By Jack Bantock, CNN
Max Verstappen took advantage of Charles Leclerc’s retirement to go top of the the drivers’ standings after the Dutchman’s third consecutive victory led Red Bull to a dream one-two at the Spanish Grand Prix.
As temperatures reached 36C (97F) on a scorching afternoon at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, reigning world champion Verstappen turned up the heat in the title fight to leapfrog Leclerc and go six points ahead of the Ferrari driver.
Having been instructed to let Red Bull teammate pass with 15 laps remaining, Checo Perez duly obliged, allowing Vertsappen to cruise home and triumph once again after successive victories at Imola and the inaugural Miami Grand Prix.
Mercedes’ George Russell finished third to round off the podium, the Englishman continuing an excellent personal season despite difficulties for his team.
As well as Red Bull taking a second one-two in three races, Perez also secured an extra point for fastest lap to provide the cherry on top of the cake after a near-perfect afternoon in Barcelona for the team.
With Leclerc racing away and Verstappen complaining of DRS (drag reduction system) issues over team radio, such a dream ending had initially seemed a long way off.
“That made it very tough,” Verstappen admitted to Sky Sports regarding his DRS struggles.
“But we managed to get ahead again and do our own race, and eventually win … It was a difficult beginning, but a good end.
“I tried to stay focused; of course, it’s not nice when stuff like that happens, but I’m very happy to win and very happy for Checo [Perez]. It was a great result for the team.”
‘It is a shame’
Verstappen’s 24th victory in F1 took the Dutchman to 110 points in the drivers’ rankings heading into the Monaco Grand Prix later this month, where Leclerc will be desperate to lick his wounds at his home race.
After posting a blistering final qualifying lap to start on pole, the Ferrari driver looked set to ease to his third win of the season before suffering a loss of power on lap 27, forcing the devastated 24-year-old to retire from a race for the first time this season.
“It is a shame. In those moments I feel like there is nothing more I can do apart from looking at the positives and there are plenty this weekend,” Leclerc said.
“We will look at this issue and we cannot afford for this to happen many times in the season so we need to find the problem.”
Ferrari’s woes were marginally offset when Carlos Sainz — roared on by a raucous Spanish crowd — reclaimed fourth place from Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton and Russell star
Though unable to extend his run of five straight Spanish Grand Prix victories, Hamilton impressed with a sensational recovery drive after a first-lap collision with Haas’ Kevin Magnusson had left the Briton with a mountain to climb.
Yet after a change of tires, the seven-time world champion flew through the field to reach fourth, Sainz’s late reclaiming of the place a disappointing end to an altogether excellent day for Mercedes.
A second podium of the season for Russell ensured the 24-year-old Briton extended his run of finishing fifth or above in the first five races of the campaign.
Russell has continued to excel during his first season with Mercedes, but despite some impressive wheel-to-wheel defending, could not hold off the Red Bull charge.
“Today was very tough. I gave everything I could do to hold Max [Verstappen] off but he did an amazing job,” Russell said.
“I am proud to be standing here … It hurt us a lot but when I had the Red Bulls in my mirrors all I was doing was everything to keep them behind.
“It is a lot of points on the board. Well done to Max.”
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