Verstappen aces first sprint race of F1 season after 'hectic' early laps in China

Hamilton says he had forgotten what it's like to lead after finishing second ahead of Perez

By Reuters

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(L-R) Red Bull Racing's Mexican driver Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen and Aston Martin's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso pose aat the Chinese Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit. - AFP
(L-R) Red Bull Racing's Mexican driver Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen and Aston Martin's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso pose aat the Chinese Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit. - AFP

Published: Sat 20 Apr 2024, 12:49 PM

Red Bull's triple world champion Max Verstappen won the first sprint race of the Formula One season at the Chinese Grand Prix on Saturday.

The 26-year-old Dutch ace beat Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton by 13.043 seconds in the 19-lap race at the Shanghai International Circuit to stretch his championship lead over team mate Sergio Perez, who finished third, to 15 points.


Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were fourth and fifth.

McLaren's Lando Norris started on pole position but slid wide on the opening lap as he battled with Hamilton and ended up sixth. Team mate Oscar Piastri was seventh and Mercedes' George Russell eighth for the final point.


Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen drives during the qualifying session for the Formula One Chinese Grand Prix. - AFP
Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen drives during the qualifying session for the Formula One Chinese Grand Prix. - AFP

Verstappen started fourth and struggled initially before passing Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso, who retired with a puncture and damage after a wheel-banging battle with Sainz, on lap seven and then Hamilton two laps later.

"The first few laps were quite hectic, they were pushing quite hard at the front and of course I had Carlos behind with new tyres so it was very difficult initially," said Verstappen.

"But then we became stronger and I felt a bit more comfortable with the balance of the car as well and I could look after my tyres so very pleased with that."

Seven-times world champion Hamilton said the team had made a huge step forward with their first top-three finish of the campaign.

"That's the best result I've had in a long time," said the 39-year-old Briton.

"I forgot what it felt like to be up ahead and it felt good for the short while that I had it, so I was grateful for the moment," Hamilton told a press conference.

"To be on the front row, I don't remember having had that view for a long time," he added. :(But) I found out a lot about the car through this short stint, from the race, so I'm excited for tomorrow."

Qualifying for the main race comes later on Saturday and Hamilton did not expect Mercedes to be battling for pole.

"We're still not as quick on a single lap as the Ferraris, Red Bulls," he said. "I think the McLarens are ahead of us for sure and possibly the Astons.

"I don't anticipate we will be fighting for the front row, but the fortunate thing is we can make some adjustments so hopefully I can improve the car in the next three hours and have a better qualifying session than we have had in the past."

'Pretty shocking'

Norris started on pole but dropped back after Hamilton got away quicker off the line.

"I maybe could have been one or two positions higher but that was it," said Norris. "The Mercedes had very good pace today. "Our race pace was pretty shocking today."

Red Bull's Perez said he took full advantage of a battle between Alonso and Sainz.

"Carlos and Fernando were fighting and obviously we all had high (tyre) degradation following each other and at some point I also had to defend from Charles," said the Mexican.

"I managed to get by Fernando and Carlos, they got a little bit too close, I saw the opportunity and I went for it, we finished really close to Lewis."

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Sainz and Leclerc then had another battle, the two Ferraris touching wheels as the Spaniard slid wide and the Monegasque driver went ahead.

Home hero Zhou Guanyu finished ninth for Sauber, who are still waiting for their first point of the season, with Kevin Magnussen 10th for Haas.


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