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Another race, another F1 victory for Verstappen

STEPHEN WADE Associated Press

SHANGHAI — Another Formula 1 race. Another victory for Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

The three-time defending champion won the Chinese Grand Prix from pole on Sunday, his fourth victory in five races this season and his 23rd in the last 27 stretching back to last season.

Only a brake failure at the Australian GP in Melbourne last month probably prevented him from beating all five.

Verstappen was only a few laps behind after a pit stop. McLaren’s Lando Norris was around 14 seconds behind Verstappen in second place – the eighth time he has been number 2 in his career as he still searches for his first win. Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez finished third.

Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc, fourth, and Carlos Sainz completed the top five, holding off Mercedes driver George Russell and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso in sixth and seventh respectively.

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The other points finishers that followed were McLaren’s Oscar Piastri, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg in tenth.

Verstappen now has 110 points to lead the standings, followed by Perez (85), Leclerc (76), Sainz (69) and Norris (58).

“It felt great,” said Verstappen. “We were very fast all weekend and it was just a pleasure to drive. The car was basically on rails and I could do whatever I wanted with it. Those kinds of weekends are a great feeling.”

Verstappen was asked whether this was the most dominant victory of his career.

“It was a good one, yes,” he said without getting specific.

The next GP is Miami on May 5. Will Verstappen get through that street race?

“A completely different song,” he said. “Different tires. Different asphalt. So you never know.”

The safety car came out twice in the middle of the race. Once after that, Sauber’s Valtteri Bottas stopped at the edge of the track with a blown engine, and again with two almost simultaneous incidents.

In one, Kevin Magnuessen clipped Yuki Tsunoda, and in the other, Lance Stroll crashed into the back of Daniel Ricciardo.

Verstappen’s reign in F1 also extended to Saturday, when he completed the first sprint race of the season.

After winning in Japan two weeks ago, Verstappen was critical of running a sprint in China. He hasn’t changed his mind much despite his victory.

“The sprint format was better,” said Verstappen. “But let’s not exaggerate it either. We have already completed 24 races, including six. I understand. I think it sells better and better numbers. But it also puts more pressure on the mechanics.”

“We’ll take it,” Verstappen added. “We have to deal with it. But that’s not something where we need 12 right now because it’s going to take a toll on people as well.”

Norris echoed Verstappen.

“The key point is the toll this has on mechanics and engineers,” he said. “I honestly don’t think it’s that bad for us as drivers. I don’t think we are the ones to complain. The hundreds of mechanics and engineers here who have to travel so much. It’s not healthy for them.”

This was the first F1 race in China since 2019, when the COVID-19 pandemic and Chinese repression wiped out four races. Shanghai-born Zhou Guanyu finished 14th for Sauber, perhaps his last chance to race at home as teams shuffle their driver line-ups next season.

He crouched on the asphalt after the race and covered his face as the crowd thundered “Guanyu, Guanyu, Guanyu.”

The real competition in F1 for the rest of the season appears to be in the six places behind Verstappen and Perez. Mercedes’ George Russell called it “a battle” for the No. 3 to No. 8 spots.

“Small differences can have a big impact,” Russell said.

Dominance is nothing new in F1. Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton ruled before Verstappen came along: Schumacher and Hamilton won seven season titles and Vettel four.

It’s a good bet that Verstappen and Red Bull will rule next season. That could change in 2026 when new engine and chassis rules come into effect in F1.

Miami will present a celebrity paddock. There was also a celebrity parade in China, with former basketball star Yao Ming and two-time Olympic champion skier Eileen Gu posing for photos in the paddock and on the track before the start of the race.