MONTMELÓ, Spain (AP) — Max Verstappen steered his Red Bull to victory at the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday to increase his lead in the Formula 1 drivers championship.

Verstappen started from second on the grid behind pole-sitter Lando Norris. But the three-time champion whipped past the McLaren driver by the first turn and then overtook George Russell on lap three of 66 and never looked back.

Norris tried to mount a late challenge but Verstappen upped the pace to cross first. Norris was second, followed by Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes in third.

Verstappen said that his moves to get past Norris and Russell so early proved crucial so he could build an advantage and keep the hard-charging Norris at bay.

“I think what made the difference in the race was the beginning,” Verstappen said. “I took the lead and had my buffer. After that we had to drive a defensive race.”

Verstappen got his seventh win in 10 races this season and claimed his third straight victory at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalonia.

Verstappen has 219 points. Norris moved into second place with 150, overtaking Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who fell into third place with 148 points after finishing fifth.

Norris put the blame on his poor start — when he lost two spots — for having to settle for second. The British driver got his first win at Miami in May and was gunning for a second victory.

“I should have won,” Norris said. “I got a bad straight, it is as simple as that.”

Hamilton’s third place was the first podium of the season for the seven-time world champion, who is in his last season for Mercedes before joining Ferrari next season.

Norris was beaten from the starting line by Verstappen and Russell, who whipped around both rivals from his start from fourth on the grid to take a surprise lead after the nearly 600-meter (yard) run to the first corner.

Verstappen was right behind Russell, however, and within two laps he swerved past him just after his team told him “(this) might be our best opportunity now.”

Once ahead, Verstappen managed his tires on the tough Barcelona track, and his Red Bull team pulled off two clean pit stops to avoid any mistakes.

Norris showed his great form by chasing down both Mercedes after a tire change. He got past Hamilton and then featured in a long duel with Russell midway through the race. Norris swerved past, Russell counterattacked to edge ahead, before Norris finally got in front.

But the jousting also favored Verstappen, who added to his lead.

Norris turned up the speed over the final 10 laps and was closing on the Dutchman, but he ran out of time and track. He crossed two seconds behind Verstappen.

Russell finished fourth, while it was a bad day for Leclerc and Carlos Sainz as neither Ferrari could contend with the front-runners. Sainz, the Spanish fan’s best hope for a win, finished sixth.

Norris’ McLaren partner Oscar Piastri was seventh. Sergio Pérez in the other Red Bull was eighth after his start from 11th place following a third-place grid penalty incurred in last round’s Canadian GP. Alpine pair Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon rounded out the top 10. Fernando Alonso was 12th in his Aston Martin.


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