Verstappen beats Hamilton for China Sprint win

Max Verstappen won the first F1 sprint of the year after passing Lewis Hamilton for the lead with 10 laps to go.

Hamilton snatched the lead from polesitter Land Norris at the start, getting the better launch to run side by side into the first turn.

The Mercedes driver had the inside line through the long, tightening right-hand bend. Norris attempted gamely to hold position, but grip from the slippery track abandoned him on the outside line. He understeered off the road and down to seventh, well out of victory contention.

Hamilton led Fernando Alonso from a surprisingly subdued Verstappen in third in the opening laps, with the Dutchman even briefly coming under attack from Carlos Sainz.

The reigning champion complained over radio that his battery was flat. Race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase instructed him to make some engine mode changes, after which his pace improved markedly.

On lap 7 he made an easy DRS pass on Alonso for second place down the long back straight, and by the following tour he was applying pressure to Hamilton, who locked up into the final-sector hairpin attempting to manage the gap.

The RB20 was all over the gearbox of the Mercedes on lap 9, and DRS on the back straight was more than enough to get him into the lead.

From top spot he gapped the field with embarrassing ease, putting two seconds in just one lap on his way to a dominant 13s victory in a 19-lap sprint.

“The first few laps were quite hectic,” Verstappen said. “They were pushing quite hard up front, and then of course I had Carlos behind with new tires.

“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 tires, so very pleased for that.”

Despite being no match for Verstappen and struggling for turn-in through the slow corners, Hamilton was slick in second to cement the place, his best sprint finish since the United States Grand Prix.

“That’s the best result I’ve had in a long time, so of course I’m super, super happy and grateful,” he said.

“We couldn’t fight the Red Bulls today, but this is a huge step and improvement.

“I’m excited for [the grand prix] tomorrow.”

By the time Verstappen hit the lead, Sergio Perez in the sister Red Bull Racing car was showing strong pace too, but the Mexican was bottled behind the punchy Sainz.

The Ferrari driver was happily benefitting from Alonso’s DRS to aid his defense, which brought Charles Leclerc from sixth into play for the final podium place.

If it had been a deliberate defensive strategy by Alonso, it bit him hard on lap 16 when Sainz lunged on the Aston Martin into Turn 6, getting the better exit on switchback to take the place.

Alonso followed him through the sweeping Turns 7 and 8 and attempted to slip back through on the brakes at Turn 9, but the move caused contact, putting both drivers wide and allowing Perez to seize third place and gap the squabbling pack.

“It was really difficult to get through Carlos, through Fernando,” he said. “We were fighting and obviously we all had high degradation following each other.”

Things got worse for Alonso, who picked up a front-right puncture from the melee and was forced to retire.

Sainz now had Leclerc to worry about, with the Monegasque hoping to capitalize on the clash to follow Perez up the road.

DRS helped Leclerc draw side by side with Sainz on the brakes into the Turn 14 hairpin, but the Spaniard was super aggressive in defense, carrying both cars past the apex and banging wheels to hold the place.

Leclerc was frustrated but undeterred, getting his teammate back through Turns 1 and 2 to seal fourth ahead of Sainz in fifth, but the Monegasque was angered by the friendly fire post race.

“He’s fighting me more than the others,” he lamented, calling for peace talks.

Norris was unable to recover from his poor start, finishing sixth ahead of McLaren teammate Oscar Piastri in seventh.

George Russell, the only driver to gamble on the soft compound rather than the medium, scored the final point for eighth, up from 11th.

Zhou Guanyu finished ninth ahead of Kevin Magnussen, who completed the top 10 as the leader of a long DRS train that neutralized the battle for the lower places.

Daniel Ricciardo was first in the queue ahead of Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Ocon, Lance Stroll, Pierre Gasly, Yuki Tsunoda and Alex Albon.

Logan Sargeant finished 18th ahead of Nico Hulkenberg at the back of the field after claiming he was pushed off track in a battle with Stroll at the start.

Story originally appeared on Racer