turn 8 on lap 39, and now had 18 laps to track down Norris. 

Alonso, in fifth, was in no man’s land, stuck between staying out on aging soft tires and pitting and losing all track position. 

Alonso finally pitted on lap 44, this time for medium tires. He emerged in 12th, with work to do to score points. And Alonso, as one would expect from a two-time world champion on new tires, did go to work. Two laps later, he quickly picked off Alex Albon for 11th and was into 10th a lap later after dropping Esteban Ocon.

Alonso nearly lost it on lap 49 when he put a rear tire into the dirt down the front straight. Such is the talent of Alonso that after nearly wrecking, he was just moments later passing Hamilton for eighth. Alonso followed that overtake with another on Piastri for seventh. 

Verstappen’s lead on Norris was 11 seconds by lap 51, and the world champion was again on his way to yet another of what has become typical for the Dutchman: a win by double-digit seconds (sometimes approaching 20 seconds) over his nearest competitor.

The Norris-Perez second-place encounter never materialized, and barring some wild finish, the podium was basically set with four laps remaining.

The lone drama in the closing laps was hearing Verstappen radio his team to check his tires after he ran over some debris, likely a piece of Zhou’s front wing end plate, which came off while battling Magnussen. 

Verstappen crossed the line 14 seconds ahead of Norris. Perez followed five seconds behind Norris. 

The Good

Alonso’s save on lap 49 was legendary. Alonso put his right-rear wheel in the gravel and nearly lost control but somehow made the save without missing a beat. It’s certainly not the first time Alonso’s moves on the track have made other drivers look at him sideways. 

The highlight of pre-race activities was seeing NBA legend Yao Ming towering over everyone as he made his way down the grid. The 7’ 5” giant was easily the most prominent figure on the grid. Seeing Yao standing beside a normal person gives a good indication of the distance between Red Bull and the rest of the field.

In Martin Brundle’s absence, the duo of Nico Rosberg and Ted Kravitz made for quite a fine replacement for the “Grid Walk.” Maybe they don’t rock the mic quite like Brundle does, but between Rosberg’s cracking voice and Kravitz showing a scandalous amount of leg, it was nonetheless entertaining. 

And let’s give it up for the Alpine team with a round of heavily sarcastic applause. I don’t want to go so far as to say Alpine’s “back,” but I can comfortably say they’re “not that far back.” Esteban Ocon finished 11th, while Pierre Gasly was 13th. This season, Alpine has to call that a success because their cars didn’t finish last and next to last, and they didn’t finish a lap down. Alpine is this close to scoring points, and the definition of “this close” for the purposes of this exercise is “Ten other cars failing to finish the race.”

The Bad

Lance Stroll and Kevin Magnussen collaborated to wipe out the entire Red Bull team, with Stroll taking out Daniel Ricciardo and Magnussen sending Yuki Tsunoda to the garage just minutes later. Yet Stroll and Magnussen somehow managed not to wreck each other while they tangled just inches from each other in a scrap for 16th position. Sometimes, there is no karma.

While Stroll and Magnussen were both given ten-second penalties for their actions, Stroll may have suffered the biggest indignity post-race when Verstappen and Norris laughed at him as they watched the replay of Stroll ramming Ricciardo. Can Stroll ever get his dignity back? That depends. Is there a price on Stroll’s dignity? If there is, Lawrence Stroll would happily pay it for the sake of his boy Lance. Look at it this way: if Lance Stroll wanted to be a comedian, Daddy would pay people to laugh at him. This situation is the opposite: Lawrence Stroll will pay for people not to laugh at Lance.   

Another race, another unchallenged Verstappen victory. Even with two safety cars wiping out huge Verstappen leads on two occasions, his rivals could still not make a dent, much less a scratch, into Verstappen’s shield of invincibility. Verstappen’s fourth world championship is in the bag, and there are only two things nine other teams can do about it: nothing and like it.

The Disappointing

As referenced above, some of the day’s best racing was a mid-race tangle between Magnussen and Stroll. Unfortunately, the position in the balance was last place. Such is the state of F1, where you have to often look well down the order to see worthwhile racing.  

It would have been sweet to see Zhou Guanyu finish in the points in his home race, just two weeks after Japanese star Yuki Tsunoda did just that at the Japanese Grand Prix. Can you imagine the crowd reaction had Zhou scored even a single point? It would have been revolutionary. Alas, that’s probably not looked upon favorably in China, and Zhou could only manage a 14th-place finish.   

The Driver

Lando Norris’ runner-up finish was totally unexpected, especially by Norris himself. Norris struggled in the sprint race on Saturday (April 20th) and appeared to lack the pace to challenge Red Bull and keep up with Ferrari. But McLaren seemed to find some magic on Sunday. That magic, coupled with a perfectly executed one-stop strategy and a particularly well-timed second safety car, lifted Norris to the podium next to Verstappen when Norris did not expect to even approach the podium. Thus, Norris wins “The Driver of the Day” award. Winning “The Driver” award is bittersweet because while other drivers are winning this distinction, Verstappen is winning races.

The Results (Lenovo Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai International Circuit)

11Max VerstappenRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT561:40:52.55425
24Lando NorrisMCLAREN MERCEDES56+13.773s18
311Sergio PerezRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT56+19.160s15
416Charles LeclercFERRARI56+23.623s12
555Carlos SainzFERRARI56+33.983s10
663George RussellMERCEDES56+38.724s8
714Fernando AlonsoASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES56+43.414s7
881Oscar PiastriMCLAREN MERCEDES56+56.198s4
944Lewis HamiltonMERCEDES56+57.986s2
1027Nico HulkenbergHAAS FERRARI56+60.476s1
1131Esteban OconALPINE RENAULT56+62.812s0
1223Alexander AlbonWILLIAMS MERCEDES56+65.506s0
1310Pierre GaslyALPINE RENAULT56+69.223s0
1424Zhou GuanyuKICK SAUBER FERRARI56+71.689s0
1518Lance StrollASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES56+82.786s0
1620Kevin MagnussenHAAS FERRARI56+87.533s0
172Logan SargeantWILLIAMS MERCEDES56+95.110s0
NC3Daniel RicciardoRB HONDA RBPT33DNF0

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