Back in 2019, if I had told you that there wouldn’t be a Formula 1 race in China for five years, you might not have been totally surprised. F1’s always been a sport that will pick up and drop races if required based on demand and who is willing to pay the most, and races have come and gone, although rarely in such a short window as that.

But the reason for the lack of a race in Shanghai is one that hardly anyone realistically saw coming when watching the last event to be held there – the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world nine months later.

As the epicenter of the outbreak China was the first race of the 2020 season to be canceled before the shambolic handling of the Australian Grand Prix eventually led to that year’s racing being paused until July.

It has taken a full five years for the next edition of the Chinese Grand Prix to come around, and with it a Sprint weekend that means teams get just one practice session on a track they haven’t visited in half a decade. And in that time, the sport has changed massively.

Liberty Media had only taken over Formula 1 two years earlier and the sport was going through a major period of transition back in 2019, with so many opportunities being identified but some being more successful than others.

There had been fragrances(!), a new logo, and a bunch of extra cameras and microphones in the paddock that led to Drive to Survive hitting the screens for the very first time just a few weeks before the last Chinese Grand Prix.

That year’s calendar had races in Germany, France and Russia that have since fallen off the schedule, and the year started with Charlie Whiting still holding the position of race director prior to his untimely death in Melbourne. The sport was still coming to terms with that loss by the third round, with Michael Masi having taken over the position and many of Whiting’s responsibilities.

China was celebrated as the 1000th race in the world championship (main image), and the gap has been so big (and calendar expansion so large) that the paddock returns to Shanghai for what will be the 1106th this time around. A lot has happened in between.

The last Chinese Grand Prix weekend kicked off with a pair of 90-minute practice sessions on the Friday (each since cut down to 60) and ended up being won by Lewis Hamilton, with what was his 75th victory. He’s gone on to add 28 more to that tally – that number alone would be good enough for ninth on the all-time list – but his current total of 103 hasn’t been added to in more than two years.

While Hamilton was taking win number 75 five years ago, Verstappen had just five to his name and was limited to fourth place on his last visit to Shanghai. Fifty-two more have followed since then, moving him behind only Hamilton and Michael Schumacher – who, incidentally, took his 91st and final grand prix victory in China – in the all-time standings.

Meanwhile, that 2019 race was just the third start for the likes of George Russell, Lando Norris and Alex Albon, while the grid also featured since-retired-or-replaced Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, Robert Kubica, Romain Grosjean, Daniil Kvyat and Antonio Giovinazzi.

In the intervening years, Nicholas Latifi, Nikita Mazepin, Mick Schumacher and Nyck de Vries have all seen F1 spells come and go, while Fernando Alonso has even returned from retirement, moved teams and extended his contract beyond his 45th birthday (with a team that will be powered by Honda of all manufacturers – try explaining that one five years ago).

Four of the teams those drivers were racing for and against were under different guises, too, with Racing Point competing against Toro Rosso, Renault and Alfa Romeo, while Williams was still headed up by the Williams family and far from being taken over by Dorilton Capital.

Only Mercedes and Red Bull had their current team principals in place, with Ferrari since swapping Mattia Binotto for Fred Vasseur; McLaren replacing Andreas Seidl with Andrea Stella; and Racing Point evolving into Aston Martin and bringing in Mike Krack for Otmar Szafnauer.

At Alfa Romeo, the Sauber-run team has become Stake and is now led by Seidl after Vasseur’s departure (even if Alessandro Alunni Bravi is team representative); Toro Rosso is now known as RB and headed up by Laurent Mekies instead of Franz Tost; Haas recently replaced Guenther Steiner with Ayao Komatsu; and Claire Williams handed over control of Williams, which later replaced Jost Capito with James Vowles.

But the most managerial changes have taken place at Enstone, with Renault becoming Alpine and going through Cyril Abiteboul, Davide Brivio, Szafnauer and now Bruno Famin in charge of a team that has slipped from finishing fifth in the championship that year to currently sit bottom of the standings.

In overall control, Chase Carey was CEO and executive chairman of F1 back in 2019, but has since been replaced by Stefano Domenicali, although not before Carey helped to navigate the choppy waters of the pandemic that led to some major changes.

Since that last visit to Shanghai, the cost cap is now firmly in place, meaning teams are more financially stable and the bigger outfits less able to spend their way out of trouble. Radical new regulations have brought back ground effect to try and make it easier to follow another car more closely, and Sprint events devised and implemented (and revised, quite a few times…).

With changes across so many fronts, it feels much more revolution rather than evolution compared to five years ago. And nowhere is that example made more clear than in the United States.

Since 2019 there has been the confirmation, preparation and execution of two spectacular new races in Miami and Las Vegas, while the existing United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas went from a crowd of 268,000 that year to 432,000 last season.

And amid it all, the epic 2021 season aside, we’ve still seen one team dominate and one of the sport’s greatest drivers rack up the wins.

But take all of that change and fast forward to 2029, and try to accurately predict what F1 will look like five years from now if it’s racing in Shanghai at that point, too.

Fingers crossed for no more pandemics, but maybe Alonso will still be going…