Max Verstappen cruises to Austrian Grand Prix victory

Lewis Hamilton’s title hopes take another blow as he finishes fourth in Spielberg

Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and winner Max Verstappen celebrate on the podium after the Formula One Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring race track in Spielberg. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images

Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and winner Max Verstappen celebrate on the podium after the Formula One Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring race track in Spielberg. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images

 

Max Verstappen won the Austrian Grand Prix with a masterful, if unchallenged run from pole to flag for Red Bull. Lewis Hamilton’s title hopes took another blow, managing only fourth after losing pace with floor damage. He had enjoyed a fine battle with McLaren’s Lando Norris, who returned another superb race to take third with Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in second. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was fifth, with Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez in sixth.

Verstappen had held the pace advantage he enjoyed last weekend here at the Red Bull Ring and, having nailed the start, dominated the race to the flag with a clinical performance. Hamilton struggled, however; having taken floor damage from the kerbs, he lost aero on his car and despite having made it up to second was powerless to hold the place as Mercedes accepted he should move over for Bottas. Norris, meanwhile, delivered another outstanding run to claim his third podium of the year.

Verstappen’s fifth win this season is his third in a row, and his fourth at the Red Bull Ring, his team’s home circuit and where the Dutchman has enjoyed the most success.

The victory leaves Hamilton with an increasingly serious deficit in the title fight. Verstappen now has a 32-point lead over the world champion and Red Bull have further extended their advantage over Mercedes to 44 points in the constructors’ championship.

Verstappen has achieved a series of commanding and compelling victories, with four from the previous five races, while Hamilton has not won since the Spanish GP.

The next round is the British GP and Hamilton will be desperate to have the machinery to challenge at his home race. Mercedes will have to radically improve before then. Hamilton is now winless for five races and has not been more than 20 points off the title leader since the Austrian GP in 2017. If he is to take the championship fight to the wire Mercedes simply cannot allow Verstappen to extend the lead any further.

Verstappen held his lead through turn one in front of Norris and Pérez, with Hamilton going after the latter but unable to pass. A safety car was called almost immediately as Esteban Ocon pulled over after sustaining damage when clipped through turn two.

Racing resumed on lap three and Pérez attacked Norris but went off after going aggressive on the outside of turn four and skating across the gravel, dropped to 10th. The British driver just squeezed Pérez wide, allowing Hamilton to advance to third, and the incident was investigated by the stewards, with Norris given a five-second penalty, deemed to have forced Pérez off track. The penalty seemed harsh but was at least held consistently when Pérez was similarly penalised twice when he did exactly the same to Charles Leclerc on two separate occasions later in the race.

Verstappen was unconcerned out front, swiftly opening up a 3.4sec gap by lap eight. Hamilton closed on Norris, who defended well, and the world champion did not enjoy enough of a pace advantage to pass, their battling allowing Verstappen to further extend his lead.

Norris was staunch in holding off Hamilton, whose hopes of challenging Verstappen were swiftly receding. On lap 20 he finally made it stick, though, turn four. “Such a great driver, Lando,” acknowledged Hamilton when he had finally battled past.

Hamilton was almost 10 seconds back from Verstappen on lap 21 but the Dutchman was in control, promptly dispatching some fastest laps to extend his lead.

Bottas passed Norris through the stops as he served his penalty and Hamilton pitted for the hard tyre on lap 31, with Verstappen covering off the stop a lap later. The Dutchman’s lead remained unchallenged, 13 seconds up on Hamilton.

The British driver now appeared to have some floor damage from the kerbs and he reported the car’s handling was not up to spec. Bottas caught the world champion, who had been left behind by Verstappen. With Norris closing, the Finn was instructed he was free to attack his teammate, just before Mercedes opted to give team orders for Hamilton to let Bottas through. It appears the team did not believe Bottas would be able to stay in front of Norris while being held up.

Clearly Hamilton had aero issues and was then passed by Norris up the inside at turn six. Mercedes pitted their man a lap later for fresh hard rubber. Out front Verstappen was untroubled in the lead, 25sec clear on lap 56 ,with Hamilton now fourth, 20sec behind Norris.

That Hamilton was carrying damage was clear as he could make no inroads even on fresh rubber. Verstappen had enough of a lead to make a late stop for fresh tyres and maintain his lead. He closed out with finality as Mercedes were left licking their wounds after a second bruising encounter in a row at the Red Bull Ring.

Daniel Ricciardo was in seventh for McLaren with Charles Leclerc in eighth for Ferraro. AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly was in ninth and Fernando Alonso in 10th for Alpine. – Guardian

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