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F1 Review: Max Verstappen Decisively Crushes Field for Spanish Grand Prix Win

Max Verstappen started from the pole and, in what has become routine fashion, methodically dispatched the field to win the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, beating Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton by over 24 seconds. Verstappen was briefly challenged at the start by Carlos Sainz, but pulled away and was never challenged. It was Verstappen’s fifth win of the year and third consecutive. Hamilton’s teammate George Russell joined him on the podium as Mercedes’ upgrades seemed to take hold on the 2.894-mile circuit. 

“We had another strong weekend, and that’s what I like to see from myself and the team, so hopefully, we can keep that up throughout the year,” Verstappen told Sky Sports with a straight face after the race.

Sergio Perez took fourth, Sainz was fifth, while the Aston Martin duo of Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso crossed the line sixth and seventh, respectively – as Stroll outpointed Alonso for the first time this year. Alpine’s Esteban Ocon finished eight, Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu was ninth, and Ocon’s teammate Pierre Gasly overcame two three-place grid penalties in qualifying to cash in at 10th (aided by a five-second penalty on Yuki Tsunoda for running Zhou offline in the first corner as the two battled for position).  

Verstappen now leads Perez 170 to 117 in the drivers standings, while Hamilton trimmed 12 points off Alonso’s lead for third, now 99 to 87. 

In the constructor standings, it’s an embarrassment of riches for Red Bull, who lead Mercedes 287 to 152. Aston Martin fell from second place and now trail Mercedes 152 to 134. 

The Race

Verstappen, starting on medium tires, controlled the start, fending off a challenge from Sainz, who was busy defending from Norris and Hamilton, even as the two Brits made contact, with Norris being the loser of the deal. Norris pitted on lap 2 for a new front wing and hard tires and fell to last place, a devastating development after a brilliant qualifying effort. 

Russell went off the track to avoid the Norris-Hamilton dust-up, and stewards investigated him for gaining positions but decided no action was necessary.

Stroll picked up a spot on the start, getting by Hamilton, while Alonso held his ground. Verstappen built his lead to two seconds by lap 4 and was decisively putting more distance between Sainz, who was on soft tires. 

Perez, who started 11th, was up to ninth by lap 6, and his hopes for a podium appeared fairly bright. He passed Zhou a few laps later and was quickly in DRS range of Alonso, who was struggling for the first time this season, and his run of consecutive podiums was in jeopardy.

Russell slipped by Alonso on lap 7, while Hamilton moved past Stroll on lap 8 for third place and began to eye Sainz two seconds ahead. Russell soon picked off Ocon on lap 11 for fifth, and the Mercedes recent upgrades seemed to be showing results on the track from both drivers. 

Verstappen smoothly built his lead to six seconds on Sainz by lap 13, and Ferrari radioed Sainz to pick up the pace, not to catch Verstappen, which was a lost cause, but to defend against the charging Mercedes, especially Hamilton, who was nearing DRS range.

Sainz was called in to box for medium tires on lap 16, and Sainz again questioned his team’s strategy. Sainz came out of the pits in ninth, ahead of Charles Leclerc, who soon pitted for soft tires after starting from the pit lane. 

On lap 25, the order was Verstappen, Hamilton, Russell, Perez, Sainz, Stroll, Ocon, Tsunoda, Alonso, and Zhou.

Hamilton pitted on lap 25 for medium tires and came out in fifth, almost three seconds behind Sainz. Russell came in a lap later for medium tires and returned in sixth, over two seconds behind Stroll.

On lap 27, the Red Bulls were running 1-2 but neither Verstappen nor Perez had pitted. Verstappen pitted for hard tires and maintained an eight-second lead over his teammate. Perez followed soon after for hards as well and returned in ninth, hot on the tail of Alonso, who continued to struggle. By lap 30, Perez took the position from Alonso.

Hamilton overtook Sainz for second on lap 27, while Russell registered the fastest lap, and Mercedes entertained hopeful thoughts of two cars on the podium.

Perez continued to charge, overtaking Tsunoda for seventh on lap 32, and two laps later he zipped past Ocon for sixth. Stroll pitted on lap 34, while Russell passed Sainz for third.

Perez was quickly eating into Sainz’s lead, on hard tires, no less, and maximum points wasn’t out of the question for Red Bull. Red Bull and Mercedes final pit stops were certain to be the deciding factor in determining the final two podium positions. 

Red Bull pitted Verstappen for soft tires on lap 53, knowing his lead over Hamilton was well in hand. Verstappen emerged with a comfortable 16-second gap over Hamilton and an easy victory in sight, barring mechanical disaster. 

Perez easily pipped Sainz for fourth and had 12 laps to catch Russell and his eight second lead.

With Verstappen and Hamilton holding comfortable leads in first and second, the biggest question now was Russell and Perez’s battle for the final podium spot. Perez trimmed the gap to five seconds with six laps remaining. Time was running out on Perez, and a Mercedes double-podium appeared to be an inevitability. 

The officials showed Verstappen a black and white flag for exceeding track limits at Turn 10 and with an 18-second lead, Christian Horner ordered Verstappen to take it easy.  

Perez made a challenge in his pursuit of Russell, but never made enough ground to unnerve Russell.

Verstappen crossed the line over 24 seconds ahead of Hamilton, as Red Bull remained undefeated in seven races. 

The Good

Mercedes and their upgrades made huge strides, and Hamilton and Russell gave Mercedes their first double podium of the season. Mercedes is now the clear favorite for second in the constructors standings. I hate to put a damper on their good spirits, but Mercedes’ efforts did not seem to close the gap at all to Red Bull. Rather, Mercedes only seemed to distance themselves further from Ferrari and Aston Martin. 

With more upgrades sure to follow, Mercedes can be satisfied they’re headed in the right direction. However, if the Silver Arrows are thinking more upgrades will allow them to actually catch Red Bull, they should downgrade those expectations. This year will not be theirs to challenge for Red Bull juggernaut.

Lance Stroll qualified fifth and finished sixth, beating teammate Alonso for the first time this season. It had to be satisfying for Stroll to beat Alonso at his home track. And Alonso didn’t even try to challenge Stroll for position late in the race, conceding the position to his deserving teammate. It was a case of both drivers being “favorite sons:” Alonso to the home fans, and Stroll to his daddy Lawrence, who, by the way, only has one son.

The Bad

Logan Sargeant is this close to losing his seat at Williams not long after being told to pick up the pace. With the pressure of that request from his team, Sargeant responded by finishing last and a lap down. Williams’ next request for their American driver? “Pack up your things.” 

Lando Norris wasted a third-place qualifying effort by running into Hamilton and damaging his front wing. Pitting for a new wing left him in last, and he finished 17th. Even before the start of the race, Norris’ McLaren team was frantically working on the rear of the car, which is never a good sign pre-race. Maybe Norris would have suffered a mechanical issue later in the race that spoiled his day, but making such an error on the first lap had to have him thinking “What if?” 

George Russell’s meteorological skills: Russell reported rain midway through the race, only to realize it was his sweat. If I’m not mistaken, that sweat would have been inside Russell’s visor. I would hate to think what the real issue is if Russell ever reported “high winds” on the track.  

The Disappointing

The race itself. Verstappen has single-handedly removed drama from the 2023 F1 season, especially when he starts from the pole. Granted, there was drama elsewhere in the field, but there was no drama concerning who would win the race. Verstappen seemed genuinely bored when Christian Horner congratulated him on his race win.  

Can Ferrari get their act together for just one race? Maybe? Possibly? Sainz started second but had no chance of staving off the improved Mercedes of Hamilton and Russell. And, is Sainz ever happy with his team’s strategy decisions? 

Meanwhile, Charles Leclerc made a valiant effort to score points after starting from the pit lane (after failing to advance out of Q1 on Saturday (June 3rd) and a pre-race gearbox change), but could only manage 11th. The biggest problem is Ferrari had trouble even identifying exactly what caused Leclerc’s disastrous qualifying issue. But let’s give Ferrari credit for the one thing they have no trouble finding—–ways to lose.   

With Spanish drivers Sainz (starting second) and Alonso (enjoying a run of six straight podium finishes), expectations had to be high for fans at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. But neither driver could produce a podium finish, but fifth and seventh had to be somewhat satisfying. So, instead of a party in the streets, Spanish fans had to resort to just partying.  

The Driver

Hamilton survived early contact with Norris and drove a brilliant strategic and aggressive race, albeit to finish a distant second to Verstappen. The result should give Hamilton, and Mercedes hope that they will one day be on equal footing with Red Bull. But considering how far Mercedes must go to reach that point, let’s amend “one day” to “one year.” 

And, we can consider the “Hamilton-to-Ferrari” rumors dead and expect Hamilton to sign a very lucrative contract extension with Mercedes very soon.   

But as in the race, Hamilton must take a backseat to Verstappen, who again dominated from start to finish and scored maximum points. Verstappen has already made the 2023 championship a “mere formality;” he’s doing the same with individual races. 

The Results

AWS Spanish Grand Prix, Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya (June 4th, 2023)

11Max VerstappenRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT661:27:57.94026
244Lewis HamiltonMERCEDES66+24.090s18
363George RussellMERCEDES66+32.389s15
411Sergio PerezRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT66+35.812s12
555Carlos SainzFERRARI66+45.698s10
618Lance StrollASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES66+63.320s8
714Fernando AlonsoASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES66+64.127s6
831Esteban OconALPINE RENAULT66+69.242s4
924Zhou GuanyuALFA ROMEO FERRARI66+71.878s2
1010Pierre GaslyALPINE RENAULT66+73.530s1
1116Charles LeclercFERRARI66+74.419s0
1222Yuki TsunodaALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT66+75.416s0
1381Oscar PiastriMCLAREN MERCEDES65+1 lap0
1421Nyck De VriesALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT65+1 lap0
1527Nico HulkenbergHAAS FERRARI65+1 lap0
1623Alexander AlbonWILLIAMS MERCEDES65+1 lap0
174Lando NorrisMCLAREN MERCEDES65+1 lap0
1820Kevin MagnussenHAAS FERRARI65+1 lap0
1977Valtteri BottasALFA ROMEO FERRARI65+1 lap0
202Logan SargeantWILLIAMS MERCEDES65+1 lap0

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