Fire and Rain Cause Drama During First Day of F1 Chinese Grand Prix

marshals rush to put out the fire on the grass during the formula 1 chinese grand prix in shanghai, china photo by sam bloxhammotorsport imagessipa usa france out, uk outsipa via ap images
Fire and Rain Cause Drama First Day of Chinese GPMotorsport Images/Sipa USA/AP News

The start of the first Chinese Grand Prix in five years was met with fire, and it was met with rain. Friday consisted of the only free practice at Shanghai International Circuit, giving the drivers only a few laps to get adjusted before the first Sprint weekend of the year. In both Free Practice and Sprint Qualifying, grass fires were spotted just off-track due to sparks from the race cars.

This is a phenomenon new to F1 and so far unique to the track; the week has been a wet one in China, but the smallest sparks from the tracks are lighting up patches of grass like Christmas lights.


Similar to the drainage covers causing havoc in Las Vegas and Sakhir, this is marked as an unprecedented hazard.

There are a few rumors as to why this is happening, including that gasses are rising from the swamp beneath and being ignited by the sparks.

It’s also possible that the grass is treated with a heavy chemical in order to make it appear greener. These two theories were originally put forth by Jonathon Noble at Autosport.

With the teams being blindsided this weekend once already, learning that instead of a full repave, the track was only repainted, the second of these theories holds water.

The Free Practice fire brought out a red flag lasting around 20 minutes; ground crews were able to control the Qualifying fire quicker as they learned to adapt to the unfortunate situation.

The FIA is still investigating why the fires keep occurring.

“After a first review of the video footage, it seems like it is sparks coming from the cars igniting the fires in the grass run-off area," the FIA said, according to BBC F1 Correspondent Andrew Benson.

After the second fire was handled, the drama was far from over. The crowd erupted as the skies darkened and the hometime hero, Zhou Guanyu, snuck into the final qualifying round.

The teams transferred to their intermediate tires before the eight-minute final qualifying session, as the light sprinkle turned into a deluge of rain.

The chaos and drama of the session included Charles Leclerc driving his Ferrari into a wall, Max Verstappen outside of the three with his fourth-place time, and a lap deleted and reinstated for Lando Norris.

After rocketing to the top of final sprint qualifying, Lando Norris’ time was deleted for going off the track in the final corner. Hamilton’s final lap time of 1.59.201 was going to inherit the top spot when, in an abnormal turn, the stewards reinstated Norris's time of 1:57.940. The McLaren driver will lead the field for Saturday's Sprint.

With the rain falling through Friday evening, hopefully, the fires are a fleeting worry. The FIA will be working to control any continued havoc.

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