Formula 1: Max Verstappen wins his fifth race of 2023 in Barcelona

Mercedes appeared to close its gap to Red Bull as Lewis Hamilton and George Russell finished second and third

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JUNE 04: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB19 on track during the F1 Grand Prix of Spain at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on June 04, 2023 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)
Max Verstappen has five wins in seven Formula 1 races so far in 2023. (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)

Max Verstappen got another easy win in Sunday’s Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix.

Verstappen wasn’t challenged at any point past the race’s first corner after he started on pole. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz put in a valiant effort heading into Turn 1 on the opening lap, but Verstappen used his Red Bull to close off Sainz’s route on the outside and drove away from the field over the opening stint.

By the time Lewis Hamilton got to second place, Verstappen’s lead was nearly nine seconds before the first round of pit stops. Verstappen went on to finish 23 seconds ahead of Hamilton while Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate George Russell finished third.

The victory is Verstappen’s fifth of the season through the first seven races of 2023 and extends his lead over teammate Sergio Perez to 50 points. The size of the gap puts Verstappen on pace to post a bigger title-winning margin to a season ago when he won 15 of 23 races and beat Charles Leclerc by 146 points in the standings.

Has Mercedes closed the gap?

Yes, Hamilton was a long way back of Verstappen. But it was easy to glean some optimism if you’re a Mercedes fan about the way Sunday’s race played out. The team’s upgrades appeared to significantly close the pace gap to Verstappen’s Red Bull.

While Verstappen was obviously the race’s fastest driver, Hamilton and Russell were able to stay in closer touch once they got position at a track that seems much more suited to the Red Bull car type.

It’s a bit odd to say after a blowout, but the best-of-the-rest status that Mercedes obtained Sunday showed why the idea of Red Bull’s Verstappen and Perez winning every race this season is so improbable even without factoring in any potential reliability issues. If Mercedes’ pace on Sunday was real, Red Bull’s margin for error over the rest of the field appears to be less than it had been.

"They're still a bit ahead but we'll keep chasing them down," Hamilton said after the race.

Aston Martin’s lack of pace

Lance Stroll led the way for Aston Martin with a sixth-place finish as Fernando Alonso finished seventh for his worst result of the season.

Alonso finished third over the first three races of the season and entered Sunday’s race with a fourth-place finish in Azerbaijan as his worst result of the season. But he couldn’t sniff the front two rows during the final round of qualifying Saturday and the Aston Martins didn’t have nearly the speed to match Red Bull, Mercedes or Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari.

Aston Martin’s speed had been the early surprise of the season as Alonso is third in the points behind Verstappen and Perez. Alonso's margin in the standings is now down to 17 points over Hamilton in fourth ahead of potential upgrades to the Aston Martin cars ahead of the next race in Montreal on June 18.

Spanish Grand Prix results

1. Max Verstappen

2. Lewis Hamilton

3. George Russell

4. Sergio Perez

5. Carlos Sainz

6. Lance Stroll

7. Fernando Alonso

8. Esteban Ocon

9. Zhou Guanyu

10. Pierre Gasly

11. Charles Leclerc

12. Yuki Tsunoda

13. Oscar Piastri

14. Nyck DeVries

15. Nico Hulkenberg

16. Alex Albon

17. Lando Norris

18. Kevin Magnussen

19. Valtteri Bottas

20. Logan Sargeant