Montmeló (Spain) (AFP) – World champion Max Verstappen overcame a sequence of problems to lead his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez home and claim the lead in this year’s title race on a bad day for Ferrari in Sunday’s sizzling Spanish Grand Prix.
His victory in a crushing Red Bull one-two was the 24th of his career and third in succession this season as he came home ahead of his Mexican partner with George Russell confirming Mercedes’ revival by finishing third.
Charles Leclerc, who had led the championship and dominated practice, set off convincingly from pole position until he was forced to retire his Ferrari with an engine failure.
Beaten at the start, Verstappen was blown off the circuit and had technical problems, but he overcame them to produce a furious drive aided by his team-mate’s generosity for his second win at the Circuit de Catalunya, where he claimed his maiden victory as a teenager in 2016.
Carlos Sainz came home fourth in the second Ferrari ahead of seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, who produced an inspired drive in the second Mercedes after an opening lap collision, and Valtteri Bottas of Alfa Romeo.
Hamilton had to slow in the closing laps due to overheating problems, allowing home favourite Sainz to re-pass him to the delight of his home crowd.
Esteban Ocon was seventh for Alpine, ahead of Lando Norris of McLaren, two-time champion Fernando Alonso in the second Alpine and Yuki Tsunoda in his Alpha Tauri.
“At first I went off, as I had a lot of tail-wind,” said Verstappen.
“Then, I was in the train and tried to pass, but my DRS was not always working. But, we did our own race and eventually we won.”
Perez was satisfied, if also frustrated. “I’m happy for my first podium in Spain. It was close and I’m happy for the team, but we need to speak later.”
Russell said: “It was very tough today. I did all I could to hold Max off, but he did a great job.”
In front of a sell-out crowd of 121,670 spectators, the race began in hot conditions with an air temperature of 36 degrees and the track surface registering 49.
‘It’s okay, but unfair’
Leclerc made a near-perfect start to lead Verstappen into Turn One while, behind him, Sainz struggled with his anti-stall mechanism allowing both Russell and Perez to pass him.
Magnussen started well and climbed to seventh before attacking Hamilton on the outside of Turn Four where they clashed, the Dane going off into a gravel area after leaving Hamilton with a front left puncture.
In his damaged car, Hamilton, 19th, suggested he retired. “I would save this engine, guys, I’m sorry,” he said. Mercedes told him to continue.
At the front, Leclerc built a clear lead before, in succession, Sainz and Verstappen went into the Turn Four gravel, blamed on a gusty wind by Red Bull.
Russell and Verstappen pitted together after 13 laps but the Dutchman was struggling with intermittent DRS (Drag Reduction System) problems, as he had on Friday.
Unexpectedly, on lap 27, Leclerc slowed and pitted in anguish. “Oh no, no,” he cried, as he conceded the lead to Russell.
In the pits, Ferrari smothered him in sympathy as Russell led and Verstappen, on lap 29, pitted for softs.
Perez then showed his vim with a slick pass round Russell to take the lead, with 35 laps to go, and Verstappen launching his charge to swiftly regain third with a thrilling overtake of Bottas.
Hamilton was also fast, climbing to seventh, as the searing conditions took their toll before Russell pitted again on lap 37, followed by Perez. He remained quick before and after a final stop for softs rose to sixth with brilliant passes and fastest laps.
Ferrari confirmed a power unit failure had undone Leclerc’s race, a problem that also hit Guanyu Zhou’s Ferrari-engined Alfa Romeo. For the Italians, it was a worrying trend.
“It’s a hard race for us, but we must look at the positives,” said Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto, as Perez, obeying orders, conceded the lead to his team-mate on lap 50.
“Thanks, mate,” said Verstappen. “It’s ok, but unfair,” said the Mexican, gifting him the glory and the championship lead again.