Max Verstappen snatches championship lead off Charles Leclerc after Ferrari retires from F1 Spanish Grand Prix

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Max Verstappen moved into the lead of the Formula One world championship for the first time this season with victory at the Spanish Grand Prix as title rival Charles Leclerc retired.

What had begun as a captivating race with a first-lap collision, spins by both Verstappen and Carlos Sainz and Leclerc’s accident, eventually turned into a procession to the chequered flag for Verstappen’s fourth win in five races.

He now leads the championship by six points while Red Bull also overhauled Ferrariin the constructors’ standings with Sergio Perez coming home second.

The race also marked the revival of Mercedes with George Russell taking another podium and Lewis Hamilton producing comfortably the drive of the day to go from the back of the grid after a first-lap crash to fifth at the finish.

It could have been a place higher but he was warned over the radio against defending too hard against Carlos Sainz, who he had overtaken a few laps earlier, or else risk a DNF for a leakage issue.

Before the race, Hamilton had hoped to be able to take the fight to Ferrari. Despite conceding fourth to the delight of the packed grandstands at the Circuit de Catalunya on the last lap, he will still be buoyed by what might be possible in Monaco in a week’s time.

Leclerc will have a chance to make amends at his home race having dominated the weekend in Spain. He had topped the three practice sessions as well as qualifying but the big question mark for his team was tyre degradation with track temperatures approaching 50°C.

As it transpired, Ferrari never found out how the Pirelli tyres would respond to the hot conditions as Leclerc complained of a loss of power, letting out a dejected scream of “No! What happened?” over the race radio.

There had been no shortage of drama earlier at a race not usually the most scintillating on the calendar. The start highlighted the contrasting fortunes of the two Mercedes drivers this season. Russell got an excellent start to move up to third down the inside of turn one.

In contrast, Hamilton, the only driver on the grid to start on medium tyres rather than the softs, nearly made his way past the Ferrari of Sainz. But that duel compromised his position and he banged wheels with Kevin Magnussen going into turn four.

 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

Hamilton’s former teammate skidded into the gravel trap while the Brit had to limp back to the pits with a puncture.

Turn four proved pivotal in the early part of the race. First, Sainz lost his rear to spin out of the top 10 on lap seven. And two laps later Verstappen did exactly the same at the same corner, which allowed both Russell and Perez past.

Perez conceded track position to his teammate within a few laps but Russell was less accommodating with the Dutchman within a second of him for countless laps. His cause wasn’t help by an issue with DRS, which had been a problem earlier in the weekend.

He repeatedly lambasted race engineer Ginapiere Lambiase for being unable to activate it. He finally was able to use DRS and, in so doing, looked to have got past on lap 24. But Russell refused to cede and held his line to keep in front.

Verstappen eventually pitted and Perez, on fresher tyres, got past Russell into the lead on lap 31. Amid a flurry of pit stops across the grid, Verstappen eventually took the lead from Perez on lap 49 at the behest of the team. Perez was told simply that Verstappen was on a different strategy, his response “that’s very unfair”.

A race in which teams had been expected to employ just two pit stops ended with most opting for three. But amid all the comings and goings in the pitlane, the top three remained the one constant for the final laps with Verstappen winning from Perez and Russell.

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