Verstappen victorious as F1 returns to China
April 22, 2024

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Norris might've been the one to take a trophy home, but it wasn't the McLaren driver who surged to P2 at lights out. Fernando Alonso showed why, even at 42 years old, his contract extension makes sense for Aston Martin by sweeping around the outside of Perez at the long right-hand opening corner. Even though he would drop back a few laps later, the confidence shown by Alonso was a statement of intent that he was in a fighting mood.

Further behind, Ferrari, the second-best team in 2024 so far, tried to make up positions after being outqualified by both McLarens. Even worse for Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, each had lost places to George Russell and Nico Hulkenberg on the opening lap. Although the duo, unsurprisingly, made short work of Hulkenberg's Haas, there was more of a fight in the upper positions.

The DRS straights became the overtaking grounds, with the advantage of opening the rear wing proving a powerful ally for chasing drivers. Norris had crept up to Alonso on the back straight and sent a straightforward move on the Spaniard's inside to jump to a podium spot. Leclerc used the pit straight to overtake Russell a few laps later before making a carbon copy of Norris' overtake on the Brit's teammate, Oscar Piastri, into the Turn 14 hairpin. Although the Red Bulls were streaking clear, the intense battle behind thrilled the packed grandstands.

Verstappen and Perez's advantage was so great that Red Bull performed the risky double-stack pit stop when they swapped to Pirelli's hard compound tyre. In a demonstration of how high the team is operating, the pit crew performed a 2.0s stop for Verstappen, then 2.1s for Perez, sending both back to the track in lightning-quick time. That pit-stop strategy arguably ended up as Perez's downfall, however.

Verstappen victorious as F1 returns to China

Valtteri Bottas suffered a power unit failure to trigger the Virtual Safety Car. Those who hadn't pitted yet took advantage of the 'cheap' pit stop, with Norris and Leclerc the primary benefactors as both still ran the yellow-walled Pirelli mediums they started the race on. The marshals struggled to move the stranded Sauber, causing race control to send out the Safety Car and slow the race down even further. Red Bull went for another double-stack stop, losing Perez track position to his McLaren and Ferrari rivals amid the stop-start action.

More drama unfolded on the track as green flag racing looked ready to begin. Lance Stroll hit Daniel Ricciardo as the remaining 19 cars navigated the slow hairpin. Stroll appeared to be watching the apex rather than ahead and forcibly launched the braking Ricciardo's RB car into the air, ending the Australian's race. Double restart pain for RB came a few corners later, too, when Kevin Magnussen sent Yuki Tsunoda into a spin and into retirement to trigger a second Safety Car appearance.

Most drivers began eking out their Pirelli rubber to the finish line once racing resumed, but Alonso opted for an alternative strategy. By using soft tyres, the Spaniard sped up the order to P5 but would need to pit again before the chequered flag. Though Alonso dismissed Sainz with relative ease, Perez and Leclerc ahead of him were in their own fight as Perez sought to regain his podium position. Despite Leclerc's best efforts, his Ferrari didn't have the speed to fend off the Red Bull and eventually settled for P4.

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Verstappen victorious as F1 returns to China

Whether Alonso's contrary strategy could see him return to P5 after pitting became the story of the race's final act. Emerging in P12, the Aston Martin driver had fresh medium Pirellis and became the fastest driver on track to scythe by the midfield. Twelfth place didn't last long, and Alonso reached the point-scoring positions again as he swiftly advanced up the order. The laps ran out for him, and a lowly P7 was his reward for a hard day's drive, four places lower than where he started.

The return to China provided plenty of overtakes, but Verstappen remained the unstoppable F1 force for 2024. The Dutch driver already has a 25-point advantage over Perez in the championship standings with 19 races remaining. There's a two-week gap before the sport's first of three trips to the US, where Verstappen will seek to secure his third victory in three years at the Miami Grand Prix.

Verstappen victorious as F1 returns to China
Verstappen victorious as F1 returns to China