What to expect from F1’s return to the Chinese GP after five years?

The Chinese GP was last held in 2019 with the country's Covid-19 restrictions pulling it off the calendar.

What to expect from F1’s return to the Chinese GP after five years?

Lewis Hamilton [L] Max Verstappen [R] 2019 Chinese GP [C] (images via IMAGO)

Formula 1 last raced in China in 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic. The sport had made a foothold in the Asian giant. However, the Covid-19 restrictions and China’s zero-covid policy prevented F1 from racing again at the Shanghai International Circuit. Now, after a gap of five years, the pinnacle of motorsport returns to one of the most powerful nations in the world.

The Shanghai International Circuit was designed by legendary F1 track designer Hermann Tilke and first held an Grand Prix in 2004. The track is 5.4 km or 3.3 miles long with sixteen corners. The long back straight has become iconic in the sport with drivers using DRS to overtake at this part of the circuit. However, the Chinese GP had become infamous for tire degradation issues.

Certainly, the Shanghai race would be an unknown for the F1 grid. Many drivers have never raced on the track in their career including Oscar Piastri and local hero Zhou Guanyu. Guanyu will be the first Chinese F1 driver to ever compete in the Chinese GP.

New F1 Sprint format to keep teams in the dark

Formula 1 adopted a new format for sprint weekends this year. Now, Qualifying for the sprint race will take place on Friday after FP1 instead of Saturday morning. Drivers will compete in the Sprint race on Saturday followed by the Qualifying for the Grand Prix. The main race will continue to be held on Sunday.

Christian Horner and Max Verstappen
Christian Horner and Max Verstappen (Via: Imago)

Teams and drivers will only get a single practice session for the Chinese GP. Max Verstappen and Red Bull have mentioned this to be a major hurdle for the weekend. The entire grid would need maximum data from on-track running before the race. As it will be the first time ground-effect cars race in Shanghai. However, the single practice session would lead to limited set-up running.

Moreover, the nature of the circuit could prove to be a challenge. Despite the long straights, the Chinese GP has some rather challenging corners which severely impact tire degradation. As such, teams could struggle to get the right set-up before Parc Ferme after FP1.

Ferrari to challenge Max Verstappen and Red Bull

Max Verstappen and Red Bull dominated Formula 1 since the start of the ground-effect era in 2022. The Dutchman has truly annihilated the competition in past two seasons. However, Scuderia Ferrari might have finally got a real shot at the title this season.

Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen
Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen (via IMAGO)

Carlos Sainz‘s stellar victory in Australia was a sign that Maranello was not far behind Milton Keynes. Albeit, Red Bull still enjoyed a pace advantage. Nevertheless, the tricky conditions at the Chinese GP and the sprint format could allow the Scuderia to gain on any mistakes made by Verstappen’s camp.

Sainz and Charles Leclerc would be looking to get a great result for the Italian team this weekend. If Ferrari manages to nail the set-up before Sprint Qualifying, fans could potentially see the Prancing Horse emerge victorious in the sprint weekend. However, Red Bull might have an edge in terms of long-term pace in the Grand Prix.

Mercedes likely to struggle again this weekend

Mercedes dropped behind Red Bull and Ferrari in terms of pure pace in F1’s ground-effect era. Unfortunately, the Silver Arrows have continued to struggle this season, So much so, that Lewis Hamilton labeled it as his worst-ever start in his entire F1 career. It seems that Brackley will face another difficult weekend at the Chinese GP.

Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton.
Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton (via IMAGO)

The Silver Arrows have failed to get the most out of the W15 this year. The car seems to be slower than the two McLarens. Although, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell will be looking to score a decent result. Team boss Toto Wolff has made it clear that Mercedes will be doing some damage limitation in Shanghai.

Yuki Tsunoda could outperform Daniel Ricciardo

Daniel Ricciardo has failed to live up to expectations this season. The Australian driver has fallen far behind teammate Yuki Tsunoda. Tsunoda on the other hand has claimed seven points for RB in the first four races. As such, pressure is mounting on the Honey Badger. With the 34-year-old on borrowed time to deliver results.

Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo
Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo (Via IMAGO)

The Chinese GP will be an important race for Ricciardo. Yuki Tsunoda has never raced in Shanghai in his racing career. This could give Daniel Ricciardo an advantage against the Japanese driver. Moreover, RB will give a new chassis to the 34-year-old this weekend. Unfortunately, it remains unlikely that the Australian driver will outperform Tsunoda.

Daniel Ricciardo has failed to extract pace out of the VCARB01. The Australian driver has admitted that he doesn’t understand the reasons for his struggles this season. Although, Red Bull has so far supported the Honey Badger despite his lackluster start to the season.

Williams might finally be back on-track

Williams Racing has had a difficult start to the season. The hectic winter break forced the Grove-based squad to race without a spare chassis at the start of the year. However, a string of three major crashes in two weekends compromised the team’s efforts. Now, James Vowles‘ squad would be hoping for a clean weekend.

Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant in the F1 paddock
Alex Albon [L] and Logan Sargeant [R] in the F1 paddock (image via IMAGO)

The Grove-based squad will not have a spare chassis at the Chinese GP. However, the Shanghai circuit could prove to be a stable weekend for the team. The track has adequate run-off areas to prevent a massive collision. Moreover, the long straights could benefit Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant to potentially fight for points.

The Chinese GP could be the most exciting race so far this season. Every team remains in the dark over their pace with the sprint further adding a challenge. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese fans would be rooting for home hero Zhou Guanyu to try and aim for a points finish. Although, it is unlikely that the Stake F1 team will be fighting in the Top 10 this weekend. It remains to be seen if the track throws in a few surprises for teams and drivers this weekend.

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