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F1 Review: King Of The Ring: Max Verstappen Seizes Win In Austria

Max Verstappen started from the pole and easily repelled the challenge from Ferrari to win the Rolex Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring, beating Charles Leclerc by over five seconds. Verstappen fell behind Leclerc and Carlos Sainz after making his first pit stop, but quickly slammed the door on any Ferrari hopes for a win and retook the lead for good on lap 35. Verstappen completed the “Grand Slam Of Grand Prix’s” by winning the pole for the sprint race on Friday (June 30th), the sprint race on Saturday (July 1st), the pole for the race (also on Saturday), and the race on Sunday (July 2nd), while also setting fastest lap. It was Verstappen’s seventh victory of the year and fifth consecutive triumph. Leclerc’s podium was his first since Baku in late April, while Sergio Perez seemed to regain lost form by charging from 15th to take third.   

“I think the most important [thing] for me was lap 1, to stay in front,” Verstappen said after the race. “After that we could do our own race.”

Sainz took fourth, while Lando Norris capped off a strong qualifying effort of fourth and came home fifth, his best result of the year. Fernando Alonso was sixth on a track admittedly not his strongest, ahead of the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, in seventh and eighth, respectively. (These positions were later swapped owing to Hamilton incurring a time penalty for track limits.)

Pierre Gasly was solid all weekend, qualifying eight and finishing ninth, while Lance Stroll took the final points-paying spot. After Aston Martin lodged a complaint over track limits penalties (or lack of them), the standings were revised, with Sainz bumped from third to sixth, and Hamilton from seventh to eighth. Alonso moved up from sixth to fifth. Gasly and Stroll flip-flopped, with Stroll taking ninth.

Verstappen’s overwhelming points lead grew to 81 points, and now leads Perez 229 to 148 in the drivers standings, with Alonso 18 adrift of Perez with 108. Verstappen is surely a lock for his third consecutive world championship even with 13 races left.

“I don’t like to think about that yet,” Verstappen commented. “I’m just enjoying the moment, driving with this car, working with the team. I think the whole weekend we’ve done a really good job.”

In the constructor standings, Red Bull continues to flex, adding 31 points to their already embarrassing cushion over Mercedes for a 377 to 178 lead. Aston Martin is six back of Mercedes at 172.

The Race

Verstappen outran Leclerc and Sainz at lights out but had to defend Leclerc’s strong challenge into turn 2. Hamilton got by Norris for fourth, while Alonso overtook Stroll for sixth.

Yuki Tsunoda ran off into the gravel trap after losing his front wing due to contact, bringing out an early virtual safety car on lap 2.

Green flag racing resumed on lap 4, and Verstappen quickly established a gap to Leclerc that was over a second, nullifying DRS.

Back in the pack, Perez moved up from 15th to 12th, while Russell was still stuck in 11th, with Perez looming larger in his mirror. 

While Leclerc was losing ground to Verstappen, Sainz was right on his teammate’s tail but struggled to get by. Perez muscled his way past Russell on lap 10 as the two made slight contact, and Perez soon after slipped by Esteban Ocon and Alex Albon and was in ninth on lap 13. 

Meanwhile, in what became a recurring theme for drivers, Hamilton was warned for track limits on lap 13 after several complaints from Norris running behind him. Hamilton complained of steering and braking issues, telling his team that “The car won’t turn.”

Nico Hulkenberg’s engine expired on lap 14, bringing out a second virtual safety car. 

While the Red Bulls stayed out, Hamilton and Norris pitted, leading a number of cars in for hard tires, and Leclerc and Sainz pitted a lap later but the team’s slow double-stack stop cost both drivers time. Sainz was particularly furious, after emerging behind Hamilton and Perez. 

Verstappen pitted on lap 25 for hard tires and came out behind both Ferraris and in third. Verstappen quickly nipped Sainz on lap 26 and was just over six seconds behind Leclerc. Perez pitted for hard tires and emerged in 10th.

Norris finally zoomed past Hamilton on lap 28, and it was clear that McLaren’s upgrades were paying dividends. 

Sainz was issued a track limits penalty on lap 30, and the news was not looking great for Leclerc either, as Verstappen had trimmed Leclerc’s six-second advantage in half. Verstappen moved into DRS range on lap 34 and blew by Leclerc at turn 3 on lap 35, and Verstappen set off to build his lead.

Up front, Verstappen’s advantage was 12 seconds by lap 46, and was in complete control, with the threat of rain the only aspect giving Ferrari any hope. 

Perez overtook Norris on lap 57 for fourth, and targeted Sainz less than a second ahead, with a spot on the podium at stake. In arguably the most exciting battle of the day, Sainz gamely held on for five laps until Perez finally gained the position. Sainz’s reluctance to give up the position likely ensured Leclerc’s runner-up finish, as Perez didn’t have enough time to even approach Leclerc in second.

Verstappen’s lead was 23 seconds by lap 66, and three laps later, he pitted for soft tires to chase the fastest lap. Verstappen’s final lap earned the extra point for fastest lap and crossed the line over five seconds ahead of Leclerc. Red Bull’s undefeated season continued.

The Good

Sergio Perez is back! After a three-race disappearing act that took him out of championship contention, Perez responded with a podium finish that looked unlikely given his starting position of 15th. Of course, Perez never got close to Verstappen, and that was probably by design because after nearly wrecking his teammate at the start of Saturday’s (July 1st) sprint race, Perez was probably ordered to keep his distance, unless it was on the podium.

Lando Norris recovered from a disappointing sprint race on Saturday (July 1) and posted his best result of the season, a fifth. The strong finish comes on the heels of McLaren upgrades that gave Norris the ability to battle with the Mercedes and Aston Martin. After two scoreless races, Norris heads to his home race at Silverstone with confidence, momentum, and a faster car.

Toto Wolfe’s matter-of-fact response to Lewis Hamilton: On lap 53, Hamilton complained to his team that many drivers were exceeding track limits without punishment. Wolfe calmly replied, “Lewis, the car is bad we know. Please drive it.” Translation: “Stop whining.”

The Bad

Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg finished 19th and 20th, respectively. Hulkenberg’s engine quit on lap 14, which ended what looked like a promising day for Hulk, who qualified eighth. Magnussen, on the other hand, was uncompetitive from the start after qualifying 19th, and also suffered the indignity of being run into the gravel trap by Williams Nyck de Vries

I give Hass and “F” on the day, and I’m sure team principal Guenther Steiner would agree, only with many, many more “F’s.” 

The use of the words “track limits.” There was just way too much of it. I don’t know who said it more—track officials, or drivers complaining of their competitors exceeding track limits. There’s one sure way to tell which drivers are guilty of exceeding track limits—they’re the ones complaining that everyone else is doing it. 

The Disappointing

Competition for Max Verstappen. Sunday’s race was pretty exciting, but only because of the racing for every position except for first. Sure, Verstappen dropped to third after pitting on lap 25, but was there ever any doubt he’d soon get past the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz, and do so in quick fashion?

Verstappen’s dominance late in the race was such that his name was hardly mentioned in the final 20 laps. Luckily, he gave us a little excitement with a risky pit for soft tires to take a shot at the fastest lap, risky because he had just a 25-second lead on Leclerc. But Verstappen has total trust in his pit crew, and, much like Red Bull strategists, the pit crew just doesn’t make mistakes.  

The Driver

Norris and Perez deserve praise for their strong drives, but I have to give the “The Driver” title to Verstappen, mainly because I can’t bring myself to use “Max Verstappen” and “honorable mention” in the same sentence. Verstappen did everything right on Sunday, starting well, showing patience, attacking at the right times, and using DRS perfectly to his advantage while overtaking Sainz early in the race. 

Verstappen makes it look easy; in that car with that driver, it probably is.  

The Results – updated after all penalties announced

Rolex Grand Prix Of Austria, Red Bull Ring, July 2nd, 2023

11Max VerstappenRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT711:25:33.60726
216Charles LeclercFERRARI71+5.155s18
311Sergio PerezRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT71+17.188s15
44Lando NorrisMCLAREN MERCEDES71+26.327s12
514Fernando AlonsoASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES71+30.317s10
655Carlos SainzFERRARI71+31.377s8
763George RussellMERCEDES71+48.403s6
844Lewis HamiltonMERCEDES71+49.196s4
918Lance StrollASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES71+59.043s2
1010Pierre GaslyALPINE RENAULT71+67.667s1
1123Alexander AlbonWILLIAMS MERCEDES71+79.767s0
1224Zhou GuanyuALFA ROMEO FERRARI70+1 lap0
132Logan SargeantWILLIAMS MERCEDES70+1 lap0
1431Esteban OconALPINE RENAULT70+1 lap0
1577Valtteri BottasALFA ROMEO FERRARI70+1 lap0
1681Oscar PiastriMCLAREN MERCEDES70+1 lap0
1721Nyck De VriesALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT70+1 lap0
1820Kevin MagnussenHAAS FERRARI70+1 lap0
1922Yuki TsunodaALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT70+1 lap0
NC27Nico HulkenbergHAAS FERRARI12DNF0

Note – Verstappen scored an additional point for setting the fastest lap of the race. De Vries received a five-second time penalty for forcing another driver off track. Sargeant, Magnussen, Ocon (x2), De Vries and Tsunoda received five-second time penalties for exceeding track limits. Tsunoda, Sainz, Hamilton, Gasly, Albon, Ocon (x2) and De Vries received 10-second time penalties for exceeding track limits.

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