Verstappen wins in China with Norris second

Formula 1
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Max Verstappen annihilated the competition to win the Chinese Grand Prix.

The Dutchman was in a league of his own again – even over his team-mate Sergio Perez – in a race punctuated by two mid-race safety cars in quick succession.

Safety cars broke up Red Bull’s cruise to a one-two finish, shuffling Perez behind McLaren’s Lando Norris and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

The Mexican soon picked off Leclerc but Norris drove an exceptional final stint to hold on to second ahead of Perez.

Verstappen underlined his superiority over everyone, including Perez, with a crushing first stint of the race.

The world champion converted his pole position into a lead at the first corner while Perez was passed around the outside by Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin, which started third.

It took Perez until lap five to pass Alonso, by which time Verstappen was five seconds up the road.

And over the eight laps before his pit stop, Verstappen lapped at least 0.5 seconds faster than Perez to extend his lead to 10 seconds by the time he stopped for tyres for the first time on lap 13, a gap large enough for Red Bull to pit both cars on the same lap without losing any time.

The next demonstration of Verstappen’s superiority came three laps later when he caught and passed Leclerc – he had made up a pit stop’s worth of race time over a man battling for the final podium place in just 16 laps.

After that, he calmly navigated the rest of the race, well clear of the rest of the field, to take his fourth win in five races this year – victorious in all the events he has finished.

Chiniese GP

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Safety-car drama and chaos

Perez looked to be cruising to a comfortable second place behind Verstappen, but the safety cars, which came in quick succession, changed the complexion of the race for the remaining podium places.

First, Valtteri Bottas pulled off with an engine failure at Turn 11 on lap 20, and there will be questions as to how long it took the race director to deploy first the virtual safety car and then the safety car with marshals on the track trying to remove the car.

Leclerc had dropped to eighth on the first lap after a jink to hold off an attack by team-mate Carlos Sainz at the first corner allowed Mercedes’ George Russell and Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg both past.

But as the first stint developed, and Leclerc found his tyres in good shape but his pace not special, Ferrari began to think about a one-stop strategy in an attempt to beat Norris, who was initially planning two.

The Bottas incident allowed first Leclerc and then Norris to pit and save time compared to Perez, leap-frogging them in front of the Red Bull.

And when a second safety car immediately followed the first because of two incidents on the restart on lap 27, Norris also switched to a one-stop, and the race came down to whether Perez could catch and pass both Leclerc and Norris to reclaim the one-two.

Leclerc succumbed relatively quickly, but Norris was more than able to match the Red Bull’s pace, and he held on to take an excellent second place ahead of Perez.

A late cameo from Alonso

Behind Leclerc, Sainz nursed older tyres to make it a Ferrari four-five ahead of Russell, while behind them Alonso provided some late entertainment.

Unusually, Aston Martin chose soft tyres for the veteran Spaniard when they stopped under the safety car, which meant another pit stop on lap 44, with 12 to go.

The stop dropped Alonso to 11th place, but he used his fresh medium tyres to carve through the field, passing Esteban Ocon’s Alpine, Hulkenberg, Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes and McLaren’s Oscar Piastri to take seventh.

In the course of it, he rescued a wild moment at the final corner while chasing Hamilton, dipping his right rear wheel onto the gravel in exactly the same way as Sainz had when crashing in qualifying on Saturday, but saving the huge slide with remarkable skills and reactions.

Piastri’s car had been damaged in a concertina effect at the hairpin at the first restart, when Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin cannoned into Daniel Ricciardo’s RB, which then rammed Piastri.

On the first restart lap, Haas driver Kevin Magnussen collided with Ricciardo’s team-mate Yuki Tsunoda and the two incidents led to the safety car being deployed again.

Magnussen and Stroll were both penalised 10 seconds for the incidents.

It was a low-key day for Hamilton, who spent the first part complaining about lacking pace, but with the help of the safety cars managed to haul himself up into the points in ninth, even if sixth and ninth amounted to another chastening day for Mercedes.

Chinese GP

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Chinese GP

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Chinese GP 2004

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