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The Roar


'Welcome back': Reliving the last Chinese Grand Prix ahead of its much-anticipated return five years later

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Roar Guru
18th April, 2024

Five-years is a long time in motorsport, let alone the general state of the world – especially given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in recent times. So, it feels as if Formula One hasn’t had a Chinese Grand Prix for an age, rather than half a decade.

Formula One returns to China for the first time since 2019, and as a vastly different product to the one that raced the Shanghai International Circuit for the commemorative 1000th grand prix.

The boom in popularity, as witnessed through the pandemic years thanks to the impact of Netflix’s ‘Drive to Survive’, as well as the post-pandemic freedoms, has seen record crowds at many of F1’s races since 2021. That is all yet to be seen by an F1-starved audience in China.

There is also the ground-effect era of car, introduced in 2022 – with the low-profile spec of Pirelli tyre that is virgin to the Shanghai circuit. As too the Sprint format, introduced in 2021 and continued to be refined since, and will see its first outing this year in China.

In 2019, it was Mercedes still among the peak of their dominant dynasty who were the team to beat. Valtteri Bottas, after a commanding win in Melbourne to start the year and second place in Bahrain, was still leading the championship – albeit by a point over then five-time world champion and teammate Lewis Hamilton.

Mexican GP Lewis Hamilton Podium

(Clive Mason/Getty Images)

0.023 seconds split the teammates in qualifying with Bottas on pole position, though in the celebratory 1000th grand prix it was Hamilton who led from the first lap to the chequered flag. It was a hattrick of Mercedes one-two finishes as well to start the season, with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel a distant third.


Vettel’s new teammate, a fresh-faced Charles Leclerc, was just coming off the heartbreak of missing out on a potential maiden grand prix victory the race prior in Bahrain. The Monegasque was the subject of much hype, having been promoted to Ferrari in his sophomore season.

Red Bull, the now dominant force under the ground-effect regulations, were only just in their third race with Honda power – having made the switch in the off-season to the Japanese manufacturer. Reigning three-time world champion in the present day Max Verstappen, wasn’t a match for the Ferrari in China – with he and teammate Pierre Gasly rounding out the top six.

Intriguing it was, that twelve months prior it was now-former Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo who stood on the top step of the podium in China. The Aussie made the high-profile defection to Renault for 2019, passing on the opportunity that later eventuated for Red Bull and their ongoing success with Honda.

Race winner Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing

Daniel Ricciardo (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Finishing seventh in the race, Ricciardo was lapped by the imperious Hamilton demonstrating that Renault, despite their promise, were still very much a team not able to break through to the echelons of the top three. A reality that is still the case for Alpine.

2019 was special too in that it brought the famous trio of rookies in Lando Norris, George Russell and Alexander Albon; the top three from the F2 championship in the preceding season, all driving for teams at the lower end of the grid – despite Norris still being at McLaren today.

The Briton unfortunately succumbed to crash damage, sustained on the opening lap at Turn 4 with McLaren teammate Carlos Sainz and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat. Russell again beat Williams teammate Robert Kubica – who made a comeback to F1, but was sadly a shadow of his former highly-rated self.


Albon though, backed up his maiden F1 points in Bahrain with a tenth-place finish in China. Which as it turned out did no harm in the Thai driver’s auditioning for the senior Red Bull seat later in the season when the underperforming Gasly was unceremoniously demoted back to Toro Rosso. Ironic too that Albon initially wasn’t even slated for Formula One coming in 2019 and was instead gearing up for Formula E with Nissan.

While the 1000th grand prix for F1 in China was by no means a humdinger deserving of that milestone, what is clear is that Shanghai has been missed. Amid the street-circuit revolution that Formula One has been embracing, it almost feels taboo to feel excitement at returning to a ‘Tilke-drome’ – given the saturation of the calendar with the monotonous Hermann Tilke-designed circuits in the late 2000s and 2010s.

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Though with its history dating back to 2004, it seems the Shanghai circuit and the Chinese Grand Prix could’ve easily become a relic of the past, had it not been able to find its way onto an already bloated calendar. But thankfully, we get to say welcome back China.