Max Verstappen wins in Spain as Charles Leclerc loses engine, F1 points lead

F1 Grand Prix of Spain
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MONTMELO, Spain — Nothing was going right for Max Verstappen at the Spanish Grand Prix: The wind had blown his car off course, his Red Bull was struggling, and top rival Charles Leclerc seemed headed for a sure victory.

His fortunes turned when Leclerc lost power, and his Ferrari suddenly sputtered to a near stop.

Then Verstappen’s own Red Bull team intervened by ordering Sergio Pérez to get out of Verstappen’s way. The reigning Formula One champion went from minimizing damage Sunday to winning the race and reclaiming the points lead.

“Not an easy start to the race, but we turned it around,” Verstappen said after his fourth win of the season, third consecutive.

Then the Dutchman thanked Pérez, who might have won himself but settled for second when Red Bull issued team orders.

“He is a great teammate,” Verstappen said.

Pérez took over the lead after Leclerc, who started from the pole after pacing Friday practice and led the first 27 laps, lost power. But with 17 laps remaining, Red Bull told him to get out of Verstappen’s way.

“It’s unfair but OK,” said Pérez, who was denied the ability to race for his third career F1 victory.

The stakes were too high for Red Bull and Verstappen, who trailed Leclerc by 19 points ahead of the race but now holds a six-point advantage in defense of his first world championship. Pérez, who registered the fastest lap in Sunday’s race, is third in the standings and 19 points behind Leclerc.

“I am happy for the team, but we need to speak later,” Pérez told his team by radio after the 1-2 Red Bull finish.

Leclerc, meanwhile, had a terrific start and easily cleared Verstappen to control the race until Lap 27.

“No! No! No! What happened?” he screamed on his radio.

Once out of his Ferrari, he said it was an engine failure.

“I lost engine power and had to stop,” Leclerc said. “I don’t know what the problem is yet, but it hurts.”

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said the team is investigating.

“The car has performed well, its pace was good. We had this problem of reliability that we will have to analyze and resolve, but the season is long and we have a car that is very strong,” Binotto said.

It closed a terrible day for Ferrari, which started first and third, but Carlos Sainz Jr. was gobbled up at the start and dropped to sixth before the first turn.

Seeking a victory in his home grand prix, Sainz later was blown off course by the wind in the same spot as Verstappen but ultimately rallied to finish fourth.

Sainz was beaten by George Russell, who finished third for his second podium of the season with Mercedes. Russell also had an impressive battle with Perez and Verstappen, holding up the champion as Verstappen tried to recover from his own spin.

Mercedes had won in Spain the past five years with Lewis Hamilton, and the seven-time champion finished fifth Sunday.

He’d fallen to the back of the grid on the opening lap because of contact with Kevin Magnussen at the start, and Hamilton had to stop for new tires.

Mercedes has struggled through the first six races of the F1 season as its new 2022 car is still a work in progress. Russell, in his first season with Mercedes, has finished higher than Hamilton in five of the six races.