Red Bull’s Christian Horner is taking nothing for granted at the Austrian Grand Prix, concerned about Ferrari’s “different approach” to tyre management.
On the face of it, Max Verstappen looks to be a red-hot favourite for a victory that would further extend his 38-point World Championship lead.
The Dutchman started from pole position for the sprint and fended off an early challenge from the two Ferraris, who ended up squabbling between themselves and allowed the Red Bull driver to coast home unchallenged thereafter.
Sergio Perez, in the other Red Bull, recovered from a nine-place grid penalty for track-limits breaches in qualifying by climbing back up from 13th to start the grand prix in fifth, just behind George Russell in the Mercedes.
Red Bull were thwarted a seventh consecutive victory at the British Grand Prix when Verstappen sustained damage to his car running over debris, letting in Sainz for his first F1 win, and Horner will be concerned about the threat from the Scuderia if their way of managing tyres proves successful.
Speaking to Sky F1 after the sprint, the Red Bull team principal said: “A very controlled drive by Max, happy with that, and a great recovery by Checo – almost back into the position he had qualified. Overall, a pretty decent sprint race.
“I think actually Ferrari didn’t push their tyres as hard at the beginning of the stint and they were marginally quicker at the end.
“I think we wanted to break the DRS quickly and Max broke that one second [gap] very hard on the first and second flying lap. So it’s just a different approach.”
Asked if Verstappen still had some pace in his pocket at the end as Leclerc ate into his lead, Horner replied: “Yeah, he was managing. Obviously it’s a reasonably long stint on those [soft] tyres. And what you take out at the beginning, you lose at the end.”
Verstappen is already the most successful F1 driver ever in terms of wins in Austria, with three at the Austrian Grand Prix itself plus another in the 2021 Styrian Grand Prix which was added to the calendar during the pandemic.
Last year, on back-to-back weekends, the Dutchman won both races at the Red Bull Ring, by 35 and 17 seconds.