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REPORT: Verstappen delivers when it matters to reign in Spain

Matt Clayton
Monday, 24 June 2024

Max Verstappen didn’t have the fastest car or track position in Barcelona, but aced the race to leapfrog McLaren’s Lando Norris and hold on to take a seventh win this season.

Sometimes, it’s the smallest details that make the biggest difference; that explains why McLaren’s Lando Norris, arguably armed with the fastest car and on pole, managed to lose Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix to Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing’s reigning Formula 1® world champion winning in Barcelona for the third year in succession.

Norris edged Verstappen to pole by 0.020secs on Saturday with what he felt was the best lap of his career, but that advantage was squandered within seconds of the lights going out for Sunday’s 66-lap race, Verstappen muscling past on the long run to the first corner.


While George Russell out-dragged both front-row starters to lead into the first turn and for the first two laps, Verstappen re-passed the Mercedes driver on lap three and controlled the race from there.

The small gains continued for Verstappen in the first pit stops, where a lighting 1.9sec service by his crew contrasted with a slower stop for Norris, with the left rear wheel of his McLaren stubbornly refusing to come off immediately. By the time both drivers had made their second stops, Verstappen had an eight-second lead with 18 laps left, but with Norris on tyres that were three laps younger.

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A crucial detail in Verstappen’s favour – he’d saved his one set of new soft tyres for the end of the race rather than use them at the start – was pivotal, and saw him have a margin of 2.219secs in hand at the chequered flag.

In another race where Verstappen and Norris were the class of the field – they’ve now occupied the top two places in five of the past six Grands Prix – the race was on for third, which Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) took for his first rostrum of his final season with the Silver Arrows.

For the second straight year, there were no safety cars, virtual safety cars, yellow flags or retirements in Spain, and 18 of the 20 drivers employed the same two-stop strategy.

Of the two who didn’t, Sergio Perez (Red Bull) made modest gains to eighth after starting 11th following a grid penalty, but finished nearly a minute behind race-winning teammate Verstappen.

Yuki Tsunoda went the other way, starting 17th and finishing 19th on a weekend where a much-vaunted upgrade package for RB fell flat, the team failing to score for the first time in five races.

Aussie watch

Oscar Piastri maintained sixth place in the drivers’ standings after finishing seventh in Spain, but the McLaren driver admitted he was keen to turn the page on the Barcelona weekend as quickly as possible after struggling from Saturday on, where he ran into the gravel in qualifying and started 10th, his worst qualifying result so far this year.

Using a two-stop strategy with long first and second stints allowed Piastri to attack in the closing stages, but he was only able to advance as far as seventh, finishing 33.760secs behind race-winner Verstappen and – tellingly – half a minute behind teammate Norris, who also set the fastest lap of the race.

After qualifying fifth and scoring points in Canada, Spain was quite the let-down for Daniel Ricciardo, after a significant upgrade package for the Australian and teammate Yuki Tsunoda fell flat with both cars eliminated in Q1 for the first time this season.

From an equal season-worst 18th on the grid (with Melbourne and Miami), the only way was up for Ricciardo, and he showed decent speed at times in a two-stop race that could have used a safety car to aid his strategy, finishing just 15th but coming home 24secs ahead of his teammate.

In FIA Formula 3® action in Barcelona, Christian Mansell’s strong recent run for ART Grand Prix continued, the 19-year taking his maiden pole position in the series and finishing second in the Sunday feature race to move up to seventh in the world championship standings.

Mansell took his breakthrough pole in an ultra-competitive qualifying session on Friday, the top four on the grid separated by just 0.056 seconds.

In the 100th race in the series’ history on Sunday over 25 laps, the Australian got the jump on fellow front-row starter Arvid Lindblad (Prema Racing) and burst away to a one-second advantage after one lap, but the British 16-year-old loomed large in his mirrors three laps later when he feinted a passing opportunity at Turn 1, and took the lead on lap five with a move at the same corner.

From there, Lindblad stretched his lead to as much as six seconds before slowing on the final lap as rain intensified in the final sector, taking the flag 4.4secs ahead of Mansell, who equalled his second-place feature finishes in Bahrain and Monaco this season.

Mansell, who was 11th from 12th on the grid in Saturday’s 21-lap reverse-grid sprint race, now has 58 points for the season to sit seventh overall. Italian Leonardo Fornaroli (Trident) took the lead of the championship with 84 points after securing third place in Spain on the final lap.

Compatriot Tommy Smith retained 24th place in the standings after a pointless weekend in Spain for Van Amersfoort Racing. The 22-year-old qualified 29th in the 30-car field on Friday, and advanced to 18th and 25th in the sprint and feature races respectively as the wait for his first points in the category continues.

Unsung hero

If Alpine keep scoring points with both cars, as they did again in Spain with Pierre Gasly (ninth) and Esteban Ocon (10th) after their double-points haul in Canada, they won’t be appearing in this category for much longer.

Alpine scored more points in Montreal (three) than they had in the eight previous rounds (two), but Barcelona was even better for the French team, with both drivers making Q3 for the first time this season. Gasly started seventh and Ocon ninth, the latter gaining a grid spot for Perez’s penalty.

Gasly was passed by Perez on the last lap to drop to ninth in the race, but seeing an Alpine scrapping with a Red Bull on merit that deep into a race was unthinkable for much of the season, a sign of progress that few would have seen coming. The result lifted Alpine above Haas in the constructors’ championship for seventh after Nico Hulkenberg (11th) and Kevin Magnussen (17th) failed to score.

Number to know

31: Of the 34 races held at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, 31 have been won from the front row of the grid.

Spanish Grand Prix: top 10

  1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing) 1hr 28mins 20.227secs
  2. Lando Norris (McLaren) +2.219secs
  3. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +17.790secs
  4. George Russell (Mercedes) +22.320secs
  5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +22.709secs
  6. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +31.028secs
  7. Oscar Piastri (McLaren) +33.760secs
  8. Sergio Perez (Red Bull Racing) +59.524secs
  9. Pierre Gasly (Alpine) +62.025secs
  10. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +71.889secs

Standings (top 5)

Drivers' championship

  1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing) 219 points
  2. Lando Norris (McLaren) 150
  3. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 148
  4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 116
  5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull Racing) 111

Constructors' championship

  1. Red Bull Racing (330 points)
  2. Ferrari (270)
  3. McLaren (237)
  4. Mercedes (151)
  5. Aston Martin (58)

Next race

Round 11: Austria, Red Bull Ring (June 28-30)