Verstappen takes pole for Chinese GP to extend F1 dominance. Hamilton 18th


SHANGHAI (AP) — Max Verstappen of Red Bull has completed a Formula 1 double, taking the pole Saturday for the Chinese Grand Prix just hours after winning the first F1 sprint of the season.

Teammate Sergio Perez will start alongside Verstappen on Sunday on the front row with Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin and Lando Norris of McLaren on the second row. Verstappen turned 1 minute 33.660 seconds on his fastest lap, 0.322 ahead of Perez.

Superlatives fail. The three-time defending F1 champion is unassailable — the sport’s best driver in the quickest car. The Dutchman has won 22 of the last 26 GPs and three of the first four this season. Only a brake failure in Melbourne, Australia, probably kept him from sweeping all four races.

Look for more of the same on Sunday.

“If the car is even only half as good as what it was in the sprint then I think we’ll be all right,” Verstappen said.

This season he’s won every pole, and his start from that spot on Sunday will be the 37th of his career — it’s the 100th pole for Red Bull as a team — as he chases his 58th victory.

“Of course, that’s an incredible achievement for the whole team,” Verstappen said.

“From my side, it’s been a really good start to the year,” he added in understatement. “I feel very confident in qualifying compared to last year. Just a shame of course that we retired in Melbourne, otherwise I think we could have had already a very strong lead.”

Alonso, who won season titles in 2005 and 2006, is still going strong. He turns 43 this summer, just signed a contract extension with Aston Martin and remains one of F1’s quickest drivers.

“These kind of laps and moments are very encouraging for the future,” the Spaniard said. He said on race day he’s likely to finish “seven, eight or nine” — but no matter.

“We are qualifying extremely well this year and we’ll take it.”

Qualifying was run under dry conditions with similar weather expected for Sunday.

Verstappen leads the F1 season standings with 85 points, 15 clear of teammate Perez and 21 clear of Charles Leclerc of Ferrari.

Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes, who dominated the sport before Verstappen, is without a win in 49 races — the last in 2021. He will start 18th on the grid after finishing second in the sprint.

The track, located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of central Shanghai, has been a mystery for teams to solve. This is the first F1 race in China in five years, scratched from the calendar by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The biggest unknown is the racing surface, which has had a thin “seal coating” applied — described as liquid asphalt. Tire supplier Pirelli said it had not been fully aware of the changes. In steady rain on Friday, Verstappen said driving in those conditions was like “driving on ice.”

Adding to the intrigue, two small grass fires broke out on at the edge of the track in Friday practice. The circuit was built on a marshy area, and a methane gas leak is suspected.

Shanghai-born Zhou Guanyu, the only Chinese to drive in F1, was slow in qualifying and will start 16th on the grid for Sauber.


AP Formula 1:

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