Verstappen takes championship lead with win in Spain after Leclerc retires

By Sports Desk May 22, 2022

Max Verstappen recovered from an early spin to win a dramatic Spanish Grand Prix and take the championship lead after Charles Leclerc retired.

Leclerc looked set to increase his advantage over Verstappen in searing heat at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, but the Ferrari driver's race was over when he lost power while leading comfortably on lap 23.

Verstappen had been in the gravel on lap nine and also suffered DRS issues, but the Dutchman led a Red Bull one-two for his third consecutive win to move above Leclerc in the driver standings after Sergio Perez let him through under team orders on lap 49 of 66.

George Russell finished third, with his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton worked his way back through the field to take fifth place behind Carlos Sainz despite suffering a puncture on the first lap.

Leclerc got a good start to retain his lead, but Hamilton's miserable start to the season was summed up when his he made contact with the Haas of Kevin Magnussen - who went into the gravel - at Turn 4 on the opening lap.

Hamilton limped to the pits with a front-left puncture and was told to continue after suggesting over the team radio that he retires from the race, having returned to the track in 19th place.

Sainz was back in 11th after spinning off at Turn 4 on lap seven and Verstappen was in the gravel at the same section of the circuit two laps later, dropping back from second to fourth.

Russell pitted from second place and Verstappen was also called in on lap 14, with Leclerc leading by over nine seconds.

Verstappen was furious as he was hampered by DRS issues attempting to pass Russell, who fended the Dutchman off to keep second place as they went wheel-to-wheel.

It was all going so well for Leclerc until he lost power with a win there for the taking and Perez soon passed Russell on fresher tyres to take the lead after Verstappen pitted for a new set of softs.

Verstappen was out in front on lap 38 after team-mate Perez and Russell pitted for mediums, then a quick stop for the defending champion put him back on track in third place behind his team-mate.

Perez allowed Verstappen to pass him under team orders and there were no further twists in a pulsating race, with a surging Hamilton passing Sainz to finish fourth until a late technical issue caused him to concede the place back.

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    The Aprilia rider suffered the injury during the final free practice session at the British MotoGP on Saturday and was stretchered away from the scene before hobbling to the medical tent.

    Espargaro returned for Saturday's qualifying session and secured sixth place, taking his place on the second row on Sunday following doubts over whether he would be fit to race.

    The 33-year-old was unable to compete for the win but secured a ninth-placed finish, picking up seven points and coming in just behind title rival Fabio Quartararo – who he trails by 22 points in the standings.

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    With Espargaro carrying an injury and Quartararo having to serve a long-lap penalty, Francesco Bagnaia took the victory at Silverstone for the second race in a row to boost his title hopes.

    The MotoGP season continues from August 19-21 in Austria.

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    Verstappen, having pitted, then completed an overtake of a defenceless Hamilton at the restart to clinch his maiden title.

    The controversy that followed rumbled on for months, with Masi departing his role prior to the start of the 2022 season, and Hamilton has now spoken about his feelings regarding the incident.

    "You see things start to unfold and my worst fears came alive," he told Vanity Fair.

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    It was the eighth time in the premier class that Zarco has failed to turn pole position into a victory, and he felt his tyres were the reason why he missed out again.

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    The championship standings do not paint a pretty picture for the Frenchman, but he believes further opportunities will arise.

    "I hope I will be in good form again in Austria, because what I could feel during this weekend and even during the race helped me to grow on the Ducati and get even more feeling as I want," he added.

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