Spanish GP: Max Verstappen denies Lando Norris comeback charge for win as Lewis Hamilton makes podium return

23 June 2024, 08:20 | Updated: 24 June 2024, 06:05

Max Verstappen overcame the comeback challenge of a fast but frustrated Lando Norris to pull off an impressive Spanish GP win and stretch his F1 world championship lead.

Left to regret a poor start which dropped him from pole position to third place - in significant opening exchanges which saw Mercedes' George Russell stunningly surge into the lead from fourth - Norris attempted to get back ahead through strategy as McLaren delayed the timing of both his pit stops compared with Red Bull's Verstappen.

But, despite relentlessly catching Verstappen in the closing stages of the race, Norris ultimately ran out of laps and finished 2.2s behind at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya as the Red Bull driver hung on for his seventh win of an increasingly competitive season.

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Lewis Hamilton finally ended his wait for a first podium in 2024 with a fine drive of his own to third.

Although he dropped behind his fast-starting team-mate at the start, Hamilton overtook Russell after the second stops with an eye-catching around-the-outside move on the sister Mercedes into Turn One.

Russell, who struggled on his second set of tyres when he went on to the hard compound while others, including Hamilton, took to the softs, in the end just finished ahead of fifth-placed Charles Leclerc.

But fifth for Leclerc and sixth for Spain's Carlos Sainz, more than 20 seconds behind the front two, represented a disappointing result for Ferrari two weeks on from their point-less outing in Canada.

Sainz experienced a particularly frustrating home race.

Although he overtook Leclerc at the start of lap four - a move which angered the latter after the pair brushed wheels and triggered a post-race tit-for-tat - he, like Russell with Hamilton, was reeled back in by his soft-shod team-mate in the final stint as he struggled on the hard compound. With Leclerc far quicker on his softs, Sainz ceded his fifth position.

Sainz himself had been angered by an overtake by Hamilton, claiming the Mercedes driver - who is taking his seat for 2025 - forced him off track.

While the Mercedes and Ferrari pair finished close together on the road, the same could not be said for the respective pairings at Red Bull and McLaren.

Oscar Piastri was seventh in the second McLaren at the end of a disappointing weekend for the young Australian, with Sergio Perez's own tough Barcelona event only ending up with eighth from 11th on the grid after he adopted a three-stop strategy.

But there was much-needed cheer for Alpine whose unexpectedly strong showing around one of F1's most demanding circuits ended with a double-points finish of the season, with Pierre Gasly ninth and Esteban Ocon 10th.

In the Drivers' Championship at the conclusion of the first leg of the season's first triple-header, Verstappen has stretched his lead to a season-high 69 points with Norris now up to second for the first time in his career ahead of Leclerc.

How Norris lost the win within seconds of the start

It is often remarked in F1 that a race can only be lost - and not won - at the start and that is effectively how it transpired for Norris, who was left with regrets for the second race running.

Having produced a lap which he described as the best of his career to secure just the second pole position in qualifying, the Englishman's hard-won starting advantage was wiped out within seconds of the start lights going out.

Focusing on Verstappen on his inside, the McLaren squeezed the Red Bull towards the grass, but that only allowed a fast-starting and opportunistic Russell from fourth to get the slipstream on both of them on the long run down to the first corner and position his Mercedes on the outside heading towards Turn One.

Sweeping past the front-row starters in the braking zone, Russell seized the lead while Norris also dropped behind Verstappen.

Two laps later and, in what in itself proved a crucial moment of the race, Verstappen made quick work of seizing the lead for himself as he overtook Russell into the first turn at the start of lap three.

While Verstappen went to build an early gap, Norris was bottled up behind Russell for 12 laps and lost around four seconds to his Red Bull rival before the race leader made his first stop on lap 18.

The early lost ground made the McLaren pit wall's mind up to try and run longer than Red Bull - by six laps - at the first stops to try and ensure they would have a tyre advantage for the final stint of the race.

Norris rejoined in sixth place and, with fresher tyres and superior pace, he soon set about passing the cars who had pitted earlier ahead - with his battle with close friend Russell particularly entertaining and lasting several corners - and ultimately was four seconds behind Verstappen once more when the Dutchman pitted for a second time on lap 45, with the Red Bull taking on new softs.

Norris was in again himself three laps later for softs, but a slow 3.6-second service from the McLaren crew did not help his cause. He rejoined just ahead of an oncoming Russell in third, eight seconds behind Verstappen with 18 laps to go but with the tyre life advantage again.

That deficit was down to five seconds on lap 54, but it soon became clear that the rate of Norris' gains was not going to be quite sufficient to get on Verstappen's tail, with the Dutchman having ensured he had enough life left in his softs for the crucial final laps.

What the top three said

Max Verstappen, Red Bull - 1st:

"I think what made the race was the beginning. I took the lead and then had a buffer in that first stint and could eke out a gap.

"After that we had to drive defensively. Lando and McLaren were very quick. I think we did everything well. I am very happy to win here.

"It was about managing the tyres. They get very hot around here so you are sliding around quite a lot."

Lando Norris, McLaren - 2nd:

"I should have won. I got a bad start. As simple as that. The car was incredible today. We were for sure the quickest. I just lost it at the beginning.

"Disappointed but a lot of positives. One negative and that kind of ruined everything. I know that.

"Apart from that, a good amount of points and thanks to the team because the car is amazing."

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes - 3rd:

"It has been a good day, a solid weekend. I have to say a big thank you to the team as they have been training so hard.

"The strategy and the pitstops were really on point.

"Unfortunately I got a really bad start and lost ground to the Ferraris so it was a battle to get back.

"With a better start... I don't know if we could have held on to the guys ahead but I don't think we would have been as far behind."

F1's triple-header continues at the Austrian Grand Prix this coming week - with the Sprint format returning at the Red Bull Ring. Watch every session live on Sky Sports F1, with Sunday's big race at 2pm. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership - No contract, cancel anytime