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Leclerc takes home nervy Austrian Grand Prix win

Aditya Chaudhuri Aditya Chaudhuri

Charles Leclerc returned to the top step of the podium following a nervous win at the Red Bull Ring, which saw him overcome a major mechanical scare late in the race to take the win. Behind him, it was Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who finished second ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, who scored his third podium on the trot. Hamilton’s teammate George Russell, who was awarded an early penalty, came back through the field to finish fourth ahead of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon. Haas’ Mick Schumacher finished a career-best sixth, scoring his second-ever points finish with McLaren’s Lando Norris in seventh. The second Haas of Kevin Magnussen finished eighth ahead of Daniel Ricciardo (P9) and Fernando Alonso (P10), although the two-time World Champion was under investigation post race for an unsafe pit-stop release. 

It could have been an even better day for Ferrari with a one-two, but Carlos Sainz, who was looking set for a second-place finish, suffered a massive engine blow out late in the race that saw him suffer his fourth retirement of the season. For Leclerc, this was his first win not from pole and a much-needed one for him to keep his Championship battle alive. With Sergio Pérez retiring due to damage from a collision with Russell, Leclerc now moves into second place in the Championship standings, 38 points behind Verstappen, while Russell keeps chipping away the deficit and is just five points behind Carlos Sainz in fourth. 

The race got underway with a dramatic start. While Verstappen got away well, George Russell and Carlos Sainz almost came together, fighting for the same piece of track. The tussle between the two saw Sainz go off track, and while Russell used that to get through, the Mercedes driver clashed with Sergio Pérez and the Red Bull driver went off into Turn 4. That meant the Mexican needed an early pit-stop and joined in last place.

Up ahead, Verstappen led from Leclerc, Sainz, Russell and Esteban Ocon, who was starting his 100th career race. The early contact between Russell and Pérez was deemed as the former’s fault, so the young Brit was handed a five-second penalty. 

Race leader Verstappen came in for his first stop on Lap 12, which meant Leclerc, who was nibbling on Verstappen’s heels for the previous few laps, now led the race from his teammate Carlos Sainz. Sergio Pérez meanwhile, who suffered damage in the opening lap, was the first to retire on Lap 25, with the team deciding that he had too much damage to carry on. Leclerc, who was leading, pitted on Lap 26, and a swift stop from the Ferrari team saw the Monégasque rejoin in third position.

Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton, who had a horrible Qualifying, was making places up from eighth. He came in for his stop on Lap 30, but a slow stop from the Mercedes crew saw Hamilton rejoin behind Ocon in sixth place.

Up ahead, Leclerc, who was behind Verstappen once again following Sainz’s pit-stop, breezed past the race leader to retake the lead of the race, with Verstappen complaining to his team about the low grip on his tyres.

Further back, it was the most experienced Formula One driver, Fernando Alonso, battling it out with the AlphaTauri youngster Yuki Tsunoda. The young Japanese got his elbows out, and while he tried to push Alonso wide, the wily-old veteran showed why he is one of the all-time greats as he went past Tsunoda even while being pushed wide. He even let Tsunoda know what he felt about the move by wagging his finger in a condescending way, all whilst making a move on the youngster.

Verstappen came in for his second stop on Lap 37 and rejoined in third place, ahead of Hamilton.

Further down the grid, Pierre Gasly shunted into the Aston Martin of Sebastian Vettel, who was having a strong race and had made up places from the back of the grid. Following the collision with Gasly, Vettel dropped down to 17th and Gasly was handed a five-second penalty for causing a collision.

George Russell came in for his second stop on Lap 42 and rejoined in 14th place, with the race beginning to seem more and more like a two-stop race, which wasn’t great news for the Ferrari drivers, both of whom were running one and two but with Verstappen in third place who had had both his pit-stops done. Red Bull also knew Ferrari were under pressure and asked Verstappen to push. By Lap 47, Verstappen was under 13 seconds behind Leclerc and was gaining more than half a second on the leading Ferrari every lap. 

Recognising the threat from Verstappen, Ferrari called in race leader Charles Leclerc for his second stop on Lap 50; following a swift stop, Leclerc re-joined in third place, three seconds behind Verstappen, with Sainz leading the race. In the very next lap, Sainz was also called in for his stop, which saw pole-sitter Verstappen retake the lead of the race, with Leclerc in second and Sainz rejoining the track in third place, almost five seconds behind his teammate.

With the front-runners stopping for their second stops, Mercedes called in Lewis Hamilton for his second pit-stop as well on Lap 52; Hamilton re-joined in fourth position, ahead of Fernando Alonso, who was having a stellar race in a one-stop race and had made up an incredible twelve places after starting from the back of the grid.

Back at the front, Leclerc, who had shown strong race pace right from lap 1, once again breezed past Verstappen to take the lead of the race on Turn 3, and while Verstappen tried to fight back, low grip once again hurt him and he had to concede the position. The Dutchman seemed to be a sitting duck for both the Ferraris, with Sainz, on a fresh set of tyres, charging behind him, and that gap of ten seconds between Sainz and Verstappen, following Sainz’s second stop, was reduced to a mere two seconds within four laps.  

However, Sainz, who was charging towards Verstappen, saw his engine blow out on Lap 57, leading to his retirement. This brought out the Virtual Safety Car, which was a blessing in disguise for Red Bull. Verstappen immediately darted into the pits and Leclerc followed suit.

Racing resumed on Lap 60, with Leclerc leading from Verstappen and Hamilton in third, with the Brit making up a place into the podium places after Sainz’s retirement. Behind them, Hamilton’s teammate George Russell, who was having an eventful race following a penalty and charge-back through the field, made a place up to fourth place after overtaking Esteban Ocon on the inside at Turn 3.

With five laps to go, Leclerc was on the radio to his team, complaining about a throttle pedal issue. While the Ferrari pit crew were chewing their nails, Verstappen was eating into Leclerc’s lead every lap. 

While his teammate suffered a massive engine blow out and he himself was hampered by a throttle pedal problem, Leclerc managed to hold on to the lead and took home his third win of the season following a thrilling finish that saw Verstappen finish under two seconds behind the Ferrari man. 

Leclerc’s win sees him back in the Championship fight; a statement has been made with a win at Red Bull’s home track. Even though there still seem to be reliability issues for the Italian team, there is no denying that Ferrari’s is one tough car to keep behind.

With two back-to-back wins for them, Ferrari have now cut down Red Bull’s lead in the Constructors’ Standings to 56 points and will hope to continue to chip away at that lead.

The battle for fourth place in the Constructors’ is heating up, with Alpine’s strong run of performances seeing them par on points with McLaren, tied in fourth place. 

As the Championship battle intensifies, racing returns in two week’s time in France. 

Leclerc takes home nervy Austrian Grand Prix win
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Aditya Chaudhuri

Aditya Chaudhuri

Hailing from the City of Joy, the things that bring me joy are cricket, a good non-tilt CS:GO session, F1 and movies.

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