Max Verstappen won the Austrian Grand Prix sprint race while barely breaking a sweat. The Red Bull driver secured a dominant pole-to-flag victory in his team’s home race at the Red Bull Ring, while behind him Ferrari’s challenge once again turned into an intra-combat. team that the Scuderia must resolve if they are to have any chance of facing the Dutchman on Sunday.
Verstappen beat Ferrari Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz in second and third on the 24-lap race that decides the grid for Sunday’s main event. In doing so, he further increased his lead in the driver standings. George Russell and Lewis Hamilton finished fourth and eighth for Mercedes, for whom it was a life-saving race after a disastrous qualifying session on Friday and they duly put in a Herculean effort to ensure their drivers had a chance sunday.
They are unlikely to challenge the top three, where Ferrari must make a concerted effort against Verstappen. The Dutchman led from pole but behind him Leclerc and Sainz battled from the start.
The pair swapped places on the first lap when Sainz passed Leclerc to take second place. But the Monegasque came back quickly to regain the place on the inside of the fourth corner. Sainz looked quicker as the two positions swapped again but Leclerc just held his place. Their duel allowed Verstappen to open a three-second gap at one point, a comfortable lead he didn’t give up as he rode to victory.
“We can’t afford what we did today,” said Leclerc. “We lost some time [fighting] but Max managed his pace, so we’ll never know if we could have caught him. I really do not know.
Ferrari have imposed no team orders, for which they should be commended, but with Leclerc their only driver in a realistic position to chase Verstappen in the title chase, they may need to be more ruthless on Sunday.
Hamilton and Russell crashed out of qualifying on Friday and Mercedes had to carry out extensive repairs. The team worked hard to make sure we made it to the race. Hamilton had its chassis replaced with a spare due to the damage suffered and both cars were fitted with new gearboxes while the floors and fenders were also repaired. The mechanics had been working on Hamilton’s car for most of the third practice session and he emerged with just 15 minutes to go.
“A big thank you to my team for putting my car together,” Hamilton said. “They worked really hard overnight and this morning to keep us going, so hopefully tomorrow will be a good day.”
But Hamilton was less pleased with Verstappen’s supporters, saying it was “breathtaking” that they cheered after he got into the tire wall when he lost control at 140mph in qualifying. “I don’t agree with all of this no matter what,” Hamilton said. “A driver could have been hospitalized, and you will rejoice? It’s amazing that people do that, knowing how dangerous our sport is. I was grateful that I was not hospitalized and that I was not seriously injured.
The sprint, a format that F1 is all in love with and intends to use in six meetings next season, was once again a disappointing affair – as it has largely been in its previous outings. Hamilton at least had a spirited run. He started from ninth place and suffered damage to his steering when he clipped Pierre Gasly at the first corner. Fighting back, he grabbed Mick Schumacher from Haas and the pair dueled over a sequence of laps. Schumacher defended vigorously, well enough to deny the seven-time champion an obvious chance until Hamilton finally managed to hold off on lap 22 at corner four.
The battle at the top of the championship remains between Verstappen, Pérez and Leclerc. With eight points for the win, Verstappen now leads fifth-placed teammate Pérez by 38 points and Leclerc by 44.
Esteban Ocon was sixth for Alpine, Kevin Magnussen seventh for Haas, Schumacher ninth and Valtteri Bottas 10th for Alfa Romeo.
Off track, Sebastian Vettel endured a private battle with the FIA, which summoned the four-time champion to the stewards for “his behavior at the drivers’ meeting”. The sports code quoted in the summons refers to “words, facts or writings having caused moral damage or prejudice to the FIA”.
On Friday, in what was considered a long and heated drivers briefing with the race director, Vettel expressed his frustration and walked out. The stewards saw him after the sprint race and found he had broken the rule requiring him to attend and failed to meet the standards required of him as a role model for other drivers . He was given a suspended €25,000 (£21,200) fine.
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