Max Verstappen outpaces revived Mercedes duo to win Spanish Grand Prix

Red Bull driver finishes 24 seconds clear of Lewis Hamilton in another dominant display

One swallow does not a summer make but there was an undeniable hint of birdsong that accompanied a Mercedes resurgence at the Spanish Grand Prix which will have made their hearts sing. If service remained all too familiar at the very front as Max Verstappen delivered another crushingly dominant pole to flag victory, behind him at least the pecking order has been revitalised. Lewis Hamilton and George Russell finally found themselves in a Mercedes that was genuinely to their liking.

With Hamilton in second and Russell third with a dashing comeback from 12th on the grid, this was their best finish of the season by a country mile and their first double podium of 2023. A result that had seemed all but unimaginable for the opening six meetings, where they had been outpaced not only by Red Bull but also by Aston Martin and Ferrari.

On occasion it has been difficult to conceive this was the fate of the once all-conquering Mercedes, eight times consecutive constructors’ champions, flailing outside the top three, the unstoppable force in an inconceivable position.

Hamilton and Russell spent last season fighting a recalcitrant, wilful car, that seemed set on bending them to its will. A Christine in Formula One form that rattled the teeth and jarred the back, all to little effect in race pace. When this season’s challenger emerged similarly off the pace there was a palpable sense of disappointment. Hamilton was blunt saying he could not wait for the car’s redesign to arrive and at the last round in Monaco it finally made an appearance.


On the streets of Monte Carlo, however, it was impossible to gauge its success or otherwise. The anticipation at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya weighed heavy in the air. It built inexorably over the weekend, Hamilton first playing down their chances, then he and Russell clashing with one another during qualifying due to a failure of communication from the team.

Tensions rose but on race day, what a release. In race pace the Mercedes was a revelation. Hamilton made it up to second with alacrity and Russell was superb in ducking and diving through the field until he took third, diving up the inside of Carlos Sainz at turn one. Hamilton described it as the best the car has felt since the last time they had a truly competitive ride in 2021.

They are wary of reading too much into it, too early and that it may to an extent be track specific. Last year they were similarly strong in Spain and that proved a false dawn but this feels more tangible and permanent. The grins on both drivers’ faces spoke volumes and it is at very least a huge boost for morale and a great step forward.

The team principal, Toto Wolff, had said the changes to their car’s design, announced after the season-opener in Bahrain, were essential for establishing a baseline from which they could move on. In Spain on a track where they know all the parameters from testing here so often they have not only a baseline but one with a distinct upward curvature to its profile that matches those grins.

There is a long way to go, however. Verstappen was immense and indeed now looks unstoppable. He was unchallenged in another crushing victory, a full 24 seconds clear of Hamilton after a race in which he had left the rest of the field behind within five laps. Describing his drive is almost unnecessary, he took off and was on rails. At one point even ignoring team exhortations to take it easy to avoid a track limit offence by banging out the fastest lap with ease and well within the track limits.

The win extends his lead in the world championship over his team-mate Sergio Pérez to 53 points, after the Mexican once more made an unforced error in qualifying and could manage only fourth. The world champion has now won five of the seven races this year and with Pérez’s challenge already falling away is romping to a third title, while Red Bull remain unbeaten in seven meetings.

This weekend Verstappen conceded that his Red Bull car potentially had the pace advantage to complete a clean sweep of 22 wins, a feat never before achieved in F1. He acknowledged it was unlikely but he is in rare form and the car is indeed so quick, as the performance here in Barcelona once more proved, that it is achievable. Indeed barring mechanical failures the weakest link appears by far to be only Pérez’s tendency toward costly error.

The gap to Red Bull then is immense, as Hamilton admitted, but Mercedes will take heart from potentially having begun the long journey back to chasing them down and that they hope will herald a full dawn chorus of competitiveness come next year.

Sainz was in fifth for Ferrari and Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso in sixth and seventh for Aston Martin. Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly were in eighth and 10th for Alpine and Guanyu Zhou ninth for Alfa Romeo. – Guardian