Formula One title hat-trick beckons Max Verstappen as he wins Austrian GP

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen recorded his fifth straight win and seventh in nine races so far this season. He increased his championship lead to 81
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Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen seen in action at the Formula One Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull race track in Spielberg, Austria on July 2. (AFP)
Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen seen in action at the Formula One Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull race track in Spielberg, Austria on July 2.

Reigning Formula One champion Max Verstappen continued his relentless march toward a third straight world title with another dominating win at the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday, far away from the chaos behind him as multiple drivers were given time penalties for going off track limits.

Verstappen started from pole position for the fourth straight race and notched his fifth straight win and seventh in nine races so far this season. He increased his championship lead to 81 points over his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez. “I think our stints were perfect so a great day, I enjoyed it a lot," Verstappen said. "I am just enjoying driving this car and racing for this team."

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So much so that he even got his way to come in two laps from the end for a shot at the fastest lap, despite his team’s reluctance to take the risk. Typically, he got the bonus point for it on the final lap to complete a perfect weekend after his victory from pole in Saturday’s sprint race.

“From the outside maybe it looks like a big risk, but when you’re in the car it doesn’t feel like a risk at all," Verstappen said.

The victory also took the 25-year-old Dutchman onto 42 F1 wins overall, one ahead of the late Ayrton Senna and alone in fifth place on F1’s all-time list of winners.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc — last year's winner here — finished 5.2 seconds behind Verstappen in second place with Red Bull's Sergio Perez placing third, 17.2 behind.

But Verstappen's winning margin was shortened by his late pit stop on his team's home track in Spielberg.

Making a clean start, he held off Leclerc on Turns 2 and 3 and easily regained the lead from him following a tire change at the halfway point of the 71-lap race at the Red Bull Ring.

“Most important to me was lap one, stay in front after that," Verstappen said.

It was only Leclerc’s second podium of the season, but put him in optimistic mood.

“The upgrades we brought made me feel better. It’s looking good for the future," Leclerc said. “Obviously, there’s still a lot to do, Max and Checo (Sergio) have a lot of pace."

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, Ferrari's Carlos Sainz Jr. and several other drivers received five-second time penalties for going off track limits. After Aston Martin lodged a protest that some penalties had not been imposed, the race classification changed as Sainz, Hamilton and Alpine's Pierre Gasly were given additional five-second penalties.

This moved McLaren's Lando Norris up to fourth spot and Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso into fifth, while Sainz dropped from fourth to sixth and Hamilton fell to eighth behind his Mercedes teammate George Russell. Aston Martin's Lance Stroll jumped up one position to ninth as Gasly fell to 10th.

Perez started 15th and passed Sainz with 10 laps left to collect his first podium since his second place at the Miami GP two months ago.

“It’s a good comeback," Perez said. "It’s been a bit of a rough patch for me so now hopefully we are back and we can keep that consistency now."

Red Bull has won all nine races, all 11 when including the two sprint races with Verstappen's victory in Saturday’s sprint following Perez's success in Azerbaijan.

After a safety car came out briefly at the end of Lap 1, Verstappen got away cleanly on the restart.

Hamilton, who had started well and was fourth in the early going, began struggling to control his car and began going off track limits.

When a virtual safety car came out on Lap 15, most teams opted to make another tire change. But Verstappen and teammate Perez stayed out.

“I could see already a few laps before the (VSC) that we were pulling out quite a gap so I knew I would get it back," Verstappen said. “Just following our own plan was the best way forward."

Drivers kept going wide of track limits on the 4.3-kilometer (2.7-mile) circuit that is known to be particularly difficult to stay within the white lines.

“Has he got a penalty yet?" Hamilton asked about Perez, and continued complaining about other drivers going wide after his own penalty, forcing team principal Toto Wolff to intervene.

“The car is bad, we know, please drive it," Wolff said.

Perez was warned by his team with 15 laps left to respect the track limits. He was right behind Sainz at that point and could not afford a time penalty.

Aston Martin's post-race protest seemingly went against what most other drivers have been saying all weekend, with Perez expressing his frustration that such penalties had unfairly impacted both qualifying on Friday and Sunday’s race.

“I don't know how to say it, I don't want to use a bad word (about) the track limits. Everybody got hit by it at some point," said Perez, who started from 15th after his lap time was deleted in qualifying. “Hopefully when we come back next it will be something that can be fixed."

Governing body FIA said it had not had enough time to complete all of its track-limit reviews during the race and will recommend to the circuit to add a gravel trap at the exit of Turns 9 and 10 where several of the track infringements occurred.

Many drivers have called for gravel to be added but the track owners have been reluctant because the circuit also hosts a motorbike race in mid-August, and such a move would be unpopular with MotoGP riders.

“The stewards very strongly recommend that a solution be found to the track limits situation at this circuit," was the FIA's conclusion after the late reshuffle.

First Published Date: 03 Jul 2023, 08:56 AM IST
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