F1 Chinese GP | Sprint Qualifying | Norris takes a surprising pole in the rain ahead of Hamilton and Alonso

Photo Credit: McLaren Racing
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It’s time for the first qualifying session of the weekend as Formula 1 is returning to China for the first time since 2019. Will Verstappen start from pole position in in tomorrow’s Sprint Race, or will someone else take the spotlight away from him?

A new Sprint format is debuting this weekend, with Sprint Qualifying on Friday and the Sprint race moved to Saturday morning, followed by the qualifying session to set the race grid in the following part of the day.

Drivers will have to run medium tyres in the 12 minutes SQ1 and 10 minutes SQ2, with mandatory softs in the final segment of the session. The first driver out on track was home hero Zhou Guanyu, while Oscar Piastri mentions light rain spots on track.

The first lap time of the day is set by Alex Albon in 1:38.043s, with Zhou the first driver to sign a lap in the 1:37s and Leclerc in the 1:36s.

Albon, Russell Ocon, Sargeant, Tsunoda are in the bottom five ahead of the final sets of attempts. The Williams duo are the first to not advance to Q2 as their last effort is only good enough for provisional P17 and P18.

Verstappen is the next to take the top spot with a 1:36.445s, but his teammate Sergio Perez came in clutch with an impressive 1:36.110s to dethrone him thanks to a mighty final sector.

The Red Bull duo was later separated by Norris’s second lap attempt, which saw him post a 1:36.384s.

Russell improves to P12, kicking out Alpine’s Pierre Gasly, with Tsunoda not able to improve that much as well. The Racing Bulls driver’s not improving allows Zhou Guanyu to move formard to the next Qualifying segment.

The session ended once again with a yellow flag due to another grass spot catching fire, this time at Turn 5.

Out in SQ1: Gasly, Ocon, Albon, Tsunoda, Sargeant

Rain appears to be on its way as all the teams are advising their drivers waiting to exit the pit lane. The Red Bull duo and Hamilton came out a little bit later. The first lap time posted in the segment was a 1:36.0 by Norris, improved shortly after by his teammate Piastri.

Charles Leclerc sets an even better 1:35.711s, only improved by the reigning champion.

After the first set of attempts, these are the drivers not advancing: Russell, Magnussen, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo and Stroll. The Mercedes driver was on his second outlap as the track was declared wet, not allowing him to improve.

It’s a day to remember for Zhou Guanyu, as the Sauber driver in his home round will be advancing to the pole setting segment.

Out in SQ2: Russell, Magnussen, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Stroll.

The pole deciding segment will take place on a significantly wetter track, with the first drivers coming out with 8 minutes to go into the session led by Zhou Guanyu and Mercedes’s Hamilton out last, all on inters.

Norris ran off track at Turn 2, while Leclerc spun heading towards turn 9 and hit the barriers, causing damage to his front wing but able to keep his car running. The Ferrari driver returns to the pits to assess the damage.

On his first flying lap Verstappen slides off track as well. Perez goes on provisional pole 2:00.455s, with Piastri in P2 two seconds off his pace, and a surprising Bottas sliding in between the duo soon after.

Track limits might play an important role as Hamilton and Zhou both see laps deleted.

Verstappen ends up in the gravel on his second lap as well at the last corner, as Alonso goes fastest with a 2:00.213s. The championship leader has seen both his lap times deleted and is in P10.

Hamilton’s second attempt is the fastest of the segment, with a 1:59.321s, a time improved by Norris which was deleted for track limits at Turn 15 shortly after.

Verstappen’s only lap of the session is 0.707s off the seven times World Champion’s provisional pole, good enough for P3. If a driver goes off at the last corner with big run offs, normally both times are deleted. However, this did not happen as the FIA Race Director did not specify it in his Chinese GP notes.

Norris’s 1:57.940s was reinstated, leaving the McLaren drive on pole for the Sprint Race, ahead of the three World Champions.