Race: Cruise control for Max; Norris bags another P3

Jon Wilde
Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen enjoyed the “easy cruise win” in the Austrian Grand Prix that Lewis Hamilton had predicted, extending his World Championship lead to 32 points.

The Dutchman completed a Red Bull Ring double on successive weekends for his 15th Formula 1 race triumph and fourth in the last five races, putting him well in command in the quest for a first Drivers’ title.

In front of legions of delirious orange-clad supporters from the Netherlands, there was never an anxious moment for the 23-year-old who led from pole position and coasted to a victory every bit as emphatic as last week’s in the Styrian GP at the same venue.

The bonus for Verstappen was that his title rival Hamilton had a race to forget, even being passed by his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas under team orders due to a lack of pace as a result of damage to the rear of the car.

Verstappen coasted home almost 18 seconds ahead of Bottas, with Lando Norris bagging a third podium of the campaign almost a year to the day since his first at the same venue.

What had looked to be a cleaner opening sequence of corners than last week soon resulted in a Safety Car caused by the exit of Esteban Ocon, who retired his Alpine at the side of the track after contact near the back of the pack with Antonio Giovinazzi – the Alfa Romeo driver had also been involved in the incident seven days earlier that ended Pierre Gasly’s race.

On the resumption, Sergio Perez was keen to get racy in his 200th grand prix but in trying to overtake Norris for second, the Mexican ran wide into the gravel at turn four and dropped to 11th – losing a great chance to back up Verstappen and defend from the Mercedes duo.

Giovinazzi’s eventful start took another twist when he was given a five-second time penalty for overtaking too early after the Safety Car had gone in. But another penalty proved more significant as Norris was perhaps harshly punished, being adjudged to have forced Perez off the circuit as they battled. “What did the guy expect, trying to go around the outside?” was the 21-year-old’s response.

Norris, his McLaren having a Mercedes engine in the back, had been doing a terrific job of keeping Hamilton at bay for second until he finally succumbed to his fellow Briton within moments of his five-second penalty being announced.

“Such a great driver, Lando,” said the World Champion admiringly over the team radio about a rival whose staunch defence meant the duo had dropped over 10 seconds adrift of Verstappen.

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The stewards had a busy opening third of the race as they also hit Yuki Tsunoda with a five-second penalty for illegally crossing the white line at the pit-lane entry.

On lap 31, Bottas followed Norris into the pits and as the McLaren driver served his penalty, he was leapfrogged for fourth position, putting the Finn on course for the podium.

Hamilton pitted on the next lap, immediately followed by Verstappen, who emerged with his lead still in excess of 12 seconds and which soon began to grow further. “He’s too far ahead,” said Hamilton to race engineer Pete Bonnington after being told of the gap.

Bonnington also informed his driver of possible damage to the rear of the W12 as a result of running over the kerbs and that was evidenced as Verstappen’s lead continued to increase, while Bottas closed in with Norris still only a few seconds further adrift.

Perez found himself involved in another investigation for banging wheels with Charles Leclerc, provoking an angry reaction from the Ferrari man who was trying to pass the Red Bull. This time, it was the Mexican on the receiving end of action from the stewards, becoming the fourth driver to receive a penalty.

The duo diced again on lap 47 and again Leclerc found himself briefly in the gravel when trying to overtake around the outside. The outcome? A second penalty for Perez on a torrid afternoon for the 31-year-old.

“I’ve lost a lot off the rear and can’t go faster,” lamented Hamilton, who fell 20 seconds off the lead. Bottas, now right on the Briton’s tail, was initially told to hold station, which also gave fresh podium hope to Norris who was trying to get within DRS range.

The threat from the McLaren forced a rethink at Mercedes, who granted Bottas permission to race Hamilton and then orchestrated a switch. This left the World Champion vulnerable to Norris – “such a great driver”, remember – and after being passed by his compatriot for third, Hamilton made a second pit-stop, still re-emerging in fourth place on soft tyres.

Not only was Perez hit with a second penalty for the same offence, Tsunoda was too, the left front tyre of his AlphaTauri clearly over the white line as he entered the pit lane for his second stop.

With 11 laps remaining, Red Bull took the opportunity for a ‘free’ pit-stop for Verstappen, who re-emerged seven seconds ahead of Bottas. A cut on a tyre was given by Red Bull as the explanation for the stop.

Perez’s double penalty meant he surrendered P5 to Carlos Sainz, who ran a long first stint on hard tyres and passed Daniel Ricciardo in the closing stages to give Ferrari a boost in their battle with McLaren in the Constructors’ World Championship.

It was a strong drive from Ricciardo too, having started P13, which will lift his battered morale, but there was disappointment for George Russell as he missed out on a first points finish for Williams when passed for P10 by Fernando Alonso.

Old Ferrari team-mates Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel fell massively down the finishing order after a last-lap collision sent Vettel off into the gravel at Turn 4.

Austrian Grand Prix classification

1 Max Verstappen
2 Valtteri Bottas
3 Lando Norris
4 Lewis Hamilton
5 Carlos Sainz
6 Sergio Perez
7 Daniel Ricciardo
8 Charles Leclerc
9 Pierre Gasly
10 Fernando Alonso
11 George Russell
12 Yuki Tsunoda
13 Lance Stroll
14 Antonio Giovinazzi
15 Nicholas Latifi
16 Kimi Raikkonen
17 Sebastian Vettel
18 Mick Schumacher
19 Nikita Mazepin
R Esteban Ocon

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