Max Verstappen easily accounted for championship rival Lewis Hamilton with a straightforward victory at the Styrian Grand Prix to grow his points lead.
The Dutchman’s victory was effectively sealed with his perfect getaway from pole. He kept the Mercedes driver at bay into the first turn and built a 1.5s buffer in the first three laps, ensuring the Briton couldn’t use DRS to follow him away from the field.
The gap was gently stretched throughout the first stint until Hamilton made the first stop of the pair, on Lap 29, for a set of hard tires. Verstappen had no trouble covering the move, the undercut being far less effective around the short Red Bull Ring.
Hamilton was instructed to push early in the second stint, his pit wall eying an aggressive two-stop strategy, but it was clear the W12 simply didn’t have the pace of the Red Bull RB16B on this warm afternoon in the Styrian hills.
As Verstappen rebuilt his lead after the momentary incursion and Hamilton’s tires blistered from the exertion, the opportunity for alternative tactics faded, and Verstappen was left to run out a comfortable victory.
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“Straightaway I felt a good balance in the car,” he said. “We just kept on going, trying to hit our lap times, and that worked really well today.”
Verstappen’s win, Red Bull Racing’s fourth in a row, marks the first time in the turbo-hybrid era Mercedes has gone four grands prix without a victory. His championship lead stands at 18 points with a second race at the Red Bull Ring scheduled next weekend.
“It’s looking really good. We just have to keep on going, keeping pushing really hard. I’m confident we can do a really good job.”
Hamilton made a stop on the penultimate lap for soft tires to snatch a point for fastest lap — which he did — but there was no masking the Briton’s comprehensive defeat.
“It was a bit of a lonely race, really,” he admitted. “I was trying to keep up with [Verstappen], but the speed they have — they’ve obviously made some big improvements in the last couple of races. It’s impossible to keep up.
“They’re just faster. There’s not a lot that I can do in that respect. We need to find some performance. We need an upgrade of some sort. We need to push.”
Valtteri Bottas beat Sergio Perez to the final podium place despite trailing the Mexican for the opening stint.
Both drivers were caught behind Lando Norris, who started third on the grid, for the first 10 laps of the race, costing them time to the lead battle. But even after dropping the McLaren driver neither had the pace of their front-running partners, relegating them to a fight for the last rostrum place.
The Mexican was the first between them to change tires, having start on the soft compound, but his stop on Lap 27 was slow with a sticking left-rear wheel. He was easy pickings for Bottas with a slick stop on the following tour, earning him track position.
Perez pushed Bottas after Lap 40, Bottas radioing his team that he had “cooked” his tires in the warm weather, but he was never able to get close enough to initiate a move. Red Bull Racing instead hauled Perez in for fresh set of medium tires on Lap 54 in an attempt to chase down the Mercedes late in the race, but he fell an agonizing 0.527s short.
“It was getting pretty close at the end and there was not much margin,” Bottas said. “I’m glad we could defend, and it’s been a while since I’ve been on the podium.”
Bottas’s podium limited Mercedes’s points loss to Red Bull Racing, with the constructors’ gap now at 40 points.
Norris was flawless in fifth. The Briton clung to third early but ultimately made the decision in the interests of his own race not to aggressively defend against the fundamentally faster Perez and Bottas. It allowed him to run long, until Lap 32, before changing to the hard tire, and the rest of his race was a lonely one ahead of the midfield.
Carlos Sainz was also in excellent form for Ferrari after starting from 12th on the grid. The Spaniard took his medium tires a whopping 41 laps, rising to fifth on track and losing only two laps when he rejoined with the hard compound. He made short work of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll to sprint away with fifth and was untroubled thereafter.
Sainz’s teammate, Charles Leclerc, was similarly impressive on his way to seventh after a dreadful first lap. The Monegasque damaged his front wing tangling with Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri exiting the first corner and slumped to 18th after a reparatory pit stop, but the wing change doubled as an opportunity to switch to the hard tire.
Leclerc used it to run long, to Lap 38, and make ferocious inroads on the field, making up seven positions in 19 laps to secure Ferrari 14 points.
Stroll ground out eighth place after starting ninth. The Canadian had a great launch up to sixth, but the Aston Martin didn’t have the pace to maintain such a relatively lofty position and spent the final phase of the race keeping Fernando Alonso’s Alpine at arm’s length.
Alonso’s assault was distracted, however, by Yuki Tsunoda, the AlphaTauri driver all over the back of the Spaniard late but unable to pass to take 10th at the flag for the final point of the race.