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Max Verstappen holds off Lando Norris to win Spanish GP and increase F1 lead

MONTMELÓ, Spain (AP) — Max Verstappen doesn’t need a dominant car to stay on course for a fourth straight Formula 1 title.

The Dutchman proved that on Sunday when he turned in a perfectly executed performance to fend off a hard-charging Lando Norris and win the Spanish Grand Prix.

“We should have won today," Norris said. "We had the quickest car.”

Mercedes and Norris' McLaren had both closed the gap with Verstappen's Red Bull in recent races, and Norris was gunning for a win after having edged Verstappen in qualifying to take pole position.

But the three-time champion muscled past Norris right off the starting grid, overtook early leader George Russell's Mercedes and then never looked back.

Verstappen was able to muster just enough pace over the final laps to cross first while Norris had to settle for second place.

Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes was third. It was the first podium of 2024 for the seven-time world champion, who is in his last season before joining Ferrari next season.

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.

“What made the race was the beginning, taking the lead on Lap 2 and eking out the gap a little bit," Verstappen said. "Lando and McLaren were very, very fast today. We drove an aggressive strategy but it played out at the end.”

Verstappen got his seventh win in 10 races this season and claimed his third straight victory at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalonia. It was also win No. 61 in his career.

Verstappen has 219 points. Norris moved into second place with 150, overtaking Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, has 148 points after finishing the race 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 aiming for a second victory. Norris rued what he considered another missed opportunity after he also came in second to Verstappen at the Canadian GP last round.

“I quite easily had the best car there,” Norris said. "I just didn’t do enough job off line. That one thing cost me everything.”

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

Verstappen was right behind Russell, however, and he soon 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 costly 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.

The jousting also favored Verstappen with the seconds added to his advantage proving crucial later on.

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.

Verstappen said he expects more tight races ahead, with the Austrian and British Grand Prix coming on consecutive weekends.

“We are struggling a little bit for that outright pace, and we didn’t have the best tire life today compared to Lando,” he said. “I can’t really say that we did something wrong in the race, but we just need to try and find more performance.”

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 after twice being passed by Hamilton.

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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Joseph Wilson, The Associated Press