Fearless 'all-or-nothing' lap sees Norris take sprint pole at wet Chinese GP

Lando Norris was fastest in the sprint qualifying session. Picture: Hector Retamal / AFP.

Lando Norris was fastest in the sprint qualifying session. Picture: Hector Retamal / AFP.

Published Apr 19, 2024


A fearless "all or nothing" lap from McLaren's Lando Norris in wet and wild conditions on Friday denied Lewis Hamilton pole position for the Chinese Grand Prix sprint race.

Hamilton thought he had claimed Shanghai pole in his Mercedes when Norris's lap of 1min 57.940sec on intermediate wet tyres was deleted for exceeding track limits, only to be dramatically reinstated a minute later.

Fernando Alonso in an Aston Martin showed his experience and guile to come third in the treacherous conditions with championship leader Max Verstappen fourth.

It was a second career sprint pole for Norris.

"It was tricky, you are always nervous going into a session like this," said the Englishman.

"You just have to risk a lot, push and build tyre temperature and what not.

"You only get three laps. The first two I aborted on both, so it was all or nothing."

Verstappen's Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez was sixth, splitting the Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc, who survived a big spin.

"It was just like driving on ice," said Verstappen, whose final lap time was deleted after a trip across the gravel outside the final bend.

"That is why also I think we deserved to be where we are in qualifying, it isn't really working for me in the wet but it is not where we are in the dry."

Hamilton has endured a poor start to 2024 but was clearly looking forward to starting from the front row.

"So happy, as soon as I saw the rain coming I was getting excited. In dry conditions we're not quick enough."

Alonso was also thankful for the late rain. "We were not super competitive on the dry," he said.

"In the wet it was difficult to judge the level of grip and risk we wanted to apply but in the end I am happy."

Fifth-placed Sainz said the rain and cool conditions made it very difficult to get his intermediate tyres warmed up.

"We didn't manage to switch on the tyres so we couldn't push," said the Spaniard, the only driver to win a race this season apart from Verstappen.

Formula One is back in China for the first time since 2019, when Hamilton won.

Hometown hero Zhou

A big crowd at the Shanghai International Circuit let out a huge roar when their hometown hero Zhou Guanyu made it into the third qualifying session.

He will start Saturday morning's sprint from 10th for Sauber.

The 24-year-old Zhou was elevated to F1 in 2022, but has had to wait till his third season to make his home debut because of the pandemic.

Zhou is yet to score a 2024 championship point but has given himself a great chance with a near-flawless qualifying show.

Every lap in his bright green Sauber was greeted by massive cheers from the grandstand opposite the pit lane as his times appeared on the scoreboard.

"We will give it everything," Zhou said. "I am just happy with the first day and great to have everyone here.

"The pressure before the weekend was so extreme, like I felt when I made my debut."

Verstappen, who has won three out of four grands prix this season, again looked quickest until the rain came near the end of SQ2.

It sets up an intriguing 19-lap sprint battle Saturday morning as the three-time world champion attempts to find his way past Alonso, Hamilton and Norris.

"We have to try and have the best start possible," said Verstappen.

"And then I think it will be quite a long stint on one set of tyres in the sprint."

Hamilton said his fate lay with the weather gods.

"It really depends what the conditions will be like," said the seven-time world champion, who has won a record six grands prix in Shanghai.

"If they are like they were just now we have a chance of being up there."

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