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Controversies At The Chinese GP Sprint Qualifying

Lando Norris controversially claims Sprint Pole at the Chinese Grand Prix.

The Chinese Grand Prix is back, and although it is only the first day of on-track action, there is already excitement and controversy in the air. Following Friday’s Sprint Qualifying, Lando Norris will start Saturday’s Sprint race on pole. Alongside him is the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton. In P3 and P4 are Fernando Alonso and Max Verstappen respectively.

The threat of rain was prominent during SQ1 and at the start of SQ2. The rain eventually came down halfway through SQ2 and continued through SQ3, giving us an exciting Sprint Qualifying.

However, the rain did not only bring excitement, as controversy soon followed.

Lewis Hamilton loses out on pole at race control

At the end of SQ3, Lewis Hamilton got provisional pole. However, Lando Norris crossed the line, snatching it from his fellow Brit. Norris got his time deleted for going over track limits in the final corner ahead of his fastest lap. Shortly after, Race Control reinstated Norris’ lap. It has been said that McLaren argued that Norris had not gained an advantage from going off the track.

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The Race Director’s event notes will specify when exceeding track limits at the final corner will “result in that lap time and the immediately following lap time being invalidated by the stewards.” This precedent was recently seen earlier this year in Bahrain and last year in Abu Dhabi and Austin.

As for the Chinese Grand Prix, the stewards have now clarified that going off at Turn 16 only gets that current lap time deleted, and not the following lap. The argument now is that there needs to be more clarity with the rules to avoid confusion and allow for consistency. The FIA have been on the receiving end of the stick for not being consistent with penalties, and this only adds to the heat.

“I havent’t seen the details, I just seen he had 4 tyres off track. But honestly that [lap] was even slower, he could’ve probably gone faster so I’m okay with that.” – Toto Wolff on Lando Norris’ lap being reinstated.

Toto Wolff’s comments seem to imply that Mercedes will not be headed to the Stewards to argue their case.

The new Sprint weekend format

F1’s first Sprint weekend is here, at the Chinese Grand Prix, and the new format is also unfavourably making the rounds in the media.

The 2024 Sprint weekend format for this season is different to what we previously had.

Friday – 60-minute Free Practice session & Sprint Qualifying
Saturday – Sprint & Qualifying (for the Grand Prix)
Sunday – Grand Prix

The finishing order of the Sprint will not affect the grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix. Instead, regular Qualifying will be held after Saturday’s Sprint, in order to set the grid for Sunday.

Luckily for the teams, for 2024 there is an additional parc fermé period. Parc fermé is when teams are prevented from making any major changes to their cars.

Last year, Hamilton and Charles Leclerc were disqualified from the Grand Prix in Austin following issues that could have been avoided with an additional parc fermé period.

 

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For this year, the cars are now placed under parc fermé conditions at the start of Sprint Qualifying until the end of the Sprint.

Teams can then make changes to their cars between the Sprint and the start of Grand Prix Qualifying. From the start of Qualifying, cars are then locked back into parc fermé for the final time. This allows teams to have more flexibility to change their setups for the Sprint and the Grand Prix respectively.

Issues surrounding the new format

The extra freedom is great. However, it puts what can be argued to be unnecessary pressure on those in the pit garages and back at the factories. This is because there will be a rush to use data from the Sprint to prepare the car in time for Qualifying and the Grand Prix.

There is another issue with the new format. There is the obvious risk that a serious crash in the Sprint could jeopardise a driver’s chances of taking part in the Qualifying session that follows.

Sprint weekends seem to be unpopular among the fanbase. But what is particularly worrying about this weekend is the sole Free Practice session. With the 2024, format, teams only get 1 hour to finalise setups, with a single Free Practice session.

This could prove to be a problem for a lot of teams, especially for those who have been struggling to find performances throughout the season so far. As for the Chinese GP, it is only F1’s first time racing in China since 2019. It is a newly repainted – not resurfaced – track which has been a cause for concern among the drivers. Additionally, F1 has not visited the track since the introduction of the new regulations in 2022.

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