Dre’s Race Review – Formula 1’s 2024 Chinese Grand Prix

Verstappen dominates yet again as Lando Norris turns a “damage limitation job” into second, and the midfield has an unfortunate smash. Dre on F1’s return to China.

Never miss a post

Sign up for our monthly newsletter so you don’t miss any posts or updates!

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us. By subscribing, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with our privacy policy.

Dre Harrison Reviews



Read time: 8 mins

“Everything changes, nothing changes.”

The last time Formula 1 raced in China, was back in 2019. Lewis Hamilton brought home a Mercedes 1-2 finish, Sebastian Vettel was third, and back then, F1 celebrated its 1,000th GP with awkwardly tame celebrations and Max Verstappen only had five career wins. The more things change, the more they stay the same. 

Five years later, and after a global pandemic and a very much changed world, Max Verstappen had one of his most dominant races left, Lando Norris turned a “damage limitation” job into one of his better races in the sport, and the middle of this race was a goddamn hot mess. Let’s try to make sense of it. 

We found a weakness in Max Verstappen! He wasn’t great in the rain when it tipped it down in Sprint Qualifying on Friday afternoon, so he had to deal with the terrible hardship of starting a Sprint Race in… fourth. It was genuinely interesting to see him struggle early on with the Red Bull when dealing with cold tyres, falling into the clutches of Carlos Sainz early.

But when the Red Bull got comfortable… he was eight-tenths a lap quicker than the field. The man passed the leading Lewis Hamilton with nine laps left and by the end, was ahead by 13 seconds. On raw pace, the competition is pretty close. But Max could hammer out his maximum eight times in a row, while the rest were tripping over themselves. Max’s eighth sprint win. The rest of the sport’s history combined has five. 

After a comfortable pole position (Red Bull’s 100th by the way), he was putting six-tenths a lap on teammate Sergio Perez from the lead, and with less than half a race left when we had a quick pair of Safety Cars, Max won by 13 seconds again, this time over an opportunistic Lando Norris drive. He is just driving in another plane of existence right now and if you didn’t know any better watching the Grand Prix, he wasn’t there. Red Bull is a dominant car, but Perez has proven in his time at the Bulls that it IS beatable. Max is just that big a difference-maker. He makes the sublime look routine. I mean seriously, he wasn’t on the hard camera for a good half an hour towards the end of the race. 

Remember what I said about China 2019 and how Max only had five career wins back then? This was Max’s 53rd victory since then. The rest of the field combined? 53

The defining moment of the race was a pair of controversial Safety Cars. Valtteri Bottas’ Sauber had its engine die from a promising P11 as he entered Sector 3, and it was an excruciating wait as it took two laps for the race to finally be neutralised with Val’s Sauber stuck in gear and difficult to move off track. I know Race Control had Double Waved Yellows in both sectors to try and mitigate the situation but it will always be weird seeing cars enter that section at close to full racing speed as Bottas climbs out of his car. This for me, was a far dodgier handling of the situation than George Russell’s smash in Australia, but alas.

But the extra-long VSC turned full Safety Car led to Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc taking the opportunity to pit under VSC and save eight seconds. Fortunate? Absolutely, but Lando’s late-race pace was better than Sergio Perez’s under essentially the same conditions, with the final Safety Car taking all strategy off the table. Also, shoutout to Charles Leclerc, that was another lovely drive to P4.

But as the race just got going again, Fernando Alonso locked his tyres up going into the Turn 14 hairpin, it caused a concertina effect and Lance Stroll, caught apex watching, ploughs into the rear of Daniel Ricciardo’s RB, ending his race, with teammate Yuki Tsunoda taken out by Kevin Magnussen’s Haas mere seconds later. 

Bit of an embarrassing one all around. Alonso got a surprisingly small amount of criticism for starting this West London-style traffic jam, Stroll called Ricciardo an idiot when we had the onboard of him not paying attention on the restart, and Daniel Ricciardo was incensed when he was told about it in parc ferme afterwards. Angering the Honey Badger takes genuine effort, like punching someone’s puppy.

Oscar Piastri’s sassy response summed it up best: “Yes, we were backed up, but the rest of us didn’t hit anyone”, an understandable jab given the rear diffuser damage he took in the incident harmed an otherwise solid race. A 10-second time penalty for Stroll still seems light in this reader’s eyes.

Overall, a bittersweet set of circumstances as the incidents themselves were the interesting part of this race, but it made the second half a bit of a sleeper besides Alonso’s late charge through the field on new Mediums. Again, alas. 

I wanted to dedicate a section to Zhou Guanyu, a man I genuinely felt sorry for this weekend. It wasn’t his best race, a P14 finish on the day after another tough day for Sauber in terms of reliability and slow pitstops. But the pressure on the young man in a home race he’s had to wait years for had to be difficult. 

On the plus side, the reception for a literal hometown hero was warm and wonderful to see. China is fiercely loyal to people who embrace them in sports, and Zhou is no exception. While watching Ted’s Notebook on Sky Sports F1, I found out that NBA Hall of Famer and cultural icon Yao Ming was a guest of Aston Martin and when asked, he said Zhou could have the same impact for F1 in China that he had for basketball. A bold statement given how much China has warmed to basketball in the 21st Century. 

Many people in auto and Motorsport look at China as an emerging booming market and want to create a footprint over there. Zhou himself is a marketing dream with his modelling and fashion endorsements and his presence on the grid could be a big crossover for many people.  

When he made SQ3, the roar from the home crowd when they realised was incredible. It reminded me of Japan 2012 when Kamui Kobayashi got a home podium at Suzuka and the fans started cheering his name. The plinth for him on the home straight was a clever marketing play by F1 and his tears as he took in the home applause were incredibly endearing, especially when you saw the throwback to the man himself in the crowd as a child. That kid made it. Maybe one day, his performances in F1 could inspire the next generation to do the same.  

But beyond the surface, this is a critical year for Zhou. Looking at the Driver Market, his seat is at risk, with Audi actively courting Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg rumoured for the other after strong performances for Haas. He needs to be beating Valtteri Bottas more consistently to justify his place on the grid and he just isn’t doing that frequently enough. And I’m not sure Zhou has done enough for another team to take a chance on him if Sauber does elect to move on from him at year’s end. 

I feel for Zhou. All of this must be swirling around in his head. No wonder he was in tears at the end of the race, it was probably all a bit too much for the man. I hope he can channel this weekend into his drives and he pushes on. It would be a shame to see a man who’s had to wait four years for his first Chinese GP, not get a second chance at another. 

PS: Another bit of Red Bull glaze, so forgive me, but they had four pit stops in China, two of which were part of a double stack. The AVERAGE was 2 seconds, dead. Operational excellence of the highest order.

A shame for Daniel Ricciardo, who combined with his new chassis looked a fair bit stronger, out qualifying Tsunoda for the first time this season… until the wreck. And to add insult to injury, he has a 3-place grid drop for Miami because he overtook Nico Hulkenberg under a Safety Car. 

Speaking of penalties, I do find it somewhat hilarious that Lance Stroll got two penalty points for causing a wreck during a Safety Car, while Fernando Alonso got three for his divebomb on Carlos Sainz during the Sprint. Not sure about the logic behind that one. (And for what it’s worth, it was a penalty for Alonso’s lunge, in my opinion, that was never on. Remember, the drivers asked for harsher penalties for contact, so this is what you get.) But going back to my last paragraph for a moment, it is bizarre to me that Stroll was punished less for a Safety Car wreck for taking Ricciardo out than Ricciardo was for a minor cock-up. Funny how the book works sometimes. 

And one final note on penalties, after Logan Sargeant got the same punishment for passing under a Safety Car that Ricciardo did, he now has eight penalty points and doesn’t lose any of them until September. Could be a treacherous season for Saregant if this continues. Stroll is up to seven too…

Three points finishes in five rounds for Nico Hulkenberg so far this season. Telling you, the man is class. He and Esteban Ocon just behind are the under-appreciated drivers in the field.

Nico Rosberg was in the commentary box for Sky Sports this weekend, and he was… interesting. Very James Hunt in his approach, not afraid to speak his mind and be bold. I mean, he straight-up called Lando Norris a bottler after not backing out of the 50/50 in the Sprint on Lap 1 (Something I got called out on X for saying I thought it was a lazy take). I’ll be real with you, I’ve never been the biggest fan of Nico the pundit, I think he’s a bit of an instigator who knows what buttons to push to get responses out of people. But in such a protective, PR-driven land, I get why people like that so much. 

It’s certainly the way sports broadcasting is going with Jamie Carragher, Gary Neville, Stephen A. Smith, Pat McAfee, and in a more extreme and racist way, Joey Barton has now done with taking up the microphone. Getting people emotional and reactive is what makes the sports world tick, far more than “playing it straight”. And from his time on YouTube immediately post-retirement, Nico’s always been very good at being reactive with his audience. Sky utilising him in a bigger role is no shock to me (Their cricket coverage, for instance, is littered with big-name ex-pros like Hussain, Pietersen, Sangakkara, Ponting, etc.), and in the long run, I think it’ll be a clever move for the network. 

And while I’m here and Damon Hill was asking for their opinions on the studio move, here’s my two cents… I’m leaning slightly towards not being a fan. Now there are positives of being in a studio, you can do a lot more with technology in-house over being in the paddock, you can be more flexible in your content and programming and ultimately on a human level, I like the fact that it saves some air mileage for the presenters. But live sports in 2024 is the last bastion of television and capturing that paddock atmosphere and that “you gotta be there” aspirational vibe that’s always been there with Formula 1 has felt missing in their studio (And as a football fan, you can tell its the Monday Night Football set and that’s always going to be a lil’ jarring but that’s just me).

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Somehow can now call himself a Production Coordinator at the Motorsport Network, coming off the back of being part of the awkward Johto Era at WTF1. All off a University Project that went massively out of hand. Weird huh?

Motorsport101 uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Click here to read more.


What are you looking for?