Drivers voice concerns over Chinese F1 GP Sprint weekend format

Photo Credit: Red Bull Content Pool
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F1’s return to China already has momentous moments ahead as it is Zhou Guanyu’s first time racing in front of his home crowd in F1 and also a 20-year celebration of the circuit. Whether it also needed to be an F1 Sprint format will be long debated but as far as the top three finishers form the F1 Japanese Grand Prix are concerned – this was one feature the Shanghai Grand Prix could have done without.

F1 returns to China for the first time since the landmark 1000th F1 Grand Prix back in 2019. There are already many question marks as to how the asphalt will react after several years of reduced competition but not only this, the F1 weekend will also be an F1 Sprint format weekend. With so many unknowns and only one practice session to get everything right, the top three finishers of the Japanese Grand Prix were asked for their thoughts on such a decision of format.

Three-time F1 Drivers’ World Champion, Max Verstappen was the first to share his thoughts on this matter when asked.

“Yeah, it’s very smart to do that,” quipped Verstappen. “I think it’s not great, let’s say like that, to do that. Because when you have been away from a track for quite a while, I think you never know what you’re going to experience, right? So, it would have been better to have a normal race weekend there.”

However, Verstappen did also share his ideas as to why such move has been made for China’s sell-out F1 return.

“But on the other hand, it probably spices things up a bit more, and that’s maybe what they would like to see,” admitted Verstappen. “But yeah, purely from a driving perspective, performance perspective of the sport, I think it’s not the smartest thing to do. But yeah, we’ll see what we get there. I mean, I always loved driving there. So yeah, hopefully we can hit the ground running as well as we can, and hopefully we don’t need to fine-tune too many things on the car.

Sergio Perez, having secured his third podium of the season, then provided his insight on the race format for this weekend’s upcoming F1 Chinese Grand Prix. His remarks mentioned an issue which already has been seen at other circuits in 2024.

“Yeah, I just hope that there are no issues with the track, with any drain holes, any issues like that,” said Perez. “That will just put us out of sync. But I think for the show, probably it’s good. It’s a good thing. But I think from the preparation side, it’s going to be definitely one that is going to be really hard because, I mean, I’ve never raced there, for example, with Red Bull so it’s going to be quite a lot to do in a single practice.

Carlos Sainz, the only other driver to record a victory in 2024 and the only man other than a Red Bull driver to win in 2023 was the final driver to speak on the matter at this juncture. His remarks showed that the matter is not a simple one.

“Yeah, I think there’s two different topics,” explained Sainz. “I think China as a race circuit is a great one. I think it’s one of our favourite ones for everyone. It’s just a great racing track and a track that offers a good possibility to overtake, so a Sprint makes sense to have it there.

“At the same time, it’s what we said in the drivers’ briefing, we say to FIA and Formula 1, with these kind of cars to go to a track with one hour of practice and straight into qualifying, with the regulations that they put us, with the plank wear and things like this, and how tricky one bump could make the car, I think it’s not a good choice to choose to put the Sprint after four or five years absence.”

The discussion concluded with Sainz also highlighting that it seems that there has been some resurfacing going on at the Shanghai Circuit, “So Istanbul 2.0 maybe on the cards! Yeah, I hope not.”

This was a reference to the unforgettable – for all the wrong reasons – 2020 Turkish Grand Prix. At that time, Istanbul Park had just been resurfaced but rainfall made the track conditions close to undriveable as cars slid all over the place due to an unexpectedly slick surface.

Sainz concluded his remarks with a reminder as to how F1 is a team sport with so many people working behind the scenes.

“So yeah, it just shows the uncertainty,” Sainz stated. “Maybe for you guys at home it’s exciting, but for engineers and drivers, it’s something that for me, in my opinion, we shouldn’t take the risk and have a normal weekend.”

Williams Racing are just one of the teams that have had additional hours putting cars back together and should there be collisions or runoffs in the run up to race day – it will once again be the engineers all over the world working tirelessly to get the car up and running again.