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Formula 1 Chinese GP

F1 teams downplay risks of ‘sprint cars’ with new parc ferme rules

Formula 1 teams have downplayed the risk that special ‘sprint-only’ car set-ups can be deployed on double-race weekends, based on what they encountered in 2024’s Chinese Grand Prix.

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL38, Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL38, Zhou Guanyu, Kick Sauber C44, Valtteri Bottas, Kick Sauber C44, George Russell, Mercedes F1 W15, the remainder of the field

The Shanghai round was the first event where F1’s latest sprint format has been deployed –with the parc ferme restrictions on car adjustments relaxed between the two Saturday sessions.

This opened the possibility for teams to run very experimental set-ups in the shorter races – especially for cars starting outside the top 10 on the grid – but in practice, the competitors felt any changes they could make were more limited, even if they might be considered aggressively hopeful.

“We had a lot of those discussions coming into the event of [regarding] rear wing level setup [etc],” said Aston Martin performance director Tom McCullough. “But ultimately doing a 19-lap [sprint] stint is still hard and you can't really make two big a change compared to the main race.”

McCullough also suggested the sprint-to-GP changes F1 teams made in China were actually relatively bigger than the adjustments to be made elsewhere to improve in-race tyre wear for the longer contests.

This is because of the Shanghai track’s altered surface and the teams lacking data with the new ground-effect cars for that venue pre-weekend.

“It was maybe bigger here just because we've not been here for so long,” he added.

“The 2019 cars when we were last here had rear ride heights three times the rear ride heights we are running now and the stiffness of the car, everything's so different the tyres, the aero.

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR24

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR24

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

“We all simulated and prepared, [and] the track grip itself was maybe worse – more rear limiting than in the past which I think we kind of predicted just to have these tyres and how the generation of cars are working.

“[Aston] sort of walked where we thought, ‘you get one run [in FP1], bang you make some changes before sprint quali’.

“But after the sprint race really you learn the most in high fuel long running. A 30-odd-kg long run, you learn.

“And then we were like, ‘Right, what's going to happen when we put another 70kg of fuel in, which are the tyres we're gonna have to look after what do we need to do, bang, make some changes’.

“They weren't big changes, really. Everyone up and down the pit lane would have made [those] changes.”

The Shanghai weekend’s most dramatic set-up adjustment results turnaround came via Haas’s Nico Hulkenberg, whose sprint set-up “actually made the car worse”, per Haas team principal Ayao Komatsu.

Hulkenberg fell from starting 13th to finish last in the sprint before the American squad was able to go back to a proven arrangement and he scored a point in the GP.

Nico Hulkenberg, Haas VF-24

Nico Hulkenberg, Haas VF-24

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

McLaren team boss Andrea Stella reckons “this reopened parc ferme will certainly be used for tuning the balance of the car”, but added, “sometimes this could be large changes if you see you are significantly off”.

He continued: “The possibility to reopen parc ferme after the sprint has two implications. The first one is that the weekend is slightly more forgiving.

“Because if you got some ride heights wrong, or you see that the balance needs adjustments based on the tyre behaviour, for instance, you can do it.

“And this, at the same time, I think allows you to be slightly more aggressive in the first place in terms of what direction to take, or, for instance, in terms of ride heights, because you can compensate.

“And we actually from a purely engineering point of view found this interesting because we had the opportunity to see the balance in the sprint.

“Obviously, if there were some silver bullets, we would have deployed them already.

“So, we talked about not much more than some fine-tuning. But it's interesting from an engineering point of view that you can do it. This change for us is very welcome.”

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