Verstappen wins and returns to the top of the table; heartache for Ferrari

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Max Verstappen, winner Spanish GP 2022

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Max Verstappen celebrates at the Spanish GP 2022

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Spanish GP podium

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George Russell fends off Verstappen

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Verstappen takes the Spanish GP flag

Max Verstappen leads the Formula One world championship for the first time this season after victory in the Spanish Grand Prix.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc looked assured of an easy win, dominating the race from pole position until his engine let go with an unspecified problem on lap 27.

As such, Red Bull earned a one-two with Sergio Perez second, followed by George Russell who had another blistering race to finish third. Local hero Carlos Sainz was fourth, but only after Lewis Hamilton suffered a coolant leak that meant he had to slow in the final laps, allowing the Ferrari past. He ended up fifth.

Verstappen pace looking formidable

When he’s finished a race this year, Verstappen has won it. Despite not quite having the pace in qualifying yet again, the Dutchman made it count when it mattered to emerge six points ahead in the overall championship standings.

Not that he made it easy for himself. An uncharacteristic spin – in exactly the same place as Carlos Sainz – saw him drop behind Mercedes’s George Russell. A faulty DRS on the Red Bull meant he struggled to pass on the straights and had to resort to the undercut in the pits to get past the Briton.

But once Leclerc retired, and Perez was ordered to move aside, victory was only going to one man. It means that Verstappen now has four wins to Leclerc’s two, as well as three on the bounce – it’s a run of form that Ferrari will need to break.

Mercedes making gains

Although their pace is still behind the front two, the Mercedes pairing looked stronger in Spain. The team arrived with a raft of upgrades to the floor and looked better in Friday practice, suffering from less porpoising down the straights.

Unlike in Miami, that uptick in speed continued throughout the weekend as Russell showed by holding up Verstappen with a masterful defensive driving display during the race. If nothing else, that battle proved the future of the sport is in rude health, with talents like Russell and Leclerc able to take the fight to the 2021 world champion.

Hamilton was also upbeat after the race, telling reporters that his fightback from the back of the field (after he was hit by the Haas of Kevin Magnussen on the first lap) felt “better than a win”.

Looking ahead to Monaco

The crown jewel in the F1 calendar is this weekend and Ferrari should be on form there. The red cars looked strong all weekend in Spain’s slow and medium pace corners, and that sort of bend is hardly in short supply in Monaco. Plus, Leclerc carries home advantage. Can he break his Monaco bogey?

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