Verstappen wins first sprint race of F1 season


Red Bull's triple world champion Max Verstappen won the first sprint race of the Formula One season at the Chinese Grand Prix on Saturday.

The Dutch 26-year-old beat Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton by 13.043 seconds in the 19-lap race at the Shanghai International Circuit to stretch his championship lead over team mate Sergio Perez, who finished third, to 15 points.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were fourth and fifth.

McLaren's Lando Norris started on pole position but slid wide on the opening lap as he battled with Hamilton and ended up sixth. Team mate Oscar Piastri was seventh and Mercedes' George Russell eighth for the final point.

Verstappen started fourth and struggled initially before passing Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso, who retired with a puncture and damage after a wheel-banging battle with Sainz, on lap seven and then Hamilton two laps later.

"The first few laps were quite hectic, they were pushing quite hard at the front and of course I had Carlos behind with new tyres so it was very difficult initially," said Verstappen.

"But then we became stronger and I felt a bit more comfortable with the balance of the car as well and I could look after my tyres so very pleased with that."

Seven-times world champion Hamilton said the team had made a huge step forward with their first top-three finish of the campaign.

"That's the best result I've had in a long time," said the 39-year-old Briton.

"I found out a lot about the car through this short stint, from the race, so I'm excited for tomorrow."

Qualifying for the main race comes later on Saturday and Hamilton did not expect Mercedes to be battling for pole.

"We're still not as quick on a single lap as the Ferraris, Red Bulls," he said. "I think the McLarens are ahead of us for sure and possibly the Astons.

"I don't anticipate we will be fighting for the front row, but the fortunate thing is we can make some adjustments so hopefully I can improve the car in the next three hours and have a better qualifying session than we have had in the past."

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