Monday, May 27, 2024

Formula 1: Verstappen cruises to Spanish GP win ahead of Hamilton, extends championship lead

Defending World Drivers’ Champion Max Verstappen of Red Bull came up with a commanding performance to win the Spanish Grand Prix ahead of seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes teammate George Russell and extended his lead atop the standings.

Verstappen controlled the race from start to finish to chalk up his fifth win of the 2023 season, and his third triumph at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, while further increasing his lead in the championship standings. The Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Russell finished second and third respectively while Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez came fourth.

The 25 points that he bagged on Sunday helped Verstappen take his points tally to 170 in the Drivers’ Championship with Perez second with 117 points. Former Champion Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin is third with 99 points while Hamilton is fourth at 87 while Russell completes the top-five with 65 points.

While Red Bull had a superb day thanks to Verstappen, Mercedes enjoyed a much-improved display to take a double podium. Hamilton survived a first-lap clash with McLaren’s Lando Norris and overcome an early battle with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, while Russell worked his way up from 12th on the grid with a series of overtakes.

Perez put in a solid recovery drive – after starting 11th – to take fourth, just missing out on the final podium spot to Russell after a charging final stint, with Sainz completing the top five, having dropped away from the sharp end as the race developed.

Spaniard Fernando Alonso was unable to add another podium to his, and Aston Martin’s, tally with a quiet run to seventh on home soil, but alongside teammate Lance Stroll’s sixth place, the green machines nonetheless bagged a solid haul of points.

After his podium heroics in Monaco, Esteban Ocon had to settle for eighth position on Sunday, while a five-second time penalty given to Yuki Tsunoda – for forcing Zhou Guanyu off the track – meant the Alfa Romeo driver and the other Alpine of Pierre Gasly rounded out the points.

Charles Leclerc also gained a spot from Tsunoda’s sanction but was unable to secure a point after wholesale changes to his Ferrari post-qualifying – and his first Q1 exit since the 2019 Monaco Grand Prix – saw him start from the pit lane.

With Gasly dropping from fourth to 10th with two three-place penalties, and Leclerc starting from the pit lane after Ferrari changed the entire engine of his car, Verstappen made a strong getaway to cut in front of Sainz and then defend from the home hero into Turn 1, where Hamilton made a move on Norris before the pair banged wheels on the exit, forcing the latter into the pits for a new front wing.

Stroll took advantage of the drama to work his way up to third, with Hamilton slotting into fourth from Ocon, Alonso, the fast-starting Russell, whose trip along the Turn 1/2 escape road was noted by the stewards, Hulkenberg, Zhou and the recovering Perez.

Verstappen’s pace was rapid from the outset, immediately lapping more than half a second quicker than Sainz to surge into the distance, while teammate Perez continued his damage limitation exercise with passes on Hulkenberg and Zhou.

Mercedes were also on the move, with Russell jumping Alonso for P6, just before Hamilton cleared Stroll to return to the podium positions, as news came in from the stewards that Russell would face no further action for his Lap 1 off-track excursion.

Verstappen, Hamilton, Russell, Alonso, Perez and Gasly were the top six runners after things settled after the drama-filled start with the drivers yet to stop. With 19 out of 66 laps completed, Sainz headed the train of cars that had pitted and the wait goes on to see how the various strategies would converge.

With all drivers making a pit stop with concerns over rain approaching, Russell used DRS to pass Sainz on the run to Turn 1 and get his Mercedes into the podium positions, with teammate Hamilton eight seconds up the road and Verstappen 14 seconds further ahead.

As Verstappen headed onto Lap 41, via a wide moment at Turn 5, he was one of seven drivers to have stopped just once, along with Hamilton, Russell, Sainz, Perez, Alonso and Leclerc, with the rest of the field having made two visits to the pit lane.

Verstappen stretched out his second stint, before another wide moment at Turn 5 that led to another deleted lap time and meant he had no more warnings to use up.

On Lap 51, Hamilton and Perez both pitted for new tyres, with Hamilton returning to the track in second and Perez dropping behind Sainz and Perez, before leader Verstappen opted to do the same on the following tour – all three moving to softs.

As the race entered its final 10 laps, Verstappen was given a black-and-white flag for a third trip over the white lines at Turn 10, with his race engineer jumping on the radio to remind him that “no risks are required” given his lead over Hamilton.

But that was the only drama Verstappen faced before taking the chequered flag, ultimately finishing 24 seconds clear of Hamilton, with Russell eight seconds further back and managing to keep Perez at bay for the final place on the podium.

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