05/22 12:28 CDT Verstappen leads Red Bull 1-2 in Spain, Leclerc abandons
Verstappen leads Red Bull 1-2 in Spain, Leclerc abandons
By JOSEPH WILSON
MONTMEL0, Spain (AP) --- Nothing was going right for Max Verstappen at the
Spanish Grand Prix: the wind had blown his car off course, his Red Bull was
struggling, and top rival Charles Leclerc seemed headed for a sure victory.
His fortunes turned when Leclerc lost power and his Ferrari suddenly sputtered
to a near stop.
Then Verstappen's own Red Bull team intervened by ordering Sergio Prez to get
out of Verstappen's way. The reigning Formula One champion went from from
minimizing damage Sunday to winning the race and reclaiming the points lead.
"Not an easy start to the race, but we turned it around," Verstappen said after
his fourth win of the season, third consecutive.
Then the Dutchman thanked Prez, who might have won himself but settled for
second when Red Bull issued team orders.
"He is a great teammate," Verstappen said.
Prez took over the lead after Leclerc, who started from the pole and led the
first 27 laps, lost power. But with 17 laps remaining, Red Bull told him to get
out of Verstappen's way.
"It's unfair but OK," said Prez, who was denied the ability to race for his
third career F1 victory.
The stakes were too high for Red Bull and Verstappen, who trailed Leclerc by 19
points ahead of the race but now holds a six-point advantage in defense of his
first world championship. Prez, who registered the fastest lap in Sunday's
race, is third in the standings and 19 points behind Leclerc.
"I am happy for the team, but we need to speak later," Prez told his team by
radio after the 1-2 Red Bull finish.
Leclerc, meanwhile, had a terrific start and easily cleared Verstappen and
controlled the race until Lap 27.
"No! No! No! What happened?" he screamed on his radio.
Once out of his Ferrari, he said it was an engine failure.
"I lost engine power and had to stop," Leclerc said. "I don't know what the
problem is yet, but it hurts."
Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said the team is investigating.
"The car has performed well, its pace was good. We had this problem of
reliability that we will have to analyze and resolve, but the season is long
and we have a car that is very strong," Binotto said.
It closed a terrible day for Ferrari, which started first and third but Carlos
Sainz Jr. was gobbled up at the start and dropped to sixth before the first
turn. Seeking a victory in his home grand prix, Sainz later was blown off
course by the wind in the same spot as Verstappen but ultimately rallied to
Sainz was beaten by George Russell, who finished third for his second podium of
the season with Mercedes. Russell also had an impressive battles with Perez and
Verstappen and held the champion up as Verstappen tried to recover from his own
Mercedes had won the race the past five consecutive years with Lewis Hamilton,
and the seven-time champion finished fifth on Sunday. He'd fallen to the back
of the grid on the opening lap because of contact with Kevin Magnussen at the
start and Hamilton had to stop for new tires.
Mercedes has struggled through the first six races of the F1 season as its new
2022 car is still a work in progress. Russell, in his first season with
Mercedes, has finished higher than Hamilton in five of the six races.
"It was a very pleasing weekend with lots of positive signs, even though I'm
not yet ecstatic," said Mercedes head Toto Wolff. "With Lewis we had probably
the fastest race car of all. George put up a spectacular defense to Max, the
way he positioned the car was spot-on, the kind of racing we love to see, and
he managed the car well at the end to bring home another podium.
"We unlocked the potential of the car by tweaking things on the stops and so
today was the most valuable race for us to compare the two cars. Our
understanding took a big step forward and there's definitely more to come."
The circuit is notoriously difficult with limited passing zone and the
pole-sitter has won 23 of 32 times on the 4.6-kilometer (2.8-mile)
Barcelona-Catalunya circuit. If not for Leclerc's power failure, Verstappen
probably wouldn't have had a chance.
Valtteri Bottas finished sixth for Alfa Romeo, Esteban Ocon was seventh in his
Alpine and Lando Norris was eighth for McLaren, despite being seen vomiting
just before the start of the race.
Local favorite Fernando Alonso, who has struggled all season, recovered nicely
from a last-place start after Alpine changed his car's engine. He finished
ninth ahead of Yuki Tsunoda in his Alphatauri.
"From last to the points, I can't ask for anything more," Alonso said.
Next up: Leclerc's home race in Monaco.
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