China seems to be the place where Red Bull is not overwhelming

SHANGHAI-. He Chinese Grand Prix could bring a much-needed dose of drama to the season Formula 1. This means that the Dutch Red Bull Max Verstappen He does not necessarily start as the favorite for Sunday's race.

The three-time world champion has won 22 of the last 26 races and three of the first four this season. Only a brake failure in Australia took away his chance of winning the first four dates on the calendar.

“There is the potential to have a few variables and perhaps some unexpected results,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said on Friday. “I think there will be a lot of action.”

Here the reasons:

The track is somewhat unknown. This is the first F1 race in China in five years, after being removed from the calendar due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The most recent edition was in the hands of Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton in 2019.

It is also the first time this season that there will be a sprint race on Saturday, meaning Friday's practice session was the only one of the weekend. McLaren's Lando Norris won pole for Saturday's start after a rainy session in which the drivers had trouble controlling their cars.

But the biggest uncertainty is the condition of the racing surface, to which a small “coat of sealant” — described as liquid asphalt — was applied. Pilots have said time and time again that it looks like it has been painted. And tire supplier Pirelli indicated it was not fully aware of the changes ahead of the race.

Although it's difficult to draw any conclusions, Friday's practice session brought some of the usual names out of the top.

Lance Stroll, of Aston Martin, had the best time (1 minute, 36.302 seconds), followed by Oscar Piastri (McLaren). Verstappen and his teammate, the Mexican Sergio Pérez, finished in third and fourth position, respectively, followed by the two Haas drivers: Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen.

The first Chinese driver in F1, Zhou Guanyu, finished practice with the 11th fastest time aboard a Sauber.

Charles Leclerc hinted on Thursday that Ferrari was closing the gap on Red Bull.

That was not the case in Friday's practice. Leclerc and his teammate Carlos Sainz finished in 13th and 14th place.

“Everything we anticipated, in terms of uncertainty, is happening, and hopefully this means we will have an entertaining event here in China, with action and some opportunities,” said Ferrari director Andrea Stella.

He said the tire grip was reduced during the practice session, and the tires showed enormous wear due to the surface.

Horner is in no rush to make a decision

Horner was asked on Friday if Red Bull was any closer to confirming its drivers for next season. Verstappen, of course, has a long-term contract. The question revolved around Pérez, whose deal ends at the end of the season.

There are reports that insist on the possible arrival of Sainz. His place at Ferrari will be taken next year by Hamilton, who will leave Mercedes. According to various reports, the Spaniard is also in talks with Audi, which would take the reins of Sauber.

“We are in a situation where we are very happy with both of our drivers,” stated Horner. “We don’t need to make a final decision until very late in the year.”