Motor racing - Verstappen questions wisdom of sprint race on China return for the first time since 2019

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands celebrates his win during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka, central Japan, Sunday, April 7, 2024. - AP

TOKYO, April 8 (Reuters): World champion Max Verstappen has questioned the wisdom of throwing Formula One drivers into a sprint weekend on their return to Shanghai International Circuit for the first time since 2019 later this month.

Verstappen restored normal service with a dominant pole to flag victory at the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday, leading team mate Sergio Perez home for yet another Red Bull 1-2.

Next up in two weeks is the return to China, where Formula One has been absent for five years as the country dealt with the threat of the COVID pandemic.

The Chinese Grand Prix will include the first of six sprint rounds this season, offering points for the drivers in Saturday's standalone 100km race, but only one free practice session to get used to the track.

"I think it's not great, let's say it like that, to do that," Verstappen told reporters after Sunday's race at Suzuka.

"Because when you have been away from a track for quite a while, I think you never know what you're going to experience, right? So it would have been better to have a normal race weekend there.

"Purely from a driving perspective, performance perspective of the sport, I think it's not the smartest thing to do. But yeah, we'll see what we get there."

With Verstappen and Red Bull showing again on Sunday that they are all but untouchable when the car is reliable, the Dutchman did concede that a Shanghai sprint lottery might make things more interesting for fans.

"It probably spices things up a bit more, and that's maybe what they would like to see," he added.

"I always loved driving there. So yeah, hopefully we can hit the ground running as well as we can, and hopefully we don't need to fine-tune too many things on the car."

Carlos Sainz showed with third place in Suzuka after a win in Australia two weeks ago that Ferrari are firmly established at the front of the chasing pack behind Red Bull.

The Spaniard was also cautious about the sprint element and said the matter had been raised in the drivers' briefing and with the governing FIA as well as Formula One.

"With these kind of cars to go to a track with one hour of practice and straight into qualifying, with the regulations that they put on us ... and how tricky one bump could make the car, I think it's not a good choice to put the sprint after four or five years absence," he said.

"Maybe for you guys at home it's exciting, but for engineers and drivers, it's something that for me, in my opinion, we shouldn't take the risk and have a normal weekend."

Sainz and Ferrari Team Principal Frederic Vasseur both suggested that any resurfacing work at the Hermann Tilke-designed circuit outside Shanghai would add another unknown into the equation.

"But it will be the same for everybody," Vasseur said. "It will be a matter of reactivity and being able to have a good setup from the beginning."

(Reporting by John Geddie, Writing by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford) - Reuters

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