Max Verstappen made it two sprint victories out of two for the campaign at the Austrian Grand Prix to extend his World Championship lead to 38 points.
After brief early tussles with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, the Drivers’ title-holder had things all his own way to claim pole position for the grand prix as the Scuderia duo spent the middle laps battling each other.
As had been the case for the first sprint of the season at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Verstappen and Leclerc lined up first and second on the grid.
Fernando Alonso was meant to be lining up eighth but strangely, his car still had tyre blankets fitted as the field set off for the formation lap and the Alpine was moved into the pit lane – desperate news for the Spaniard, who had been optimistic of a bold show, as he was unable to get going at all.
Then came an aborted start as Zhou Guanyu’s engine temporaily cut out before he could reach the grid and while he was able to fire it up again, it meant another formation lap and the Alfa Romeo headed into the pit lane – although unlike Alonso, he was able to still take part.
At Imola, Verstappen had trailed his Ferrari rival for much of the sprint after losing out at the start but this time the Dutchman got away in front ahead of Sainz, who leapfrogged his team-mate into second, but those positions were swiftly reversed again as Leclerc took advantage of the Spaniard running a touch wide.
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Pierre Gasly went off at the first corner after contact with Lewis Hamilton, the AlphaTauri hopping into the air before spinning, but although he fell to the back with only Zhou behind him, the Frenchman was able to continue.
Hamilton had fallen behind Alex Albon’s soft-tyred Williams but regained the place on lap four, back up to 10th where he had started after his Q3 crash. The seven-time former World Champion had switched to the spare Mercedes chassis due to the damage sustained.
Leclerc and Sainz were battling hard for second, getting dangerously close to contact as Verstappen cleared away at the front, happy for them to trip over each other. Another duo in close proximity were Albon and Lando Norris, with the Williams man incurring a five-second penalty for forcing the McLaren off the track.
Sergio Perez, who had been dropped nine places to 13th on the grid with a retrospective track-limits penalty, made strong progress up the field and by lap 10 he had passed both Haas cars to reach sixth.
Just before the halfway mark of what was now a 23-lap sprint, Sebastian Vettel, who had started at the back, spun into the gravel after contact with Albon and the Aston Martin man fell back to the rear.
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Hamilton’s hopes of further place gains were being thwarted by some dogged defence from Haas duo Mick Schumacher and Kevin Magnussen in what was the fiercest battle among the top 10 entering the closing stages, Leclerc having pulled out a gap on Sainz.
The Briton eventually got past Schumacher but not Magnussen to end up in P8 as Verstappen coasted home in isolation ahead of Leclerc, Sainz, George Russell, Perez and Esteban Ocon.
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 23 laps
2 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +1.675
3 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +5.644
4 George Russell Mercedes +13.429
5 Sergio Perez Red Bull +18.302
6 Esteban Ocon Alpine +31.032
7 Kevin Magnussen Haas +34.539
8 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +35.447
9 Mick Schumacher Haas +37.163
10 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo +37.557
11 Lando Norris McLaren +38.580
12 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren +39.738
13 Alex Albon Williams +48.241
14 Lance Stroll Aston Martin +50.753
15 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo +52.125
16 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri +52.412
17 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +54.556
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams +68.694
Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin DNF
Fernando Alonso Alpine DNS