Dominant Verstappen reigns again at Red Bull Ring

Charles Coates/Motorsport Images

Dominant Verstappen reigns again at Red Bull Ring

Formula 1

Dominant Verstappen reigns again at Red Bull Ring

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Max Verstappen extended his championship lead over Lewis Hamilton to more than the value of a full race win after a comfortable victory at the Austrian Grand Prix.

Verstappen was completely unchallenged at the Red Bull Ring, leading every lap from pole and taking a point for fastest lap to grow his title lead to 32 points over Hamilton, who finished an ineffectual fourth.

The die was cast for Hamilton in the first 20 laps, when he struggled to pass Lando Norris, who started second on the grid and drove superbly to hold his own among the front-runners.

A clean start for Verstappen, and Norris’ defense of second place, set the stage for an easy day for the championship leader. Sam Bloxham/Motorsport Images

By the time the two Britons traded places into Turn 4, Verstappen had established a 10s lead, and the Dutchman continued to grow his advantage unencumbered thereafter.

So ample was his lead that Red Bull Racing hauled him in for a second stop late just to score a point for fastest lap, which he took easily before crossing the line with a healthy 18s margin.

“Incredible, to be honest,” he said. “The car was on rails. On every tire we put on it was really enjoyable to drive.

“Pretty insane. I’m a bit amazed myself. I didn’t expect it to be like this.”

Matters got worse for Hamilton the longer the race progressed. His Mercedes picked up damage after his first pit stop, making him vulnerable to teammate Valtteri Bottas in the final third of the race, the Finn having previously shipped seven seconds to the sister car in the first stint.

The two Mercedes initially held station, but Norris was resurgent. The Briton fell out of podium contention at his pit stop when forced to serve a contentious 5s penalty for pushing Sergio Perez off the track at Turn 4 early in the race, but with Hamilton and Bottas lapping at reduced pace he began to loom large in the mirrors of the Black Arrows.

Mercedes had no choice but to switch cars to let the faster, undamaged Bottas through on Lap 52, sacrificing Hamilton to the pursuing McLaren to try to secure second with the Finn. Hamilton could defend for barely two laps before Norris barged through, and the reigning world champion returned to the pits for fresh tires at the end of the lap to ensure he’d see the flag in fourth.

Norris harried Bottas for the final 17 tours, hovering just beyond DRS range, but to no avail, and Mercedes recorded a hard-fought but ultimately disappointing second place.

“I think as a team we got some decent points considering the gap we have to Red Bull in terms of pure pace,” he said. “For me it’s nice to be back on the podium again in second place.”

Norris’s podium was well deserved, though the Briton was within rights to feel entitled to more were it not for a debatable 5s penalty handed to him before his first stop that forced him to fight his way back to the front.

“I’m disappointed because we should’ve had second place,” he said. “He tried to of around the outside, which was a bit stupid.

“I’m frustrated but also happy with P3. It was a lot of fun. It was a good race. It was exciting.”

Hamilton finished a distant fourth and will be undoubtedly pleased to leave Austria, where his deficit to Verstappen in the standings more than doubled.

Carlos Sainz finished fifth in a late incursion into the points. The Spaniard dropped to 14th on the first lap but ran long, until Lap 48, before making his sole stop. He fell back to eighth, but with a substantial tire offset he sliced through the field, aided by a team order past teammate Charles Leclerc, to finish sixth on the road.

He was then promoted to fifth when Perez, who finished fifth on the road, had 10s added to his race time for twice pushing Charles Leclerc off the track in the second half of the race.

Perez race was colored by his scuffles through the field, first with Norris, which dropped him to 10th early in the race, and then for two incidents with Leclerc as he fought his way back up the order, pushing the Monegasque off the road at turn four and later turn six, for which the stewards slapped him with two 5s penalties.

It was nonetheless enough to grow his team’s lead by four points, to 44 points, over Mercedes in the constructors standings.

Daniel Ricciardo recovered from a poor 13th on the grid to seventh at the flag, dropping two positions to Perez and Sainz in the final laps of the race as his ageing hard tires wore away, offering him little to defend with against his fresher-shod rivals.

Leclerc finished eighth in the second Ferrari, just 0.8s shy of nabbing Ricciardo on the final lap, with Pierre Gasly just 0.6s in tow for ninth.

Fernando Alonso took the final point of the race, depriving George Russell of what looked sure to be hist first point score for Williams just three laps from the finish.

Esteban Ocon was the race’s only retirement, his race ending on Lap 1 in a suspension-breaking sandwich between Mick Schumacher and Antonio Giovinazzi.

Sebastian Vettel was classified 17th but failed to take the finish after a bizarre crash with Kimi Raikkonen on the final lap. The German had cut down the Finn’s inside at Turn 4, but on exit Raikkonen tagged the back Vettel’s car, sending both into the gravel trap.

 

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