Verstappen cruises to victory at the Austrian Grand Prix
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen put in a clinical drive at his team’s home race to take home his fifth win of the season. Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas saw of a late charge from Lando Norris to complete the podium places, with the McLaren driver overcoming a time penalty to continue his run of points finishes in every single race of the season.
First lap contact between Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon saw the Frenchman having to retire with damage to his front right tyre, ending what has been a torrid two weeks for Ocon in Austria. As the safety car came in after clearing out the Alpine from the track, Verstappen held off a charging Norris, who himself had to defend the other Red Bull, with the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Bottas behind him.
Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Pérez fancied a go at Norris, momentarily pushing ahead before the McLaren driver came back at him, in turn pushing the Mexican off the track to hold on to second position. Lewis Hamilton stated before the race that they weren’t in it to win given the pace difference between themselves and Red Bull. The defending champion would have liked to take maximum points home to limit the damage but had a tough time going past his compatriot as Norris held on to the second position with some superb defending to keep the seven-time world champion behind for almost 20 laps, which let Verstappen up front build a good gap to his championship rival.
Further down the grid, McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo had a great start along with the Ferrari pair of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz who were running in the top 10 after the qualifying disaster on Saturday that left them starting outside the top 10. Hamilton finally got by Norris on Lap 20 and things got worse for the McLaren driver has he was slapped with a five second penalty for forcing Pérez off the track at the safety car restart. AlphaTauri’s rookie Yuki Tsunoda joined Norris in picking up a penalty for crossing the white line on pit lane entry that hampered the Japanese driver’s race leaving him at the back of the grid, having to charge through to the points.
Sergio Pérez, who was competing in his 200th Grand Prix, was having a tough race himself after having been shoved off the track in the early stages of the race to lose places, but the Mexican himself was guilty of forcing Leclerc’s Ferrari off the track which left the Monégasque fuming on the radio and saw Pérez receive a five second penalty.
It didn’t get any better for the Red Bull driver as a few laps later, on the 47th lap, Pérez once again forced Leclerc off the track, a move that was deemed too aggressive by the stewards, handing the Mexican his second five second penalty and leaving him in a spot of bother.
While Leclerc was battling Pérez, the other Ferrari of Sainz, who started on the hard tyres, put in an impressive first stint that saw the Spaniard come into the pits only on Lap 49, who then re-emerged inside the points and on fresher tyres and charged back up to sixth.
A little further up the grid, Hamilton, who was running second now after Norris’ penalty, was facing his own troubles. With him losing pace to his teammate, his team let Bottas through, leaving Hamilton trying to hold off Norris who was trying to regain the podium place. Hamilton’s woes lined up perfectly with Norris’ charge back and the young McLaren driver didn’t have too much trouble overtaking Hamilton for the final podium place.
George Russell, who started a career best P10 for Williams, was having a stellar race in the points as he tried to achieve his first points finish with Williams and showcased just why he is so highly rated on the grid. He was engaged in a ten-lap battle with two-time world champion Fernando Alonso for the final points place.
Russell put all his skill on show holding off Alonso valiantly for ten laps, but eventually the experience of Alonso saw him get the better off the Williams driver and take the final points places, leaving Russell and his pit-crew heartbroken.
Pérez, who was aware of the 10-second penalty that was going to be added at the end of the race, was closing in on Hamilton for fourth in an attempt to build a large enough gap to the cars behind him to not let the penalty affect his final race position. Although Hamilton put in all of his skill and experience to hold off Pérez, Sainz had charged back to come within ten seconds off the Red Bull.
Up ahead, Verstappen crossed the line comfortably ahead of Bottas in second place, who saw off McLaren’s Norris to round off the podium places, but last lap drama saw former teammates Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel collide right at the very end as the Finn locked up and went straight into the Aston Martin of Vettel causing both the drivers a visit to the gravels, rounding off a tough weekend for the German who had taken a grid penalty on Saturday.
With his fifth victory of the season, Verstappen now leads Hamilton by 32 points, with Red Bull building a comfortable 44 points lead at the top of the Constructors’ Championship. Lando Norris’ podium finish, along with Daniel Ricciardo’s seventh-place finish, sees McLaren take a 19-point lead on Ferrari with Norris himself closing in on the P3 spot on the Drivers’ Standings.
We return to racing in two weeks time as we head to Silverstone, with Formula One hosting the very first Sprint Race that weekend itself. With Red Bull running away like an unstoppable train, Mercedes will hope the upgrades they bring to Silverstone will help them close the gap to the current championship leaders, or they could well concede the championship.