The Malta Independent 21 May 2024, Tuesday
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Verstappen wins again - this time he takes first Formula 1 sprint race of the season

Associated Press Saturday, 20 April 2024, 06:58 Last update: about 1 month ago

Max Verstappen, continuing his dominance in Formula 1, took Saturday's first sprint race of the season — the prelude to the full-blown Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday.

Verstappen passed Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes on the ninth of 19 laps and stretched out his lead to win by 13 seconds ahead of Hamilton. Sergio Perez of Red Bull was third and Charles Leclerc of Ferrari was fourth.

“The first few laps were quite hectic," Verstappen said. “Once I got in the lead the car was handling pretty well.”

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It was his eighth victory in an F1 sprint.

Red Bull's Verstappen is the three-time defending F1 champion and is almost unbeatable in any format.

He now has 85 points to lead of the overall season standings. Perez is second with 70 followed by Leclerc with 64 and Carlos Sainz of Ferrari with 59.

Second place was like a consolation victory for Hamilton. The seven-time champion has not been a factor the last several seasons. His last GP win was in 2021 in Saudi Arabia in the second-last race of the season.

“I forgot what he felt like to be out ahead,” Hamilton said. “It felt good for the short while that I had it. I was grateful for the moment.”

Verstappen will be the favorite to win Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix, which is the fifth race of the season. Verstappen has won three of the first four GP races and 22 of the last 26.

Lando Norris of McLaren and Hamilton of Mercedes started on the front row with Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin and Verstappen on the second row.

The sprint — F1 will run six this season — is about one-third the distance of a full race. The winner gets eight points with seven for second, six for third and so forth.

Saturday's race was run on a dry track, unlike the wet and slippery qualifying session on Friday.

Verstappen likened the sprint qualifying on Friday to “driving on ice.” Verstappen was among several drivers who ran off the track in a chaotic, wet session exacerbated by the track, itself.

The track is the great unknown going into Sunday's race. This is the first Formula 1 race in China in five years. The circuit has had a thin “seal coating” applied, described as liquid asphalt. F1 tire supplier Pirelli said it was not fully aware of the changes heading into the race.

Two small grass fires broke out on at the edge of the track in Friday practice. The circuit was built on a marshy area, and a methane gas leak is suspected.

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