Verstappen enjoys ‘incredible’ pole after China sprint win

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Max Verstappen celebrated winning in Suzuka. Hamilton’s joy at coming second in the Sprint Race turned to despair in Q1 when he locked up, relegating him to 18th in qualifying. It was the first time since the 2022 Saudi Grand Prix that the seven-time world champion had been knocked out so early.

Verstappen continued his dominant start to the season in emphatic style Saturday by romping to sprint victory then claiming pole position for the Chinese Grand Prix – an “incredible” 100th for his Red Bull team. Verstappen looks on course to win a fourth grand prix out of five on Sunday as he marches towards a fourth consecutive world title. The Red Bull driver was 0.322 seconds clear of Sergio Perez as Red Bull locked up the front row, with Fernando Alonso third on Formula One’s return to China after five years away.

Verstappen clocked a fastest lap of 1min 33.660sec to record the team milestone and his first pole at the Shanghai International Circuit. Verstappen won the 19-lap sprint in the morning by a huge 13 seconds from Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes as the Dutchman laid down a marker for Sunday’s 56-lap race. Oscar Piastri was fifth fastest in the second McLaren ahead of the Ferrari pair of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, with George Russell’s Mercedes eighth.

Perez was relieved to be on the front row, stating, “Very intense, I nearly got knocked out in Q1. In the final run, the track was getting quite a bit better and I managed to put a good lap together.” Leclerc said he hoped Ferrari could be stronger on Sunday, while Hamilton expressed disappointment at his performance.

Huge crowds turned out to see Shanghai native Zhou Guanyu, China’s first Formula One driver, on the first Chinese Grand Prix weekend since 2019. The fans had plenty to cheer Friday when Zhou propelled his Sauber into the top 10 in a wet sprint qualifying, but he narrowly missed out on scoring a sprint point by finishing ninth. Zhou failed to make it out of Q1, to groans from the packed grandstands, and will start 16th on the grid.

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