Max takes victory and the drivers’ championship lead at the Spanish GP
Max took victory in the Spanish Grand Prix, and the Drivers’ Championship lead, as Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc exited the race from the lead with a power unit problem. Sergio Pérez followed his teammate across the line to seal the Team’s second one-two finish of the season so far, as George Russell claimed third for Mercedes.
Verstappen, meanwhile, worked a three-stop strategy to pass teammate Sergio Pérez late in the race and take his fourth victory of 2022.
Max now leads the Drivers’ Championship standings with 110 points, six ahead of Leclerc. Checo now has 85 points, 11 clear of Russell. The Team has also taken the lead in the Constructors’ Championship and now has 195 points to Ferrari’s 169, with Mercedes third on 120.
Discussing his second win in a row, driver Max Verstappen said: “It’s great to finish the race today alongside Checo with a first and second place, it was a difficult beginning but a good end! I went off in turn four, I completely lost the rear and they said on Team radio that it was a big gust of wind.
“I lost a few positions through that and as soon as I wanted to attack, my DRS stopped working. It was upsetting at the time but then I calmed myself down and focussed on the bigger picture. It was a tough battle with George Russell, especially without the DRS, I didn’t want to take too much of a risk as we were fighting for the lead, I had to be patient. As for the DRS, I’m not sure why there’s an issue, we’ll look into it and at the end of the day nothing was lost.
“We are on a good trajectory and we can be proud of that as a Team, but as you can see, some things are fragile and we need to keep on working hard, we have to be on top of everything.”
When the lights went out at the start, Leclerc and Max both got away well. The Red Bull driver tried to draw alongside the Ferrari on the long drag to turn one, but the championship leader defended well and held the lead as they exited the corner.
Behind them, Carlos Sainz made a poor start and he was passed first by Mercedes’ George Russell and then by Checo as they hit the braking zone for the first corner. Further back, though, Kevin Magnussen attempted to pass Lewis Hamilton but the Dane tagged the Briton’s Mercedes and the Haas bounced off track into the gravel traps. He was able to continue at the back of the field but Hamilton suffered a puncture and was forced back to the pits.
As the opening stint began to unfold, Leclerc began to carve out a slim gap and on lap five he was 1.2 seconds clear of the Dutchman with Russell two seconds adrift of the Red Bull driver, with Checo a further second back and Sainz holding P5 ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas.
On lap seven, though, Sainz made a mistake into turn four, losing grip and spinning into the gravel trap. He managed to make his way back on track but he dropped to P11. And then, on lap nine, the same fate befell Max. The World Champion turned in but lost grip as he was hit by a strong tailwind and he slid off into the gravel, losing positions to Russell and Checo.
After Checo had twice attempted to get past Russell but failed as the Mercedes driver defended robustly, he ceded third place to Max on lap 11 and the Dutchman quickly began to put pressure on the Briton.
At the end of lap 13, Russell and Max headed towards the pit lane and both took on medium tyres, though Max made the marginally quicker switch, a couple of tenths faster than Russell. Bottas pitted at the end of the next tour and that promoted Russell and Max back to third and fourth respectively.
Max’s pursuit of the Mercedes was hampered, however, by an intermittently failing DRS. At the end of lap 15 the wing opened on the run to turn 10 but when he needed it most, on the pit straight at the start of the following lap, the system failed and he didn’t get the boost required to pass the Mercedes.
Checo pitted at the end of lap 17 and after taking medium tyres he re-joined in fourth place ahead of Bottas, Ocon, Sainz, Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel, who had yet to pit, the McLaren of Lando Norris and AlphaTauri Yuki Tsunoda.
Leclerc pitted for medium tyres at the end of lap 21 and he re-joined with a six-second cushion to Russell and Max. At the start of the next lap Checo was fourth, four seconds adrift of his teammate with Bottas in fifth place, 10.6s behind the second Red Bull. Ocon held sixth ahead of Sainz, with Norris eighth ahead of Tsundoa and Alpine’s Fernando Alonso who had climbed to 10th after starting from the back of the grid.
On lap 24, Max, with his DRS working, attacked Russell again and he got past the Mercedes on the inside into turn one. But Russell hung on around the outside and managed to emerge in P2 again. Max tried to attack again on the following lap but once again his DRS failed to open.
Checo was now closing in on both and on lap 26 he began to pressure the Team to be allowed to pass Max to attack the Mercedes.
But the complexion of the race changed completely on lap 27 when Leclerc suddenly slowed dramatically. “No! What happened? Lost power!” Leclerc could be heard saying over the radio. The Ferrari driver immediately headed to the pits lane and was forced to retire.
The battle between Max and Russell was now for the lead but then Max pitted for a set of used soft tyres. He resumed in fourth place behind Bottas as Checo began to close on Russell. On lap 31 the Mexican made his move. Aided by DRS on the pit straight, he feinted right, sparking Russell to defend, and then effortlessly powered around the outside of the Mercedes to take the race lead.
Checo quickly moved into a 2.5s lead over Russell. Max passed Bottas on lap 32 with a brave move around the outside of turn 12 to take P3 and the Dutchman now sat 12.5s behind the lead Mercedes.
Lapping almost two seconds faster than Russell, Max rapidly closed in and on lap 36 he closed right up to the Mercedes, who chose to avoid the confrontation by pitting the British driver for more medium tyres. Checo then made his second stop for medium tyres at the end of lap 37 and Max jumped into the race lead.
Max made his final stop at the end of lap 44. He took on medium tyres and re-joined in P2 behind Checo who once again led the Spanish Grand Prix. The Dutchman quickly began to reel in his team-mate and on lap 49, Checo moved across in turn four to let the World Champion retake a lead he held until the chequered flag.
Discussing his race, driver Sergio Perez said: “It’s a great result, we are leading the Constructors Championship so, although I obviously want to win, I have to be realistic and I am happy with the Team result.
“My frustration on the radio was in the heat of the moment but I need to speak with the Team to understand a few bits from the race. Sometimes when you are driving you can’t get the full picture, so it is a normal thing to debrief things to understand the race.
“The Team momentum couldn’t be any better here, it is a great Team and we are very united. It wasn’t about Team orders today, what really changed my race was going onto different tyre strategies and that worked better for Max and, at the end of the day, the Team because we managed to both get past George.
“I could have won today but making the two-stop work was difficult and it turned out that the three-stop was the better strategy. I think we had a very strong race today, the race pace and management from us was great today and it was important not to make mistakes. Hopefully we continue this momentum on to Monaco and are strong next weekend too.”
Checo crossed the line 13 seconds behind the new championship leader to make sure of the Red Bull one-two and the Mexican also nabbed the point for fastest lap thanks to a late-race switch to soft tyres.
Mercedes' final laps were nervous, however. A suspected water leak on the power units of both its cars meant they had to coast to the line. Russell took his second podium finish of the season in third, while Hamilton, who had earlier passed Sainz for fourth, was forced to give the place back to the Ferrari driver on the final lap. Hamilton was left with fifth place ahead of Bottas, Ocon, Norris, Alonso and the final point on offer went to Tsunoda.
Commenting on the team’s second 1-2 of the season, Team Principal Christian Horner said: “It is fantastic for the Team to bring home our second 1-2 finish in three races, which was hugely important for us in the fight for both Championships.
“Both drivers got great starts and things were settling down quite nicely, but a massive gust of wind sent Max into a slide and that dropped him down to fourth. We already knew he had a DRS issue, so at that point we decided to convert him to a three-stop strategy and give him tyre advantage over Leclerc and Russell – but we were still undecided whether a two or three stop was the better choice at that stage.
“With Checo on a two-stop strategy it meant both drivers were working as a Team and covering the opposition. To get maximum points today was our aim, it was hugely important for us as a Team and I’m glad we were all able to work together to achieve that.”
There is now a quick turnaround as the paddock heads straight to Monaco Grand Prix.