Imperious Verstappen wins again to sweep Austria

Race winner Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme. 02.07.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 10, Austrian Grand Prix, Spielberg, Austria, Race Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images
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Max Verstappen continued Red Bull's unbroken run of 2023 Grand Prix victories with another emphatic win, this time with a clean sweep across all sessions of the Austrian Grand Prix weekend at the team's home circuit in Spielberg.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc held on to second place, while Sergio Perez made amends for his dreadful qualifying on Friday by recovering to third after a thrilling battle with Carlos Sainz.

Even though he lost out to Sainz, Lando Norris was looking in strong form in the upgraded McLaren to finish fifth ahead of Fernando Alonso, while Mercedes could only manage P7 and P8 for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell respectively.

Just as he had been the day before, Max Verstappen was on pole position for the start of the race, but this time he didn't have his Red Bull team mate alongside him on the front row. Instead it was Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, with Carlos Sainz immediately behind sharing the second row with McLaren's Lando Norris, followed by Lewis Hamilton in fifth next to Aston Martin's Lance Stroll. Also in contrast to yesterday, the day was bright, dry and warm for lights out and the initial charge into turn 1.

Verstappen maintained control into the first corner with Leclerc and Sainz dropping in behind him, while Hamilton got the jump on Norris for fourth. Stroll dropped back, allowing his team mate Fernando Alonso into sixth followed by the Haas car of Nico Hulkenberg, but the action was short-lived as a safety car was scrambled for an incident at the back. Yuki Tsunoda had hit the back of Esteban Ocon's Alpine heading into turn 1, the AlphaTauri subsequently running into the gravel at turn 4 with a broken front wing. He managed to get going again, and visited pit lane for a replacement wing while the marshals cleared up the debris from the incident.

The race got back underway and Verstappen was already a second clear of Leclerc on lap 5. Sainz was hanging in there but the pace was too hot for the Mercedes, Hamilton quickly starting to lose touch but not under immediate pressure from Norris, Alonso and Hulkenberg behind him. However Norris wasn't happy with what he was seeing from the car in front, and made a firm complaint over the McLaren radio that Hamilton was abusing track limits. Complaining of brake issues, Hamilton duly received a first strike from the stewards, and then a more serious black and white flag final warning soon after.

Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB19 at the start of the race.
02.07.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 10, Austrian Grand Prix, Spielberg, Austria, Race Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

His team mate George Russell had been battling hard to stay ahead of Sergio Perez, but on lap 10 he was unable to maintain the advantage and the Red Bull pushed through to P11. Stroll had been similarly successful in passing Hulkenberg after the Haas ran wide at turn 3; moments later Hulkenberg was into pit lane for a first change of tyres, the VF-23 once again seeming overly punishing on its tyres. In fact it proved to be a more serious problem, a loss of power leaving Hulkenberg parking by the roadside on lap 14 and activating a Virtual Safety Car for retrieval.

Hamilton responded by pitting straight away, still complaining that he was unable to turn the car which was the reason for his continual track limit violations. Alonso initially stayed out having started on the hard compound while everyone around him began the race on medium tyres, while Ferrari were too late to come in straight away. However the short length of the Red Bull Ring meant they had a second chance to come in and double stack for a second set of mediums (committing them to a second stop later on); and Alonso's hand was forced, with Aston bringing him in second time round at the same time as Stroll, who was held up in the process which dropped him out of the top ten by the time the race resumed.

The Red Bulls had stayed out, although Leclerc had been able to pit and come back out still in second and Sainz managed to use his fresh tyres to rapidly get back past Perez for third. Hamilton was initially shown in fifth but then word came down from race control that there had been another track limits infringement, resulting in a five second penalty for him to serve later. Tsunoda had also been handed a penalty for the same offence, while Sainz was the next recipient of a black-and-white warning. Then it was Hamilton's turn to complain about another driver's track limits infringements as he watched Perez pushing the boundaries.

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W14.
02.07.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 10, Austrian Grand Prix, Spielberg, Austria, Race Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

Verstappen finally dived into pit lane for his first stop on lap 24 and came out behind the two Ferraris, but ahead of Hamilton, with Perez in next time by. It didn't take long for Verstappen to pick off Sainz at the exit of turn 3. Perez had came back out in tenth putting him ahead of Ocon who had picked up a further penalty for an unsafe release on his own pit stop; Perez then quickly sliced his way past Albon for ninth and soon lined up a pass on Russell before setting sail after Gasly.

Leclerc continued to lead Verstappen, but Sainz was the next to receive a five second penalty. That was great news for Norris, who was going well in the upgraded McLaren and found his way past Hamilton for fourth when the Mercedes strayed wide and opened the door at turn 3 on lap 29. Further delayed track limits warnings came thick and fast, the latest for Gasly and Stroll, with Albon the next to get a five second penalty in tenth. Nyck de Vries added some variety to the array of penalties with one for running Magnussen off the road while battling over 15th.

Verstappen had been chewing his way through Leclerc's lead at the front, and on lap 35 made his way down the inside of turn 3 to take control of the race back from the Monegasque, while at the same time Perez managed to pick off Gasly for seventh. Meanwhile an audibly flustered Hamilton was coming under growing pressure from Alonso, who was now being hunted down by Perez in turn. Everyone was scratching their heads trying to figure out who did - and who didn't - still have a further five second penalty on top of their relative track positions.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB19 makes a pit stop.
02.07.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 10, Austrian Grand Prix, Spielberg, Austria, Race Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Moy / XPB Images

One person who definitely didn't was Verstappen, whose lead over Leclerc was already six seconds by lap 40. Ocon did have one, and he duly served it when he pitted again on lap 41 followed next time around by Russell and then Norris, both of whom didn't have a penalty to factor in. Hamilton was next to pit on lap 43 just as Perez picked off Alonso in turn 1, and he had to endure a five second hold before the Mercedes pit crew was able to spring into action to minimise the damage.

More pit stops came thick and fast, with and without five second penalties. Verstappen, Leclerc and Perez stayed out but Sainz pitted and served his penalty, coming out behind Norris who made his former team mate and buddy work for the position around the outside of turn 4. Leclerc eventually pitted on lap 48 despite a confused radio message about potentially extending his current stint, and dropped back in between Perez and Sainz. Verstappen duly responded by making his own final stop of the afternoon on lap 49. Perez was in shortly thereafter, dropping him out of second and down to sixth between Norris and Alonso.

That last round of pit stops pretty much sealed the order with 20 laps to go, Verstappen 15s ahead of Leclerc and Sainz while Norris was punching in fastest laps in fourth ahead of Perez. Hamilton and Russell were next on the road in what was proving to be a rather disappointing outing for Mercedes, while Stroll and Gasly were fighting over the final points with Albon and Ocon.

Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) Ferrari SF-23 and Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB19 battle for position. 02.07.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 10, Austrian Grand Prix, Spielberg, Austria, Race Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Coates / XPB Images

Verstappen was ddeply affronted by Norris having the temerity to make a claim on the bonus point for fastest lap, and snatched the honours for himself on lap 52. Norris was further put in his place by a flying Perez taking fourth when the McLaren locked up into turn 3 on lap 56. Perez was soon on the back of Sainz, determined to barge his way onto the podium to make up for his qualifying ignominy on Friday. He had plenty of time to pull it off, but it was a brilliant hard-fought battle between the pair and took several goes before it finally came off for the Mexican around the outside of turn 4 on lap 62.

Verstappen's lead over Leclerc was now over 20s with ten laps to go, with Perez too far away to challenge for second. Sainz kept up in the hope of a mistake by Perez, but ultimately had to settle for fourth followed by Norris, Alonso, Hamilton, Russell, Gasly and Stroll, after the Aston made slight contact with Albon which dropped the Thai driver out of the points. Ocon was disappointed in 12th, followed by a strong day for Williams rookie Logan Sargeant classified in 13th after he was the late recipient of another track limits penalty. Magnussen was the ninth and last driver of the day to be penalised for not colouring in between the lines, dropping the Haas down to 19th - the last of those running, following Hulkenberg's earlier retirement.

In the meantime Verstappen had temporarily mislaid the bonus point to Perez, and he wasn't happy. With two laps to go he came down pit lane - catching out team and FIA personnel already preparing for the podium proceedings - to pick up a cheeky set of softs to stake a final and irrefutable claim to fastest lap honours. He had more than enough time to come in, boot up and get back out while keeping the lead and duly claiming his prize. When it's your day, it really is your day - that is, if your name is Max Verstappen, and your team is Red Bull, and the grandstands are packed out by fans wearing orange just about glimpsed through all the orange smoke pouring from celebratory flares. Just a dress rehearsal for similar celebrations to come at Spa and Zandvoort, no doubt.

Race winner Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB19 takes the chequered flag at the end of the race. 02.07.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 10, Austrian Grand Prix, Spielberg, Austria, Race Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Moy / XPB Images

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