Formula 1 April Recap

Posted by Dallas Johannes on Apr 30th 2024

 Formula 1 left off last month in Australia where we saw Carlos Sainz win 2 weeks after having his appendix removed. Australia was also where Alex Albon crashed his Williams in Free Practice 1 resulting in Williams allowing Alex Albon to swap chassis with his teammate, Logan Sargent and leaving Sargent without a car for the Australian Grand Prix. That brings us to Japan where Williams was able to repair the chassis from Albon’s accident in Australia and that chassis is now being used by Sargent. Albon continues to use Sargent’s original chassis.

Japanese Grand Prix

 Free Practice 1 started in Japan, and everything was normal until Sargent went off into the barriers in the repaired chassis. The damage was extensive, but likely for Sargent and Williams, the chassis remained intact and was able to be used after the team worked diligently to repair his Williams FW46. Sargent was running an updated aerodynamics package at the time, and it was destroyed in the accident. The repairs meant Sargent missed Free Practice 2 and had to revert to the older specification aerodynamic package.

 The Suzuka Circuit in Japan is one of the iconic tracks in Formula 1 with some famous high-speed corners, a beautiful backdrop of the Japanese countryside, and arguably the best fans on the F1 calendar. The first qualifying session (Q1) showed what everyone expected early on, the Red Bulls are fast. The Red Bulls looked compliant over the high curbing of the last chicane while Lando Norris and his McLaren looked quite stiff. Yuki Tsunoda looked quick early at his home track. Valtteri Bottas set a time good enough for P8 at the end of Q1, a much-needed glimmer of hope for the Stake/Sauber team. The bottom 5 eliminated in Q1 were Lance Stroll (P16), Pierre Gasly (P17), Kevin Magnussen (P18), Logan Sargent (P19), and Zhou Guanyu (P20). Stroll, disappointed with the Q1 elimination as his teammate, Fernando Alonso, set a time good enough for P2, splitting the Red Bulls.

The second qualifying session (Q2) was close at the top. Sergio Perez was P2, only 0.012 seconds behind Max Verstappen in what may have been one of Perez’s best laps of the year so far. Yuki Tsunoda was P10 in Q2, advancing to Q3 at his home race. The bottom 5 eliminated in Q2 were Daniel Ricciardo (P11), Nico Hulkenberg (P12), Valtteri Bottas (P13), Alex Albon (P14), and Esteban Ocon (P15). The third qualifying session (Q3) didn’t provide much drama, but it did set the top 10 positions for the race. Max Verstappen qualified P1, Sergio Perez was only 0.066 sec behind for P2, followed by Lando Norris (P3), Carlos Sainz (P4), Fernando Alonso (P5), Oscar Piastri (P6), Lewis Hamilton (P7), Charles Leclerc (P8), George Russell (P9), and Yuki Tsunoda (P10).

 As the cars rolled onto the grid for the Japanese Grand Prix, the track temperature was higher than it had been all weekend. The elevated temperatures make for higher tire wear and the Suzuka Circuit in Japan is already a circuit known for being hard on the tires. This year, Japan was seen as a two-stop race for tires. At the start of the race, Verstappen got off the line well and led comfortably into the first corner. Alex Albon and Daniel Ricciardo crashed in turn 2, bringing out the red flag. Ricciardo was side-by-side with Stroll, he veered right to avoid Stroll and Albon’s front left wheel was alongside Ricciardo’s rear right wheel. Albon was pushed into the grass to the right and Ricciardo spun off into the grass. Both cars hit the tire barrier to the right of turn 2.

 The restart after the red flag was based on the first sector times of the remaining cars, which was good for Nico Hulkenberg and Valtteri Bottas who each gained 2 positions at the start. During a red flag stoppage, the teams are allowed to change tires on the cars. Max fitted a new set of medium tires after starting on the soft. Mercedes put both Lewis and George on the hard tire to try and go as long into the next stint as possible before having to change tires again. The cars drove from the pit lane back to the starting grid after the red flag and had a standing start restart on lap 3.

 From the restart, Max got away well and had a 0.8 second lead over the first half of the lap. Nico Hulkenberg had trouble getting off the line on the restart and dropped from 10 th to 17th. Zhou went into the pits on lap 7 but returned on lap 11 and was stationary for quite a long time. He would end up coming into the pits on lap 12 to retire the car with a transmission issue. There were some good midfield battles with Logan Sargent diving down the inside of Pierre Gasly into turn 1 on lap 11. On lap 13, Tsunoda would pass Gasly around the outside of turn 6 in a brave move that ended up sticking. Verstappen pitted from P1 on lap 16 and came out in P3, but it didn’t take long for Verstappen to pass Russell who was struggling a bit on the hard tire Mercedes fitted at the red flag stoppage. Russell is passed soon after by Norris and Perez and Sainz passed Hamilton as Mercedes decision to fit the hard tire that early started to look like an unwise decision. Verstappen passed Leclerc for the lead into turn 1 on lap 21. Leclerc was on an old set of medium tires, trying to hold on as long as he could so he could put the hard tire on and go to the end of the race.

 On lap 22, Leclerc ran wide on a curb, letting Perez by and Norris ended up right behind Leclerc as he rejoined the track. Leclerc and Norris would both pit at the end of lap 22. By lap 29, Verstappen had a 10.5 second lead on Perez in P2. Piastri, Perez, Alonso, and Verstappen all pit for the hard tire to go to the end of the race and put Alonso in P8, Perez in P5, and Verstappen in P2 with Sainz in the lead but needing to change tires soon. Sainz ended up pitting on lap 36 and came out into P7. On lap 40, Logan Sargent went off into the gravel, bringing out a brief yellow flag in sector 2. Sargent was able to reverse onto the track and continue.

 Carlos Sainz gained a few places as Hamilton and Russell pitted in front of him. Sainz then passed Norris into turn 1 on lap 43 and began to hunt down his teammate, Charles Leclerc. Sainz passed Leclerc into turn 1 on lap 43 for P3. The race ends on lap 53 with Max Verstappen winning by 12.5 seconds to Perez in P2 and Sainz rounded out the podium in P3. Yuki Tsunoda finished in P10, the last points paying position, to become the first Japanese driver to finish in the points at the Japanese Grand Prix since Kamui Kobayashi in 2012.

Chinese Grand Prix

 After a week off, F1 returned to Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix for the first time since 2019. The weekend looked a little different than most as it was the first Sprint weekend of the year. There will be 6 Sprint weekends this year and for the Sprint weekend, the weekend schedule is quite different. A normal F1 weekend will have Free Practice 1 on Friday morning, Free Practice 2 on Friday afternoon, Free Practice 3 on Saturday morning, qualifying on Saturday afternoon, and the Grand Prix race on Sunday afternoon. The Sprint weekends in 2024 have Free Practice 1 on Friday morning, Sprint Shootout qualifying on Friday afternoon, the Sprint Race on Saturday morning, qualifying for the Grand Prix on Saturday afternoon, and the Grand Prix race on Sunday afternoon. The Sprint Race is a 1/3 length race that takes place on a Sprint weekend in addition to the full-length race on Sunday. Sprint Shootout qualifying still has the same 3 round structure as normal qualifying with the bottom 5 drivers being eliminated in SQ1 and SQ2, and SQ3 setting the top 10. However, Sprint Shootout qualifying dictates that all drivers must use the medium tire in both SQ1 and SQ2, and the soft in SQ3 and each of the 3 sessions are shorter time frames than qualifying for the Grand Prix. SQ stands for Sprint Qualifying as opposed to Q being used for Grand Prix qualifying.

 Shanghai is a unique track with a 270 degree, seemingly never-ending turn 1 that is also slightly downhill with a quick hairpin that is turn 2 immediately following. The unique track configuration greeted the F1 world to a slight surprise this year as the grass caught fire during Free Practice 1. The fire was caused by sparks coming from the cars as the bottomed out along the straight. Sprint Qualifying started dry with a 60% change of rain predicted. The sense of urgency was high as all the drivers tried to get out on track early to set a competitive time before any rain came in. Perez, Norris, and Verstappen were at the top of the time sheets in SQ1. Russell struggled to get a good time out of his Mercedes but avoided elimination. Gasly, Ocon, Albon, Tsunoda, and Sargent were eliminated in SQ1. At the end of the SQ1 session, the grass caught on fire again from sparks and was quickly put out.

 At the start of SQ2, it was clear that the rain was about to come in. The drivers were able to get 1 lap in each before the rain started to come down. Russell, Magnussen, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, and Stroll were eliminated in SQ2 with great showings from Zhou in P10, Bottas in P7, and Leclerc in P2 splitting the Red Bulls. SQ3 started with a wet track and the rain was still steady. All drivers fitted the intermediate tire. The intermediate tire is treaded and made for running in light to medium rain conditions. The cars looked like a handful in the wet with many drivers having trouble at first when putting the power down. Lando Norris had to catch the car as it stepped out under throttle. Leclerc ended up going off in the wet and hitting a barrier, luckily it was light contact with the barriers, and he was able to keep going with no visible damage. After a few laps, drivers were able to get temperature into the tires and set a couple competitive laps. Alonso goes fastest towards the end of the session, but his time was beaten by Lewis Hamilton who had a fantastic session in the conditions. However, they were all beaten by a lightning fast Lando Norris who set a time at the very end of the session that was 1.261 seconds faster than everyone else. The top 10 for the Sprint Race was Norris, Hamilton, Alonso, Verstappen, Sainz, Perez, Leclerc, Piastri, Bottas, and Zhou. Zhou getting up into P10 was a delight for the home crowd. Zhou Guanyu had been waiting for his home race in Shanghai and finally got the opportunity during his 4 th season in F1. The Chinese driver was a fan favorite and was seemingly on every poster and in every commercial around Shanghai leading up to the race.

 The Sprint Race in China was a quick 19 laps. Everyone started on the medium tire except George Russell, who started in P11 on the soft tire. At the start, Hamilton accelerated well and was side by side with Norris into turn 1. Hamilton took an aggressive line on the inside and forced Norris to either back out or run wide. Norris ended up running wide in turn 1 and fell back through the field. Hamilton led as Alonso was steadily behind. Verstappen was struggling at first to close in on Sainz as he went back and forth with his engineer about trying to get the hybrid battery to charge and changing engine modes. Verstappen shortly got it figured out and quickly passed Sainz. By lap 7, Verstappen was closing in on Alonso and passed him into turn 15 that lap. Max hunted down Lewis with only a 1.8 second gap after passing Alonso. Verstappen was lapping over a second a lap quicker than Hamilton and was able to pass him into turn 15 on lap 10. From around lap 11, Alonso was holding up Sainz, Perez, and Leclerc behind. By lap 15, Sainz was trying to line up for a pass on Alonso. Sainz was side by side with Alonso through turn 7 on lap 16, they touched, and Perez slipped passed both of them into P3. Alonso punctured his front right tire as a result of the contact with Sainz, drove slowly into the pit lane, and had to retire the car. Verstappen ended up winning with Hamilton holding on to P2 and Perez P3 to round out the podium. Leclerc, Sainz, Norris, Piastri, and Russell completed the points paying positions. Zhou Guanyu ended up in P9, just outside of the top 8 positions for points in the sprint in a great showing by the Chinese driver.

Qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix started with the usual suspects at the top. There was a shocking Q1 exit for Lewis Hamilton after he qualified and placed P2 in the Sprint Qualifying and Sprint Race the day before. Hamilton qualified P18 after struggling with the car setup in the dry. Hulkenberg surprised with a P6 showing in Q1 as his teammate was eliminated in P17. Perez just made it into Q2 with a P15 result in Q1. Zhou, Magnussen, Hamilton, Tsunoda, and Sargent were eliminated in Q1. Q2 started with both McLarens showing great pace. Sainz crashed coming out of the last corner after putting his right rear wheel into the gravel. Sainz’s Ferrari shot across the track and laid into the barrier on the left-hand side of the front straight. He was able to restart the car and drive back to the pit lane with the only side effect being a broken front wing. Sainz was able to continue in qualifying despite bringing out the red flag. Stroll, Ricciardo, Ocon, Albon, and Gasly were eliminated in Q2 with Bottas and Hulkenberg surprisingly moving onto Q3. Q3 was pretty straightforward with Max Verstappen qualifying P1, Perez P2, Alonso P3, Norris P4, Piastri P5, Leclerc P6, Sainz P7, Russell P8, Hulkenberg P9, and Bottas P10.

 The Chinese Grand Prix started with Max Verstappen getting a great start off the line with a decisive lead into the first corner. Alonso was on the outside of Perez into turn 1 and completed the pass for P2. Perez fought back and was able to re-pass Alonso in turn 6 on lap 5. Both Ferraris were passed at the start by Russell and Hulkenberg but were both able to pass Hulkenberg by the end of lap 1. Russell did a good job of holding the Ferraris behind as long as he could. Leclerc passed Russell on lap 9 around the outside of turn 1 and Sainz was able to get past Russell as Russell pitted on lap 11. Early pit stops began around lap 9, but they weren’t without drama. There was a close call between Bottas and Tsunoda as Tsunoda was trying to exit his pit box. Tsunoda stopped himself to avoid hitting Bottas as Bottas swooped into his pit box directly in front. Gasly’s first pit stop later provided him with a penalty as he tried to leave his pit box before being given the all clear. Gasly’s right rear wheel fell off as he tried to leave and knocked over one of his mechanics.

 Valtteri Bottas came to a stop on lap 21 at the entry to turn 11 after an engine failure, bringing out the virtual safety car. Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris took advantage of the virtual safety car to change onto the hard tire. The incident was updated to a full safety car after the marshals were unable to move the car without the help of a tow truck. The full safety car bunched the field up and Verstappen lead the restart on lap 27. Just before the restart, Stroll plowed into the back of Ricciardo as Ricciardo slowed with the rest of the bunched-up pack. Ricciardo and Stroll were able to continue. On lap 27, Kevin Magnussen pit maneuvered Yuki Tsunoda causing damage to Tsunoda’s left rear wheel and putting him out of the race. Those crashes lead to another full safety car to allow for the cleaning of any debris

 The race restarted on lap 31 with Verstappen leading from Norris, Leclerc, Perez, Alonso, and Sainz. Ricciardo was 9th on the restart but was shortly passed up by the field. Ricciardo then pulled into the pit lane and retired as a result of the damage from the incident with Stroll. Perez was able to pass Leclerc into turn 6 for P3 on lap 39. Hamilton battled his way through the field and was up to 8 th place in the closing stages of the race. Alonso made a late pit stop which dropped him down to 12 th, but he was able to get through the pack on fresher tires, passing Hamilton for P8 on lap 49. Alonso was able to keep pushing and made it past Piastri for P7 on lap 50. Zhou Guanyu was able to pass Logan Sargent on lap 50 and Kevin Magnussen on lap 54 for P14 to the delight of the Chinese fans in the grandstand. Zhou Guanyu was the first Chinese driver in Formula 1 and the first Chinese driver to complete a Formula 1 Grand Prix in China. Max Verstappen won followed by Norris in P2 and Perez in P3.

Around The Bend

 In May, Formula 1 will have 3 races, the Miami Grand Prix, the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola, and the Monaco Grand Prix. The Miami Grand Prix will be May 3-5 with Ferrari slated to bring a blue livery in tribute to the Ferrari North American Racing Team (NART) of the 1960s. Miami is the home race for Logan Sargent, who is from Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Miami will be race 2 of the F1 Academy development series. The Emilia Romagna Grand Prix will make its return to the F1 calendar after being cancelled last year due to historic flooding in that region of Italy the week of the race. Lastly, the famous Monaco Grand Prix will take place the weekend after from May 24-26. May will be a great month for Formula 1 with a lot to look forward to and maybe some surprise announcements in the driver’s market to come.

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