Verstappen holds off Norris to win Spanish Grand Prix

Max Verstappen sealed an assured victory in the Spanish Grand Prix as he held off the challenge of pole-sitter Lando Norris to take his seventh win of the season.

The Red Bull man first took the lead of the race on Lap 3 after the Mercedes of George Russell, starting fourth, made the most of his electric start as the lights went out to lead early on.

With Verstappen less than happy after appearing to be squeezed by Norris at the start, the three-time world champion settled down after getting past the McLaren man before pipping Russell for the lead with a move down the outside of Turn 1.

Pole-sitter Norris, who yesterday had been lauding his “perfect lap” in qualifying, would spend the crucial early stages of the race stuck behind Russell, costing him time in the eventual fight for the lead.

With the lead changing hands a number of times as drivers dipped in for their pit stops, Verstappen would continue to control the race and maintain his lead as the chequered flag closed in, the Red Bull man having kept a set of new softs aside for his final stint of the Grand Prix.

With Norris running second, his efforts to close in on the Dutchman to challenge for the victory were in vein despite Verstappen’s struggles towards the end, hindered by his second pit stop also being a slow 3.6-second effort.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton managed to secure his first Grand Prix podium of the season, having enjoyed a couple of dramatic on-track battles with the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz, while Russell would come home in P4 – complaining that his hard tyre “did not feel good” on his final stint.

The Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Sainz would come home in P5 and P6 respectively, with any hope of a Scuderia challenge failing to materialise around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

George Russell takes the lead heading into turn one.

Pierre Gasly took a well-deserved ninth for Alpine, with his team mate Esteban Ocon making it a double points affair for the team thanks to his P10 result.

Sergio Perez managed to undo some of the damage caused by his three-place grid penalty picked up last time in Canada, with the Red Bull man initially starting from 11th, by making a late overtake on Gasly for eighth.

The Haas of Nico Hulkenberg would take 11th, hindered by a five-second penalty for speeding in the pit lane, with Fernando Alonso’s performance only good enough for 12th in what has been a difficult weekend for Aston Martin.

Kick Sauber’s Zhou Guanyu would come home in 13th ahead of Alonso’s team mate Stroll, while Daniel Ricciardo took P15 as RB were left scratching their heads after a difficult weekend where they introduced a major new update.

That difficulty was compounded with Yuki Tsunoda in 19th – on a day where there were no yellow flags or retirements – while Bottas, Magnussen and Albon would finish 16th, 17th and 18th respectively. The Williams of Logan Sargeant was the final car to finish in 20th place.

With Verstappen overjoyed by his latest triumph in Spain, his third in a row at this event, Norris was left to bemoan a missed opportunity, admitting over the radio at the end that he had messed up his start.

Much of the Spanish Grand Prix weekend had been billed as a battle between the top four teams – Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes – for victory, and qualifying proved just how close it was at the top as Norris sealed a spectacular pole position for Sunday’s race.

Verstappen passes Russell to move into first.

The McLaren man’s second career pole, the last coming at the Sochi Autodrom in 2021, was just two-hundredths faster than Verstappen’s P2 effort, while Mercedes had again showed encouraging signs of performance with Hamilton in P3 and Russell in P4. The Ferraris, just behind in P5 and P6, were also keen on making inroads in the race despite Leclerc and Sainz left disappointed by how far they were from pole.

As the paddock reassembled on Sunday after that exhilarating qualifying session, one big question to answer was what the weather was doing. With rain forecast overnight, and rain earlier in the day, the conditions had dried up well before the lights went out at 1500 local time.

Before the action got under way there was one small alteration to the starting grid with Williams and Alex Albon opting to change power unit elements on his car following qualifying – where he’d ended up P19 – leading to a start from the pit lane.

When the tyre blankets came off, it was revealed that all bar one driver had opted to start on the red-marked soft tyre – the aforementioned Albon being the exception. At the front, Verstappen opted to begin on used softs despite having a fresh set available, while Norris and Ferrari went for the fresh soft rubber. The Mercedes pair both began on used.

It was then time for the action to get going, with the Mercedes of Russell immediately joining the party as the lights went out. With Norris getting a good start and attempting to squeeze Verstappen alongside him, the Mercedes man powered through around the outside and launched himself into the lead of the race.

Norris’s move left Verstappen far from happy, with the Red Bull man protesting “I got pushed onto the grass” down the radio, but the stewards took no further action after initially reviewing the incident.

Russell’s team mate Hamilton didn’t have the best start, initially losing out to Leclerc, but he managed to regain his spot to slot into fourth in the order. The Aston Martin of Alonso meanwhile, starting 11th, dropped back after he was seemingly tagged from behind and was forced to take to the escape road at Turn 1, leaving him down in 14th.

However, despite Russell’s mega start, his lead of the race wouldn’t last long as Verstappen powered past on the outside of Turn 1 on the third lap courtesy of having DRS and the tow.

Russell is hunted down by Norris.

Behind them, home favourite Sainz would also make a move on his team mate Leclerc at the same turn, the two Ferraris appearing to touch as the Spaniard was also forced to use the escape road. However, he made his move up to P5 stick and – while the stewards had a quick look at if he had left the track and gained an advantage – no further investigation was deemed necessary.

As the race entered Lap 13 Race Control had noted the Haas of Magnussen for a potential false start, with a five-second penalty soon coming his way, as Verstappen very nearly had a big moment at Turn 7 – but the Red Bull man managed to prevent any disaster.

The first flurry of pit stops then got under way, the Red Bull of Perez one notable stopper on Lap 13 as the Mexican attempted to undo damage from his three-place grid penalty picked up in Canada. The Alpine of Pierre Gasly, however, had a less than ideal stop lasting 6.7 seconds thanks to a sticky rear tyre, as he dropped behind his team mate and ruined much of the good work he had done in the early stages of the race.

At the front of the order, Russell would make his own first trip to the pits on Lap 15, managing to stay ahead of the similarly stopping Sainz despite being hindered by a slow stop of 5.3 seconds. There were no such issues for Verstappen as he pulled in on Lap 17, only stationary for 1.9 seconds as Norris assumed the lead of the race.

As the Grand Prix ticked into Lap 18, Hamilton was soon in an almighty battle with Sainz for sixth position. With DRS aiding him, the Mercedes man made his move going into Turn 1 of the next lap with the pair dramatically touching. “He touched me and ran me off!” exclaimed Sainz over the radio. “He needs to let me by.”

Despite the protestations from the Ferrari driver, no further investigation was warranted over their clash.

With Norris making his own stop from the lead on Lap 24, and the majority of the field now on mediums, the race soon approached its halfway point with Verstappen leading Russell, Norris, Hamilton and Sainz as the top five – the McLaren racer having made a move on Hamilton on Lap 32.

Leclerc, in sixth, appeared disgruntled as he questioned his team’s strategy, asking why they were on Plan A, as his race engineer tried to pacify the Ferrari racer.

Pierre Gasly brought home more valuable points in P9 ahead of teammate Esteban Ocon.

With the drivers embarking on their 34th tour of the track, Verstappen was looking confident, building up a lead of more than eight seconds to second-placed Russell. Norris was laser-focused on chasing down the Mercedes driver and embarked on an almighty battle from Turn 3 to Turn 7 of Lap 35 with his fellow Brit.

Norris managed to make his move stick following the back and forth as he made second his own, while Hamilton was now right on the tail of his team mate before Russell dove into the pits for the second time – hards subsequently going onto his W15.

As the race ticked into Lap 41, Verstappen’s lead had shrunk slightly to 5.9s as Norris attempted to eat into the advantage with Red Bull yet to call in their man for his second stop. With his new softs still in the bank they wouldn’t want to blink too early.

Russell on the hard tyre complained down the radio about sliding around, lamenting that his tyres did “not feel good” – with Hamilton promptly pitting shortly afterwards to put on softs.

Verstappen then followed suit into the pit lane with his new soft tyres, deliberately held back for this moment, slotted onto his RB20 with Norris – staying out and now in the lead – immediately told by his race engineer Will Joseph “this is our chance now” in his bid for Spanish Grand Prix victory.

With 20 laps remaining, Hamilton was all over Sainz in the battle for sixth place, eventually getting it done once again into Turn 1, before Norris was ordered to box on the following lap. However, the McLaren man’s stop of 3.6 seconds meant he lost valuable time as Verstappen reassumed control of the race, while Norris would just stay ahead of Russell to keep hold of second.

Lower down the order, 11th-placed Hulkenberg’s hopes of breaking into the points-paying positions suffered a blow as he was handed a five-second penalty for speeding in the pit lane – the Alpines of Gasly and Ocon currently holding onto ninth and 10th as the team’s hopes for another double points finish continued to grow.

Verstappen celebrates a third consecutive win in Barcelona.

Tsunoda, running in a lowly last place, was also hit with a five-second penalty of his own for the same offence as Hulkenberg.

With the race entering its closing stages, Verstappen was being forced to push hard as Norris – the bit between his teeth – gradually nibbled away at a lead that, on Lap 51 of 66, stood at 6.6s.

But despite the gap between the front two coming down, Norris was running out of laps if he was to secure his second Grand Prix success of his career. By the time Lap 65 came about the gap was down to just 2.3 seconds.

That margin was where it stayed as Verstappen held off the Norris challenge to secure his third successive victory at the track in Barcelona – and eight years on from his breakthrough win here in 2016.

Lower down the order there was also more success for Red Bull as the three-stopping Perez managed to execute a late pass on Gasly at Turn 1 to take eighth place, with every point likely to prove crucial in the constructors’ battle.

Despite winning Driver of the Day, Norris was left evidently demoralised as he crossed the line, admitting over his radio that messing up the start had cost him a chance of victory today.

But the day belonged to Verstappen again as he enjoyed his 106th podium finish – tying him with no less than Alain Prost and Fernando Alonso for fourth on the all-time list.

There’s no time to rest as the next stop on the 2024 F1 calendar will be the Austrian Grand Prix, with the paddock heading straight to the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg for the second race of this triple header.

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