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Aussie watch ahead of the F1® Chinese Grand Prix 2024

Matt Clayton
Thursday, 18 April 2024

An old circuit returns, a revamped Sprint format debuts and there’s newness for both Oscar Piastri and Daniel Ricciardo – here’s what to watch as F1® stops in Shanghai.

China, it’s been a minute. Before this weekend’s return of the Chinese Grand Prix (Apr 19-21), the most recent Formula 1® race in Shanghai was on April 14, 2019 – five years and one week ago. That race was the much-celebrated 1000th in world championship history; this weekend is race number 1106, and plenty has changed.

The Shanghai International Circuit first appeared on the F1® calendar in 2004, and the return of one of F1’s oldest modern venues comes with a new twist. Round five of the season is our first Sprint weekend of the year, and we have another new format for 2024; Sprint qualifying will be held on Friday, the Sprint race on Saturday morning, and then qualifying for the Grand Prix itself on Saturday afternoon. Even better for Aussie fans? The time difference with Shanghai means a 1 pm AEST Saturday Sprint start.

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All local eyes – and there’ll be a lot of them, considering it’s been a long time between events – will be on Zhou Guanyu, who finally gets to race in the city of his birth in his third season. The Sauber steerer is one of a handful of drivers for which China is unchartered territory – let’s kick off our pre-race talking points with another closer to home.

Plenty on Piastri’s plate

Oscar Piastri knows what it’s like to turn up to an F1® race weekend with lots to learn on the fly. Last year, the McLaren driver faced 11 circuits he’d never driven on before; while Shanghai and Imola for next month’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix are the only tracks in that category this year, this weekend will be an even bigger challenge than most.

The teams will be hoping their pre-race simulations hold true and that the weather defies a rainy forecast for Friday, with only one 60-minute practice session to get ready before Sprint qualifying. Track familiarity, long-run pace, tyre testing and a qualifying simulation all have to be squeezed into that one hour – and for Piastri, who hasn’t even seen the track, that session will be doubly important.

McLaren’s preference for high-speed corners – of which there are very few on the 5.451km Shanghai International Circuit layout – could make this a tricky weekend for Piastri and teammate Lando Norris, who only has one visit from his long-ago rookie season to draw upon.

New chassis, new outlook for Ricciardo

Daniel Ricciardo stayed in Japan after the previous round to complete a tyre test for Pirelli; truth be told, it was probably the last thing the 34-year-old wanted to do after his opening-lap crash in the Japanese Grand Prix, but a day of thrashing around Suzuka was at least useful to work out some frustration after not getting any resolution from a weekend of slight progress.

Ricciardo will race in a new chassis in China this weekend – RB’s racing director Alan Permane told reporters in Japan that the new tub was being constructed anyway, not as a response to Ricciardo’s muted start to the season and before his old car ended up in the Suzuka barriers. “It makes sense at all levels to give that to Daniel, not least that (teammate) Yuki (Tsuonda) is super happy and super comfortable where he is,” Permane said, adding: “with Daniel, maybe it's good for him to just put that completely to bed, that there any there any issues with the car.”

Ricciardo came within 0.055secs of Tsunoda in qualifying in Japan and just missed the top 10 on the grid, which doesn’t sound like much given his pedigree, but was a significant improvement on his results in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Australia. China offers some good memories, too; his 2018 win in Shanghai was one of his very best. Watch the highlights and wistfully reminisce …

China then, China now

We mentioned that 105 Grand Prix weekends have come and gone since the sport last visited China, and it was a very different world back then. Valtteri Bottas was leading the world championship for Mercedes …

Somewhat surprisingly, 14 of the 20 drivers in action this weekend raced in Shanghai in 2019, but only five of those are with the same teams five years on. In addition to Zhou and Piastri, Tsunoda and Logan Sargeant – in the early stages of a torrid sophomore season with Williams – are China first-timers.

How much has the sport moved on since 2019? Max Verstappen had won just five Grands Prix when China was last on the schedule, and finished 27 seconds behind Lewis Hamilton that day in fourth. Of the 105 Grands Prix held since, Verstappen has won 52 of them and 20 of the past 22 as he looks to extend his championship lead at one of just two tracks on the calendar where he’s never won (Singapore is the other).

China fast facts
Circuit name/location: Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai
Length/laps: 5.451km, 56 laps (Sprint: 19 laps)
Grands Prix held/debut: 16, 2004
Most successful driver: Lewis Hamilton (six wins)
Most successful team: Mercedes (six wins)
2019 podium: 1st: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), 2nd: Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes), 3rd: Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)

The Formula 1® Chinese Grand Prix 2024 will be available to watch live on Foxtel and Kayo. See our article What time does the F1® Chinese Grand Prix 2024 start for Australians? for your local timings.