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Formula 1

Verstappen hangs on to win Spanish GP Norris 'should've won'

by Samarth Kanal
4 min read

Max Verstappen took a narrow victory over an ultimately deflated Lando Norris in the 2024 Spanish Grand Prix. The race was defined by McLaren’s choice of an offset strategy, which almost paid off.

Norris secured his first pole position in three years on Saturday and led the field away on new soft tyres, but his launch from pole was poor and while he attempted to keep Verstappen from getting by into Turn 1 it was George Russell who snatched the lead from fourth on the grid. Norris meanwhile fell behind Verstappen to third.

Meanwhile Charles Leclerc’s quick getaway was immediately halted as he had to brake hard to avoid Norris at the start, and he failed to make up any ground. Carlos Sainz soon passed his fellow Ferrari driver but left the track at Turn 1. He used the runoff road and rejoined the track behind the bollard - complying with the rules - and therefore escaped penalty. 

However, at the start of lap three, Verstappen used his hefty DRS advantage to snatch the lead off Russell and retain it after a very brief wheel-to-wheel skirmish through the opening turn. 

Verstappen built up an advantage of more than one second over Russell by the end of that lap and it seemed that the championship leader had another straightforward victory ahead of him - but McLaren’s choice of strategy would put that in doubt.

Red Bull and McLaren diverge on strategy

Of the lead group, Russell and Sainz were the first to pit from soft to mediums, on lap 16, with Hamilton following suit one lap later. Of that group, Sainz won out - managing to emerge between the Mercedes - but Hamilton soon passed him on lap 19 after the pair banged wheels.

Verstappen then pitted, covering the Mercedes and Sainz and emerging well ahead of that group, with a 1.9-second stop on lap 18. This did little to tempt Norris and Leclerc, who continued to lap on their starting soft compounds. Norris finally pitted on lap 24, emerging sixth, and Leclerc followed suit one lap later to emerge seventh.

Norris quickly gained on Sainz ahead and made easy work of the Spanish driver, then stalked Hamilton - but Russell proved harder work as they battled through the opening corners on lap 35. Norris passed the Mercedes at turn 3 before Russell retaliated around the following corner. Norris secured second place by switching back through the inside of turn 5 and outdragging Russell up the following hill.

Verstappen was nine seconds ahead of the McLaren driver, but Norris soon brought that deficit down to less than six seconds. 

Norris pits later to commit to the offset strategy

With his lead being carved into, and Norris threatening to enter undercut range, Verstappen took the chance to pit for softs on lap 45. Norris came in for softs three laps later and he stayed just ahead of Russell when leaving the pits. 

Norris now had eight seconds to claw back if he was to win the 2024 Spanish GP in a straight fight against Verstappen. The Dutchman was told that his rival Briton was churning through his soft tyres in an attempt to catch up - and Norris was quickly reeling in the deficit. 

With 10 laps remaining, Norris was 5.5 seconds behind the championship leader. That deficit soon became harder to hew but Norris got it down to 4.3 seconds with five laps left. On the final lap, the gap between Norris and Verstappen was just 2.5 seconds, and the Dutchman took his seventh win of the season by just 2.2 seconds. 

Verstappen’s quick start and a rapid first pitstop might have been the crucial factors for Red Bull today, as it didn’t show a clear pace advantage over McLaren in Spain. Norris took second with the fastest lap, but was deflated over the radio as he crossed the finish line - "I should've won, f***ed up the start."

Hamilton meanwhile secured the final podium spot having pitted for softs with 22 laps to go before passing Sainz and then his Mercedes team-mate Russell for third place. 

Russell took fourth with a final stint on hard tyres, while Leclerc settled for fifth, just four tenths behind the Mercedes, with a similar strategy to Norris - underlining Ferrari’s relative struggles this weekend. Sainz opted for hard tyres for his third stint and took sixth.

Double points for Alpine 

Alpine enjoyed a turn of pace in Spain with Pierre Gasly qualifying seventh and his team-mate Esteban Ocon eighth. The pair enjoyed similar soft-medium-hard strategies and finished ninth and 10th, respectively.

Gasly lost out to Red Bull’s Perez right at the end of the race but eighth place for Perez marks another poor weekend and he's added just two points to Red Bull’s total in Spain. 

Ocon’s 10th place was all but guaranteed well before the chequered flag as, even though Haas’s Nico Hulkenberg was gaining in the final stages, the German driver had a five-second penalty for speeding in the pitlane. 

Home hero Fernando Alonso was anonymous as he finished a lonely 12th ahead of Sauber’s Zhou Guanyu, while Lance Stroll capped a point-less weekend for Aston Martin in 14th.

Despite bringing a major upgrade package to Spain, RB finished without points as Daniel Ricciardo took 15th and Yuki Tsunoda 19th. Valtteri Bottas finished 16th ahead of Haas’s Kevin Magnussen, who copped a five-second penalty early on for a false start. 

Williams struggled for pace and balance in Spain with Alex Albon going off track on his way to 18th, and Logan Sargeant well off the field in last place.

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