September 23, 2023

Verstappen drives to Spanish GP victory as Mercedes completes the podium

Max Verstappen took a rare Grand Slam victory at the Spanish Grand Prix, leading every lap from pole and recording the fastest lap of the race en route to an impressive 24-second victory.

Verstappen’s victory was only briefly in doubt at the start of the race, when a strong launch by front row starter Carlos Sainz sent them running side-by-side into the braking zone in Turn 1. But the Dutchman had the inside line, forcing the Spaniard to give in and concede the place and consolidate second.

Verstappen was rarely spotted after that, building up enough buffer to comfortably hold onto the lead after his two pit stops and assert his authority throughout the race, extending his lead in the championship to 53 points.

“It’s a great pleasure to drive a car like this,” he said. “A win here, it’s incredible.

“We’ve had another strong weekend and that’s obviously what I like to see from myself and the team, and hopefully we can maintain that throughout the year.”

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Sainz hoped to finish second, but his Ferrari was no match for the resurgent, upgraded Mercedes car, with both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell charging up the field to complete the podium.

Hamilton started from fourth but was lucky to make it to the end of the first lap without a puncture after Lando Norris sniffed his left rear tire through turn 2. The McLaren car lost its front wing, but the Mercedes was able to chase after a podium finish.

Sainz pushed Verstappen hard into the first corner, with the resulting concertina ruining Norris’s day. Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images

Sainz tried to avoid the undercut by switching from soft to medium tires on lap 15, but Hamilton reported that his soft tires were holding up and extended his stint. The Brit went nine laps deeper into the race before making his first stop, rejoining 2.4 seconds behind the Ferrari. He needed just four laps to overtake and pass Sainz before galloping into a safe second place.

“What a result for our team,” said Hamilton. “We absolutely did not expect to have the result today.

“Thank you so much to everyone at the factory for continuing to push to get us a little bit closer to the Bulls.”

Sainz’s podium hopes quickly faded and it was the impressive Russell who would deprive him of a home podium.

Russell moved from twelfth to eighth on the first lap and drove even deeper than Hamilton before making his first stop. He entered the track from second, rejoined fifth and sped past Lance Stroll and Sainz in just 10 laps, passing the Ferrari with a big lunge into the first corner.

“Kudos to the team for giving me a great car today,” he said. “That was a really fun race for us.

“A sign of hope for us and the team.”

Sainz’s woes were not over, with Perez next breaking through from eleventh on the grid. The Mexican was in fifth after his last stop, which put him on a new set of soft tires against Sainz’s nine-lap old hard tyres.

The Ferrari driver didn’t stand a chance and with 13 laps to go he was stripped of fourth place by a movement in the DRS zone.

At least Sainz was able to get ahead of the Aston Martin drivers, with Lance Stroll enjoying a rare day as the leading teammate in sixth ahead of home favorite Fernando Alonso in seventh – although the Spaniard refused to let his superior late race pace use it to pass the Canadian in the closing laps.

Esteban Ocon kept his place at the head of the midfield ahead of Alpine in eighth, albeit two places back from his starting position after the recovery of Russell and Perez.

Yuki Tsunoda took the flag in ninth but was demoted to twelfth after serving a five-second penalty for forcing Zhou Guanyu off the track in the first corner.

Zhou had lined up a move around the outside of the corner late in the race, but felt he ran out of space and was jumped into the run-off zone, an incident viewed badly by the stewards. The penalty promoted Zhou to ninth and Pierre Gasly to tenth, the Frenchman scoring the final point of the Grand Prix after a successful late defense against Charles Leclerc’s limp recovery after a pit lane start following his puzzling non- competitive qualifying performance.

Oscar Piastri finished 13th, one lap ahead of Nyck de Vries and Nico Hulkenberg, whose impressive seventh on the grid was wiped out by appalling soft tire wear in his first stint.

Alex Albon was 16th ahead of the damage stricken Norris, Kevin Magnussen, Valtteri Bottas and American rookie Logan Sargeant.

Story originally appeared on Racer

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