Max Verstappen took his fifth consecutive victory this season at an Austrian Grand Prix filled with overtaking action and time penalties for track limits breaches.
Ferrari showed solid pace in the race as Charles Leclerc took second place, although Verstappen had time for an extra pit stop towards the end to set the fastest lap of the afternoon, while Sergio Perez put on a strong recovery drive from 15th on the grid to take the final podium place.
Carlos Sainz may have felt somewhat aggrieved at finishing fourth after looking particularly speedy behind his team-mate in the early stages, while Lando Norris took full advantage of McLaren’s upgrade package to register the team’s first top-five result of the season.
The race result would change significantly hours later however, with eight drivers given post-race time penalties – including Sainz – for multiple track limits breaches that were not investigated while the race took place.
Following the drama of the wet-dry sprint on Saturday, conditions were more settled ahead of Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix, and a minute’s silence took place before the race started in memory of teenage racer Dilano van ‘t Hoff, who tragically died in an accident during a FRECA race at Spa on Saturday.
And as Formula 1 raced on, Verstappen got an excellent getaway to hold onto the lead from Leclerc and Sainz, but Lewis Hamilton was able to leap past Lando Norris into Turn 1 and into fourth place.
Leclerc was putting the squeeze on the Red Bull driver on the first lap however, moving alongside him on the outside of Turns 3 and 4 to try and challenge for the lead, which Verstappen was able to defend and hold onto the lead.
Fernando Alonso, the first of the runners to start on hard tyres, moved past team-mate Lance Stroll into sixth, who was pinched on the apex of Turn 1 as he tried to pass Norris himself, losing momentum in the process and dropping to ninth.
Yuki Tsunoda suffered damage after running into the gravel at Turn 4 after tagging the Alpine of Esteban Ocon on the exit of Turn 1 – with the debris on the start/finish straight bringing out the Safety Car.
Verstappen put the hammer down at the restart on Lap 4 and pulled out the crucial one-second gap to Leclerc within the first lap of going full racing speed.
But while Verstappen extended his gap, Sainz was hanging on to the back of his team-mate and voiced to the pit wall that he felt he had more pace underneath him to be able to go ahead of Leclerc – but he was told “no attack for now” and to hold station.
Sergio Perez was on a recovery mission after qualifying a lowly 15th on Friday, and got his elbows out to move past George Russell into 11th, lunging down the inside up the hill into Turn 3 to move level with the Mercedes driver before getting the move done into Turn 4.
This allowed Perez to move up behind Alex Albon the following lap and get into the points places by Lap 12 of 71, with a long way to go for him to make up more places.
Meanwhile, Hamilton was given a black and white flag for exceeding track limits at Turn 10 and when informed of this, he said simply that “the car won’t turn”, believing his Mercedes to be too slow.
After a sterling drive on Saturday, Nico Hulkenberg’s race ended after only 14 laps with what appeared to be a power unit issue and that brought out the Virtual Safety Car, just too late for Ferrari as they had passed the pit entry just before the VSC began.
Most of the other drivers took the opportunity to pit for fresh tyres and, when Ferrari took the chance to double-stack their drivers, two slow stops of 4.4 and 4.5 seconds respectively for Leclerc and Sainz saw Leclerc hold position in second but Sainz dropped back to sixth on the road, behind Perez, who stayed out, Hamilton and Norris.
Sainz bemoaned the choice to not stay out and, while he quickly moved past former McLaren team-mate Norris again, he lost several positions on track and plenty of time in the process.
Track limits, one of the hot topics of the weekend, reared their head again as Hamilton was awarded a five-second time penalty by Lap 18 for breaching them too many times, and Tsunoda was quickly given the same punishment.
Having been scorned by strategy and team orders, Sainz was driving with fire in his belly on fresh medium tyres, making moves on both Hamilton and Perez to put himself back into the top three come Lap 20, though he had a five-second gap to his team-mate to make up, having previously been underneath his rear wing.
Among the melee of stops under the VSC, Red Bull opted to keep both drivers out and by the time Verstappen finally pitted, he came out behind both Ferrari drivers and a remarkable run of 249 consecutive laps led in Formula 1 came to an end.
Verstappen made short work of Sainz to move himself back up into second the following lap, though Hamilton, who had been following Perez for several laps, was keen on reporting his supposed track limits breaches after being penalised himself.
Though behind him, Norris was able to close up by the time Lap 28 came around and out-dragged the Mercedes driver down into Turn 4 and moved himself up into fourth place, with Mercedes reporting a brake issue on Hamilton’s car.
On penalty watch, Sainz was given a five-second penalty for track limits as both Alpine drivers, Lance Stroll, and Alex Albon were also punished for going over the white lines too many times – and the race had only reached half distance.
Back at the front, having eased back up to the rear of Leclerc, Verstappen – on tyres nine laps younger – made a move down the inside of Turn 3 to pass the Ferrari driver to retake the lead at the halfway mark.
Towards the back of the field, Nyck de Vries was given a five-second penalty himself for forcing Kevin Magnussen onto the gravel after running side-by-side around Turn 6, in a rare non-track limits punishment on an extremely busy day for Race Control at the Austrian Grand Prix.
The pit window came for the second stops in what was widely expected to be a two-stop race, as Perez continued his rise by moving past Alonso into fourth place and Hamilton served his penalty by pitting and rejoining in eighth.
With Sainz having to do the same at his second stop on Lap 46, he ended up rejoining behind Norris once again and it took a gutsy move around the outside of Turn 4 and its downhill exit to move ahead of his former McLaren team-mate and back up into P4.
But behind came a charging Perez, who rejoined fifth after his second stop and had his eyes set on achieving a podium after his eighth-row start.
After making his way past Norris, an enthralling battle ensued between Perez and Sainz for the final podium place as the two did battle for third on the road.
Perez complained of Sainz moving under braking, while Sainz claimed Perez was “intimidating” him in wheel-to-wheel racing, as they did battle at Turns 3 and 4 on consecutive laps and after several tight duels, the Red Bull driver was able to get the move done after getting DRS down towards Turn 4.
He managed to get ahead of Sainz heading into the braking zone and, despite running slightly deep, he just about held onto the track and Perez was into the podium positions.
But such was Verstappen’s lead at the front in the closing stages, he was asking the question of his team to pit to try and set the fastest lap of the race.
And with two laps to go, a set of soft tyres went on the Red Bull driver with a flawless stop for the Dutchman to nab the bonus point for the fastest lap of the race and plenty of leeway ahead of Leclerc.
With that, Verstappen crossed the line to win the Austrian Grand Prix and took the bonus point for the fastest lap in the process for a full batch of points with which to end the race.
That was not the end of the drama, however, with more than 1,200 instances of track limits breaches looked at by the FIA after the race and eight drivers having their race time added to.
Race classification: 2023 Austrian Grand Prix
1. Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing
2. Charles Leclerc Ferrari
3. Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing
4. Lando Norris McLaren
5. Fernando Alonso Aston Martin
6. Carlos Sainz Ferrari*
7. George Russell Mercedes
8. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes*
9. Lance Stroll Aston Martin
10. Pierre Gasly Alpine*
11. Alex Albon Williams*
12. Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo
13. Logan Sargeant Williams*
14. Esteban Ocon Alpine*
15. Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo
16. Oscar Piastri McLaren
17. Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri*
18. Kevin Magnussen Haas
19. Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri*
Nico Hulkenberg Haas DNF
*Driver was given post-race time penalty for track limits breaches.