F1 Takeaways: Verstappen in cruise control, Norris breaks 1-2 combo at Chinese GP

Max Verstappen had never won the Chinese Grand Prix before, so at least that was new.

The script was the same though as the three-time reigning world champion was in complete cruise control Sunday en route to his fourth victory of the season from pole position.

Like the Japanese Grand Prix a fortnight ago, Verstappen only relinquished the lead while pitting and inevitably reclaimed P1 upon returning to the track and up to speed.

Mind you, this was the first time the Chinese Grand Prix was back on the calendar since 2019 — back when Mercedes was the dominant force in F1, Sebastian Vettel was racing for Ferrari and Verstappen’s teammate was Pierre Gasly.

Combine that with Saturday’s win in the sprint and Verstappen now holds a 25-point lead over Red Bull Racing teammate Sergio Perez in the championship.

Verstappen appeared concerned on his team’s radio about running over debris during the penultimate lap, however, even if he had sustained damage he still crossed the line with a comfortable 13.773-second lead over McLaren driver Lando Norris.

C-C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER

The first four grands prix this season had a common theme with 1-2 finishes for either Red Bull or Ferrari. With Verstappen and Perez starting on the front row, it looked like that streak would continue, however, Norris had other plans.

Norris, who qualified fourth, opted for a one-stop strategy and his pit window happened to fall during a virtual safety car, thus minimizing track position lost with the field slowing down. McLaren had out-Ferrari’d Ferrari as that was the same as “Plan D” the Scuderia were rolling with.

That’s not to say pit strategy was the only reason. Perez, who had made two stops, was able to get by both Ferraris but couldn’t close the gap to the McLaren. Norris maintained a roughly five-second advantage over Perez right to the end with a brilliant performance to turn in his best result of the season.

It was also a nice rebound from the previous day’s sprint where Norris qualified on pole but ran off the track right after the start and finished sixth.

VINTAGE ALONSO

Fernando Alonso has a newly minted two-year contract extension with Aston Martin that will keep the 42-year-old with the team through the 2026 season.

Alonso has turned back the clock since joining Aston Martin last year with eight podium finishes, and he should have been in the hunt for another Sunday. The two-time world champion qualified third but after a stint on the soft tires midway through the grand prix, Alonso needed to make an extra pit stop for mediums. That erased any hopes for even a top-five finish, but solid points were still in the cards.

Alonso was chasing down Hamilton when he nearly lost control in the gravel and no, he didn’t steer straight into the ditch then ran and hid (oh, like we were going to let that reference slip by).

The Spaniard not only managed to hold on, but he also caught up to Hamilton and passed his former teammate/rival with ease. Alonso passed Piastri for seventh as well and probably would have closed the gap to George Russell of Mercedes in sixth if the grand prix ran a bit longer.

Alonso denied Verstappen maximum points. Thanks to being on the medium tires with everyone else on the hard compound, plus a lighter fuel load late in the race, Alonso was able to snag the fastest lap bonus point on lap 45 (of 54).

It should have been a double-points finish for Aston Martin though. Teammate Lance Stroll had a solid start moving up two places into ninth and should have remained in the top 10 until running into the back of RB driver Daniel Ricciardo just before the restart on lap 27. That unravelled any goodwill as Stroll sustained front wing damage, plus a time penalty served during his pit stop, and crossed the line 16th (or second-last among the cars still in the race). Small consolation as Stroll was bumped up to 15th with Haas driver Kevin Magnussen receiving a 10-second penalty for his collision with RB’s Yuki Tsunoda.

Ricciardo also had some not-so-nice things to say about Stroll regarding the collision.

THE TORTURED DRIVERS DEPARTMENT

Things were looking up for Hamilton after he started and finished second in the sprint and what should have been a harbinger for the grand prix ahead.

First there was a little thing called qualifying though, and Hamilton missed the cut in Q1 to start a disastrous 18th on the grid. Even both Alpine cars made it out of Q1 while only Tsunoda and Logan Sargeant of Williams posted slower times than Hamilton. By comparison, Mercedes teammate George Russell made it all the way to Q3 and qualified eighth.

Despite how you feel about Mercedes, they still have a decent enough car to get into the points (or that’s an indictment about how disappointing half the field is, but I digress) even with Hamilton complaining on the radio about his tires, the car being slow and sliding around as if something was broken.

Hamilton was the biggest mover of the day picking his way up into ninth, although he was no match for Alonso and should have been able to get by Oscar Piastri with the state the McLaren was in. Piastri was told on his team radio he had sustained “significant” damage as a bystander in the Stroll-Ricciardo incident, but the sophomore driver held off the seven-time world champion Hamilton to the line by 1.788 seconds.

Each grand prix draws Hamilton one step closer to his Ferrari debut next year.

RB = REALLY BAD

We couldn’t help but nick that one from F1 commentator David Croft as it was a really bad day at the office for RB even if it wasn’t totally either driver’s fault.

Tsunoda was taken out by Magnussen as the Haas driver didn’t give him an inch of space and tagged his right rear tire to send him spinning around and out.

Ricciardo, who still has yet to score points this season, sustained a double-whammy. Not only was the damage he sustained from Stroll deemed critical, but the Australian driver was in the wrong for passing Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg under the safety car and was hit with a three-place grid penalty.

At least Ricciardo will serve his infraction during Miami’s sprint race, where points for a top-eight finish would be hard to come by regardless, rather than the grand prix itself.

All the while, reserve driver Liam Lawson waits in the wings.




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