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Norris worried fans will be turned off F1 by Verstappen’s ‘boring’ dominance
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Norris worried fans will be turned off F1 by Verstappen’s ‘boring’ dominance

McLaren’s Lando Norris warned that Max Verstappen’s dominance of Formula One is in danger of turning fans away from the sport after the Dutchman powered to another pole for the Chinese Grand Prix.

Verstappen took his fifth consecutive pole of the season in Shanghai where he was once more all but untouchable. That was in stark contrast to Lewis Hamilton, whose travails continued with the Briton managing only 18th on the grid – his worst qualifying position since he crashed out in Brazil in 2017.

Verstappen has won three consecutive world championships, the past two with ease. He already has three victories from four races this season (he was denied a probable win in Australia by a brake failure) and the margin he enjoyed in qualifying here was enormous. He beat his Red Bull teammate, Sergio Pérez, by three-tenths and was almost half a second clear of Fernando Alonso in third, to secure Red Bull’s 100th pole position.

After coming from fourth to win the sprint race on Saturday morning by 13 seconds from Hamilton, who was second and powerless against the world champion, Verstappen is in position to take an untroubled run to the flag on Sunday, in an inexorable march to a fourth title.

While Pérez is enjoying an improved season, he has not looked close to challenging his teammate. Norris, who qualified an impressive fourth, said Verstappen’s command of the sport would not be appealing to fans. “We are seeing more dominance than ever, so it is never going to be the best to watch and the only exciting races have been the ones that Max is not in,” he said.

“If you see the same driver winning every single time without a fight then of course it does start to become boring and that is obvious. You have got one of the best drivers ever in Formula One, in one of the most dominant cars and it is a combination that is deadly.”

In Japan, the Mercedes principal, Toto Wolff, was blunt in acknowledging that the title was in effect Verstappen’s after only four meetings of a record 24-round season. It is an admission that will cause concern at F1 management, albeit one with which it is all but impossible to argue.

Hamilton endured a stark turnaround on Saturday after he had claimed second place in the sprint race. It was his “best result in a long time” but in qualifying he rued a mistake when he locked up at the hairpin.

With Mercedes still struggling to unlock the pace in their recalcitrant car, Hamilton said they were having to experiment with it and, as with the previous two seasons, it was proving no easy task. “Eighteenth is pretty bad,” he said. “When I was making setup changes, I was like: ‘the car can’t get any worse, surely’ and it did.”

While Verstappen looks set for another easy win, the driver with whom he enjoyed such a titanic battle for the title in 2021 appears only set to have his trying run of failing to finish in the top six this season continue on Sunday.

With no racing at Shanghai for five years because of the pandemic, the circuit has presented something of a journey into the unknown for the teams given they have not driven the 2022-regulation ground-effect cars here and that it was also a sprint weekend. However Red Bull had its measure with formidable form.

On the decisive runs in Q3, Verstappen was on top in the final two sectors, setting the pace with a 1minute 33.977second lap but there was more to come. He soon went three-tenths quicker with a 1min 33.660sec lap.

In the morning’s sprint race, Hamilton had made a cracking start to beat the pole-sitter, Norris, off the line to take the lead, with Verstappen starting from fourth.

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Max Verstappen celebrates after finishing in pole position for Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.View image in fullscreen

There was a brief consideration that the British driver might hold the place but normal service was resumed as the Red Bull found its true pace and Verstappen overcame issues with the battery charging of his hybrid system.

With the power unit firing, by lap nine he was on Hamilton’s tail. Hamilton could do nothing to prevent a pass and with his pace a second a lap quicker it was an ominous indicator for Sunday’s race. Pérez was third, Charles Leclerc fourth for Ferrari and Norris in sixth.

After four rounds Verstappen leads the drivers’ championship by 15 points from Pérez, while Red Bull lead Ferrari by 26 points in the constructors’ table.

In qualifying, Oscar Piastri was fifth for McLaren. Carlos Sainz spun at the final corner in Q2 and hit the barriers but he was able to return to the pits and continue, finishing in seventh, while Leclerc was sixth.

Russell was in eighth, Nico Hülkenberg in ninth for Haas and Valtteri Bottas in 10th for Sauber. Lance Stroll was 11th for Aston Martin, Daniel Ricciardo 12th for RB, Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly 13th and 15th for Alpine, with Alex Albon 14th for Williams. Zhou Guanyu was 16th for Sauber, Kevin Magnussen 17th for Haas, Yuki Tsunoda 19th for RB and Logan Sargeant20th for Williams.

Source: theguardian.com