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Three excellent reasons to watch the Chinese Grand Prix

The Chinese GP is back after a five-year absence… and it’s a Sprint weekend

Published: 18 Apr 2024

China? F1 hasn’t been there in years!

Correct. The last time F1 visited China was back in 2019, when Max Verstappen had but five grand prix wins to his name and social distancing hadn’t been invented yet.

The pandemic of course meant that China became off limits for F1… until now. After a couple of false starts it’s back on the calendar, and the half-decade gap brings us to our first Excellent Reason to tune in.

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You see, data is to an F1 team what Yakult is to a healthy gut (other probiotics are available). And having consumed none (data, not Yakult) for five years now, the teams will be guessing how long the tyres will last, and how many pit stops to make. That means suboptimal strategies, and an outside chance of a shock result. Maybe.

Excellent Reason two: Zhou Guanyu-mania. The Sauber driver is set to become the first native to feature in the Chinese GP in the history of the race, and that’s going to make him a superstar this week. Hours-long autograph queues, interview after interview… the hype will be real. The chance of points? Less real.

Finally, China is hosting the first of six Sprint races on the 2024 calendar: could a shorter race distance give someone other than Verstappen a chance to take the chequered flag for a change? Keep scrolling for details on when to watch.

Set the scene for me.

For the neutral, things are bleak: Max Verstappen and Red Bull were untouchable at the Japanese Grand Prix earlier this month, and both championships already look like a formality.

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What’s worse is that Ferrari look comfortably second-best, McLaren third-best, with Mercedes and Aston Martin squabbling over fourth and fifth. Of the backmarkers, only RB and Haas have managed to sneak into the top 10 at all in 2024.

Still, the spread over a single lap is actually quite small, so in qualifying at least the fine margins are putting a much bigger emphasis on the skill of the driver. More of that (and over a full race distance) please.

What time does the Chinese Grand Prix start?

If you’re watching from the UK, the Chinese Grand Prix starts at 8am sharp on Sunday 21 April, with qualifying taking place exactly 24 hours prior on Saturday 22 April.

But wait! That’s not the only action taking place this weekend. China is hosting a Sprint race this weekend, and the format has been rejigged (again) as follows: the Sprint Shootout now takes place on Friday 19 April at 8.30am, followed by the Sprint race proper at 4am on Saturday, just a few hours before qualifying for the main event.

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Remember how last year the Sprint stuff was packed into Saturday only? Yeah, that’s no longer a thing now.

Oh, and there are a couple of practice sessions thrown into that lot as well. Just a hunch, but we imagine you’ll skip those.

Is it going to rain?

At the time of writing it looks unlikely, with moderate temperatures and overcast skies forecast for the weekend. Looks like there’s rain in the air for Monday though: maybe the showers will arrive earlier than expected?

Gimme some history in 100 words or fewer.

The Chinese GP first featured in F1 in 2004. It’s probably best known as the venue where a rookie Lewis Hamilton threw away the 2007 title by getting beached in the gravel… in the pit lane. Or when Sebastian Buemi lost both front wheels at the end of the main straight: go find it on YouTube and watch him try to steer… without wheels. With lots of high-speed corners and overtaking zones, the Shanghai International Circuit is one of designer Hermann Tilke’s better efforts. You’ll regret not watching when the Miami Dolphins Car Park GP rocks up in a fortnight.

The top three will be…

By the top three, you mean the top two behind Max Verstappen right? Of course you do. The nature of the track means that Ferrari should be in decent shape, so let’s go for a double Ferrari podium as Sergio Perez gets a puncture or something. He’s due some kind of mishap.

Shock of the weekend?

McLaren. The team is bracing itself for a tough weekend on a circuit that’ll expose its biggest flaw: long corners. It remains to be seen if this’ll make it slower than Mercedes, whose Achilles' heel flaw appears to be going quickly through corners. Not a brilliant trait for a [checks notes] Formula 1 car.

Where can I watch the Chinese Grand Prix?

You’ve got two options, British fans: fork out for Sky Sports and its dedicated F1 channel, or fork out for Now TV to stream Sky’s coverage online. There is of course a circumspect third way, but BBC lawyers have suggested against detailing this.

If you don’t fancy such an early start to watch a Dutchman drive around in circles unchallenged, Channel 4’s highlights show is a) broadcast much later, and b) will cut out the boring bits. Race highlights start at 12.30pm on Sunday, quali highlights will be shown at 12.15pm on Saturday, and a Sprint Shootout recap will be shown at 12.35pm on Friday.

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