Max Verstappen fought back from an early spin to win the Spanish Grand Prix
With temperatures reaching 36C (97F) on a scorching afternoon at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, world champion Max Verstappen won a thrilling Spanish Grand Prix. His chief rival, Charles Leclerc, was forced to retire his Ferrari from his substantial race lead on Lap 27 due to a power unit issue.
Leclerc had been running away with the Grand Prix, more than 30 seconds ahead and looking at extending his points lead in the title race. Instead, he collected his first DNF this season.
Verstappen had already experienced his troubles as he recovered from a run through the gravel at Turn 4 on Lap 9, costing him a position to Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez.
The methodical Dutchman recovered his pace but spent 20 laps stuck behind George Russell’s Mercedes before he and his Red Bull team found a pathway back to the front.
Verstappen went to a three-tyre strategy and secured his 25th victory on Lap 49 when Red Bull ordered Perez to move over and let Verstappen pass for the lead.
The Dutchman took the checkers 17 seconds clear of Perez after the Mexican made an additional pit stop to secure the fastest race lap.
Verstappen’s victory gave him a six-point lead over Leclerc heading to this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.
Russell finished third, a further 10 seconds behind Perez for his second podium of the season for Mercedes. It extended his run of finishing fifth or above in the season’s first five races.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who recovered to fourth after a similar mistake at Turn 4 on Lap 7, dropped him from fifth place to 11th.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton took an outstanding fifth-place finish following a collision on the first lap with Kevin Magnussen that punctured his front left tyre and dropped him to the back of the field.
Hamilton might even have finished fourth had his Mercedes not limped home with a water leak on the power unit, forcing
Hamilton to give back the position to Sainz, having just taken it with a supreme move around the outside of Turn 1.
Valtteri Bottas took sixth for Alfa Romeo ahead of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and McLaren’s Lando Norris, who battled tonsillitis in 35 degrees Celsius ambient track temperature to finish a miraculous eighth. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) and Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) took ninth and tenth places.
After leading each practice session, Charles Leclerc looked set to ease to his third win of the season. He and the Ferrari were in blistering form all weekend. Ferrari had brought their first major upgrade of the season to Spain, and it delivered explicitly as expected. Leclerc just had to start in the first row.
It wouldn’t be easy for the Scuderia or Red Bull.
Neither Max Verstappen nor Sergio Perez was thrilled with how the RB18 felt in the searing Barcelona heat on Friday, particularly with low fuel runs.
Verstappen struggled to find the balance, but both one and four time world champions emerged as the strongest of all on full fuel. Hopes were they could find solutions to their qualifying pace overnight
The answers became clear in Q3. The Monegasque was out early but spun on his first run. Verstappen then nailed his run to be three-tenths ahead of Leclerc. The Monegasque went out again and regained focus, clocking fastest in the middle sector. He was up by three tenths; just as Verstappen radioed, he had lost power.
Later it was discovered to be a DRS failure. The Dutchman’s first Q3 lap was still good enough for second.
Sainz would start third, then Russell, Perez and Hamilton in sixth.
Leclerc boldly covered the inside line at the start while holding off Verstappen into the first corner. Russell leapt from fourth on the grid to third as Sainz’s Ferrari again lost traction, falling back from third to fifth.
Lewis Hamilton, running sixth, collected a puncture after Magnussen made contact with his Mercedes attempting to pass the Brit around the outside at Turn 4. Magnussen took to the gravel while Hamilton pitted and dropped to the back of the field.
Sainz was the next driver to end up in the gravel after losing control of his Ferrari on the entry to Turn 4 on Lap 7. He dropped to 11th.
Uncharacteristically, Verstappen was caught out at Turn 4 with a similar mistake two laps later, which his engineer explained was caused by a gust of wind. He dropped from second place to fourth, behind Perez and Russell as they battled for position.
It wasn’t Verstappen’s only problem. The non-opening DRS problem that prevented him from setting his final Q3 lap on Saturday afternoon had returned despite some repair work earlier on Sunday.
Nevertheless, by Lap 10, Verstappen had closed upon Perez. With a 10 second gap between Leclerc and Russell, Perez let the Dutchman through.
The world champion spent the next 18 excruciating laps unable to pass the Mercedes, held back by his DRS overtaking aid that rarely worked, but at the same time, Russell put in a superb defensive drive to hold the Red Bull back.
Meanwhile, Leclerc was sublimely untouchable. He pitted for tires on Lap 21, rejoined with a 5-second lead, and disappeared into the distance.
Six laps later, while running away from the field, it was suddenly over.
Leclerc cried into the radio: “Oh, no! An “unidentified PU issue” had failed while Leclerc quickly increased his lead to 12.6secs.
With Leclerc’s exit, it was now George Russell, not Verstappen, who inherited the lead. Red Bull instantly decided to switch strategy to get Verstappen past Russell, stopping the Dutchman on Lap 28 for a set of soft tyres.
That allowed him to run in clear air, and when he stopped again on Lap 44 for a final set of mediums, he emerged ahead of Russell, with only Perez ahead.
Red Bull told the Mexican not to hold Verstappen up, and the Dutchman was allowed into the lead a few laps later, a decision Perez said was “unfair”. He said: “I am happy for the team,” during his slowdown lap, “but we have to speak later.”
There were, however, unreserved smiles in the Mercedes camp. After a difficult start to the season with an “unresponsive” car, both Russell and Lewis Hamilton suddenly look like they could start making life difficult for Verstappen and Leclerc.
Mercedes believe now they have a car they can develop. Their porpoising problems are behind them, so they can now focus on unlocking the car’s potential.
“Can we fight for a world championship? We bet we can,” said Toto Wolff. “We’ve seen today that Ferrari didn’t score many points when they should have. We will push flat out to bring us back into the game.”
The hallowed Monaco Grand Prix is next, with its unforgiving barriers, sweltering track temperatures and nearly impossible passing opportunities. The team that takes the pole will command the pace, and now we have three teams that have the speed to dominate.