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Chinese GP: Lance Stroll fastest in only practice session after small grass fire disrupts running

Intriguing start to F1's return to China and 2024's first Sprint weekend with unexpected results in the weekend's only practice session; watch Sprint Qualifying at 8.30am live on Sky Sports F1, with build-up from 8am, this morning ahead of Saturday 4am Sprint in Shanghai

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Far from the norm, a fire at turn seven brings up the first red flag of the Chinese Grand Prix in practice.

Aston Martin's Lance Stroll set the unexpected pace in the only practice before Friday morning's Sprint Qualifying at the Chinese GP in an intriguing session which was briefly interrupted by a bizarre grass fire.

With F1 cars running around the vast and fast Shanghai International Circuit after a five-year absence at the start of the season's first Sprint weekend, teams appeared to take differing approaches to the hour of running with alternative strategies for tyres and, seemingly, fuel loads evident through the field to create an unusual-looking final timesheet.

World champion Max Verstappen had led much of the session for Red Bull, on medium and then soft tyres, but was overhauled in the closing minutes as track conditions evolved - first by McLaren's Oscar Piastri and then Aston Martin's Stroll.

Stroll's fastest time of 1:36.302 was 0.327s quicker than Piastri's, with Red Bull's Verstappen a further 0.021s adrift.

Sergio Perez was fourth in the second Red Bull but the feeling that the timesheet did not tell the true story of the weekend's likely pecking order was heightened by the appearance of both Haas cars, Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen, and Alpine's Esteban Ocon in the top six.

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Karun Chandhok takes a look at the unique track of Shanghai International Circuit.

Ferrari, Red Bull's closest challengers so far this season, ran the soft tyres early in the session and eventually slipped out of the top 10, while Mercedes were the only team not to run either the soft or the medium compound.

As part of 2024's revised Sprint weekend schedule, teams will now immediately prepare for Sprint Qualifying at 8.30am, the 44-minute session that sets the grid for the 19-lap Sprint race, which takes place at 4am on Saturday.

Also See:

All sessions from the return of the Chinese Grand Prix - including Saturday's main Qualifying session at 8am and then the Grand Prix at the same time on Sunday morning - are live on Sky Sports F1.

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Grass fire, Hamilton's pit mix-up, amid pecking order guessing games

F1 is back in China for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic and, while the venue is familiar to most in the sport, the appearance of the Shanghai track surface had nonetheless surprised drivers and teams during their circuit walks on Thursday.

Some had initially thought the surface featured darker painted sections but it emerged that those patches were actually a bitumen treatment, which is designed to prevent disintegration and eliminate dust.

However, while the track perhaps did not quite prove quite as grip-less as feared when practice commenced on Friday despite a few minor early off-course moments for drivers, it was soon the grass on the inside of the track that was causing more concern.

It was a quarter of an hour in to running when a small fire suddenly broke out on a patch of grass on the inside of Turn Seven. Race Control threw the red flag, with cars returning to the pit lane, to allow marshals the chance to put the fire out with extinguishers.

The matter was swiftly resolved with a scorched section of grass left to show for the bizarre incident when cars returned to the track minutes later.

While highly unusual, it appears a spark generated by a titanium skid-block on the underside of a car while hitting the ground through the high-speed section may have been the culprit amid dry but windy conditions in Shanghai after rain earlier in the week.

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A black and white flag for Lewis Hamilton was given after the driver failed to follow the race director's instructions by crossing the line at pit entry.

When the session resumed, Hamilton found himself involved in a strange incident which saw him receive a black-and-white warning flag from Race Control.

The Mercedes driver had been preparing for a timed lap as he approached the final corners and was overtaken by Verstappen into the hairpin, with Hulkenberg then trying to get around the outside but squeezed over the exit kerb.

Piastri was ahead of them on the short straight to the final corner but, while Verstappen got through into the left-hander, Hamilton did not and then jinked right and instead took to the pit lane instead.

However, by doing so Hamilton contravened the race director's event instructions by crossing the white line on the pit-lane entry, earning him the black-and-white flag.

Hamilton finished 18th on the timesheet, with team-mate George Russell 17th, after Mercedes were the only team to exclusively run the hardest, and slowest, tyre compound through the session.

Fernando Alonso, pacesetter Stroll's Aston Martin team-mate, did likewise.

Ferrari only ran the soft, which they first used at the start of the session when the track had less grip, with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz finishing up in similarly unrepresentative 13th and 14th places respectively.

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A deflated Pierre Gasly walked away with the slowest timing from P1 on the Shanghai International Circuit.

Alpine's Pierre Gasly did use the soft compound but still ended up slowest of all, with the Frenchman bemoaning his "not acceptable" session over team radio at the end of the hour by saying he had learnt "absolutely nothing" about the car.

Chinese GP Practice One Timesheet

Driver Team Time
1) Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:36.302
2) Oscar Piastri McLaren +0.327
3) Max Verstappen Red Bull +0.358
4) Sergio Perez Red Bull +0.388
5) Nico Hulkenberg Haas +0.799
6) Kevin Magnussen Haas +0.816
7) Esteban Ocon Alpine +0.911
8) Alex Albon Williams +0.927
9) Daniel Ricciardo RB +0.936
10) Valtteri Bottas Sauber +1.228
11) Zhou Guanyu Sauber +1.324
12) Yuki Tsunoda RB +1.704
13) Charles Leclerc Ferrari +1.788
14) Carlos Sainz Ferrari +1.982
15) Logan Sargeant Williams +1.984
16) Lando Norris McLaren +2.328
17) George Russell Mercedes +2.504
18) Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +2.537
19) Fernando Alonso Aston Martin +2.634
20) Pierre Gasly Alpine +3.568

Sky Sports F1's live Chinese GP schedule

China schedule

Friday April 19
8am: Chinese GP Sprint Qualifying (session starts at 8.30am)*

Saturday April 20
3.30am: Chinese GP Sprint (race starts at 4am)*
7am: Chinese GP Qualifying build-up*
8am: Chinese GP Qualifying*
10am: Ted's Qualifying Notebook*

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A quick look back at some of the biggest moments from the Chinese Grand Prix over the years...

Sunday April 21
7am: Grand Prix Sunday: Chinese GP build-up*
10am: Chequered Flag: Chinese GP reaction*
11am: Ted's Notebook*

*also live on Sky Sports Main Event

You can watch every session of the Chinese Grand Prix live on Sky Sports F1 and steam every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership - No contract, cancel anytime

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