Victory for Max Verstappen at the 2023 Spanish Grand Prix was never in doubt, as the Dutchman held the lead off the line in Barcelona before jetting off into the distance and taking the chequered flag by 24 seconds from Lewis Hamilton in second.
The world champion took a dominant pole on Saturday in Spain and converted with ease come Sunday, coming under only momentary pressure at lights out from Carlos Sainz.
With his teammate Sergio Perez finishing fourth, Verstappen’s lead atop the driver standings is now 53 points as a third straight world title looks an inevitability.
“It’s a big pleasure to drive with a car like this. I think it showed again today,” Verstappen told Sky Sports F1.
“We had quite a lot of different strategies out there. For most of the race we were on the right one but a win here, it’s incredible.
“I had the harder compound so I knew the start would be a bit tricky. Going around the outside at Turn One is always quite difficult but luckily nothing happened.
“We had another strong weekend and that’s what I like to see from myself and the team, so hopefully we can keep that up throughout the year.”
Behind Verstappen, Hamilton made up for a disappointing Q3 lap to take second in a double Mercedes podium, as Russell produced the drive of the day from 12th through to third.
That result leapfrogged Mercedes ahead of Aston Martin into second in the constructors’ championship, but better than that, provided further evidence that their new and significant upgrade package is making the W14 better.
Perez briefly threatened to challenge Russell for the final podium spot but could only get within four seconds of the Mercedes and had to settle for fourth, suffering another huge setback in his hopes of landing a maiden world title.
Home hero Sainz got a great launch off the line, raising hopes he could snatch the early lead and perhaps give Verstappen something to worry about, but that was as good as it got for the Spaniard, who laboured to fifth.
It was a disappointing day for Ferrari, with Charles Leclerc starting from the pit lane and struggling to make inroads as he limped home outside the points in 11th.
Lance Stroll had more to cheer about in Spain, leading the Aston Martin charge in sixth, ahead of Fernando Alonso in seventh.
Esteban Ocon took eighth for Alpine, with Guanyu Zhou and Pierre Gasly completing the top 10.
Mercedes optimise points haul again
While unable to do anything about Verstappen up front, Mercedes once again finished a Grand Prix with the maximum points they could realistically have scored.
The team’s struggles in the era of ground-effect aerodynamics have been well documented, but they have been minimised by the consistent brilliance of Hamilton and Russell, who form arguably the best driver pairing on the grid.
At some races this season, they have been the fourth quickest team, yet leaving Barcelona, they sit second in the constructors’ championship, while Hamilton and Russell are fourth and fifth respectively in the driver standings, behind only the two Red Bulls and the Aston Martin of Alonso.
Even though Russell lined up 12th in Spain, he was able to quickly make up for his joint-worst qualifying result since joining the Brackley outfit at the start of 2022, picking up five places on the opening lap before passing Sainz for nett third on Lap 35.
He came under a little pressure from Perez in the closing stages but managed the gap with aplomb to hang on to his first podium of the season. It was a faultless recovery drive, further underlining the young Brit’s credentials as a future world championship contender when given the machinery to match his talent.
As for his teammate, despite early contact with Lando Norris which cost him a place to Stroll, Hamilton was equally impressive on a circuit that he has won around six times.
The seven-time world champion pulled off a risky but crucial move around the outside of Stroll on Lap 8 for third, before leaning on his tyre management skills to extend his opening stint on the softs by an extra 10 laps compared to Sainz.
That left him little under three seconds in arrears to the Spaniard when he emerged from the pits on Lap 25, and he made light work of his rival into Turn 1 just three laps later to take second, where he stayed for the rest of the race as Mercedes clinched a well deserved double podium.
Where next in the 2023 F1 season?
After back-to-back race weekends, there are two weeks to wait for the next GP on the 2023 Formula 1 calendar at the iconic Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve.
The Canadian Grand Prix takes place from June 16-18 as Verstappen looks to further extend his championship advantage, while the battle behind between Mercedes, Aston Martin and Ferrari resumes.