MONTMELO, Spain (AP) — Max Verstappen had warned that his Red Bull team was good enough to win every single race of the Formula One season. On Sunday he took one more step toward that ambitious sweep by easing to victory at the Spanish Grand Prix.
The two-time defending champion started from pole position and never was challenged as he breezed to his fifth win of the year.
Verstappen beat Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari to the first corner and then eased his superior car around the 4.6-kilometer (2.8-mile) Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya to finish well ahead of Mercedes pair Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.
“It is a big pleasure to drive a car like this and it showed on a day like this,” Verstappen said. “Hopefully we can keep it up throughout the year.”
But Verstappen warned against complacency.
“We just have to focus on ourselves and try to keep on improving our car,” he said. “Of course right now it all looks great, but you can’t stand still in this world.”
His dominant race performance came after he secured pole position with intimidating ease on Saturday. Verstappen set an untouchable top lap time and then watched the rest of the pack scramble for the other spots on the grid from his garage.
The Dutchman had said before practice for the Barcelona race that while the Red Bull cars were fast and reliable enough to win every single race, he figured that “We will always have tracks where it doesn’t work out exactly, bad luck in qualifying, mistakes, whatever.”
Nothing went wrong, at least not for Verstappen, this weekend.
As expected given the pace of the Red Bull, the 66-lap race was largely decided in the 595-meter run from the starting line to Turn One.
Sainz tried to get the jump on Verstappen from the off by starting on a faster, although less durable, tire than the polesitter. Sainz was side-by-side with Verstappen after the long opening straightway going into the first turn, but the Red Bull fended off the Ferrari to stay in front.
His 40th career win, including his third in Barcelona, leaves Verstappen one win behind the late Ayrton Senna’s total of 41. He also seems well on course to matching Senna’s three world titles. Verstappen set a Red Bull record with 39 wins last weekend at Monaco, breaking Sebastian Vettel’s record of 38.
Red Bull’s other driver, Sergio Pérez, finished fourth after fighting his way up from 11th at the start. Pérez won the two races Verstappen didn’t win this year.
Verstappen grew his lead over Pérez to 53 points after he also grabbed an extra point for the fastest lap.
After seeing off Sainz, the biggest challenge that Verstappen faced was staying within the track lines: he was warned three times by race officials that he had driven out of bounds.
Sainz had to settle for fifth after being passed by the Mercedes cars and Pérez’s Red Bull.
Home favorite Fernando Alonso disappointed the legion of Spanish fans by finishing a season-worst seventh place, right behind teammate Lance Stroll.
Esteban Ocon was eighth in an Alpine ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu and Pierre Gasly in the other Alpine to round out the top 10.
As Verstappen sailed off into the distance, the competitive racing came for the other podium spots and the points positions of the top 10.
Mercedes got the better of Ferrari and Aston Martin with its new upgrade in the battle for a likely second-place finish in the constructors championship.
Hamilton, a six-time winner in Spain, got past Sainz early on and never let go of the runner-up spot.
Russell, meanwhile, produced the most impressive driving of the day by overtaking car after car to make up for his 12th-place start.
Russell also provided some humor when at one point he told his team radio that he thought rain was falling, only to realize that it was sweat inside his helmet.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was 11th after starting the race from the pitlane following a change to the rear of his car after a disastrous qualifying session left him 19th.
The season now heads to Canada in two weeks.
Hamilton is fourth in the standings, behind Alonso in third.
“The Bulls are still a bit ahead but we will keep chasing them down,” said an exuberant Hamilton, who saw Verstappen snatch the world title from him in the final race of the 2021 season.
“I think they are still a bit too quick at the moment. If we can close on them by the end of the year then that will be great. If not, then next year.”
The race attracted several celebrities including pop star Shakira, Paris Saint-Germain forwards Kylian Mbappé and Neymar, and tennis player Daniil Medvedev.
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sport
Copyright © 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.