Max Verstappen delivered victory in the Austrian Grand Prix sprint race while barely raising a sweat. The Red Bull driver secured a dominant victory from pole to flag at his team’s home race at the Red Bull Ring, while behind him Ferrari’s challenge once more turned into an intra-team scrap that the Scuderia must resolve if they are to have any chance of taking the fight to the Dutchman on Sunday.
Verstappen beat Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz into second and third over the 24-lap race that decides the grid for Sunday’s main event. In doing so he has further extended his lead in the drivers’ standing. George Russell and Lewis Hamilton were fourth and eighth for Mercedes, for whom this was a rescue race after a disastrous qualifying session on Friday and they duly put in a herculean effort to ensure their drivers have a shot on Sunday.
They are unlikely to challenge the front three, where Ferrari must make a concerted effort against Verstappen. The Dutchman led from pole but behind him Leclerc and Sainz were in a dogfight from the start.
The pair exchanged places on the opening lap as Sainz passed Leclerc to take second. However the Monegasque came back swiftly to reclaim the place up the inside of turn four. Sainz looked quicker as the two exchanged positions again but Leclerc just held his place. Their duelling allowed Verstappen to open a three-second gap at one point, a comfortable lead he did not relinquish as he eased to the win.
“We cannot afford what we did today,” said Leclerc. “We lost a little bit of time [fighting] but Max managed his pace, so we will never know if we could have caught him. I really don’t know.”
Ferrari did not impose any team orders, for which they should be lauded, but with Leclerc their only driver realistically in position to chase down Verstappen in the title race, they may have to be more ruthless on Sunday.
Hamilton and Russell crashed out of qualifying on Friday and Mercedes had needed to make significant repairs. The team worked furiously to ensure they made the race. Hamilton had his chassis swapped to the spare because of the damage sustained and both cars had new gearboxes fitted while the floors and wings were also repaired. Mechanics had worked on Hamilton’s car through most of the third practice session and he emerged with only 15 minutes to go.
“A big thank you to my team for putting my car together,” said Hamilton. “They worked crazy hard overnight and this morning to keep us in the race so I hope tomorrow is a good day.”
But Hamilton was less pleased with Verstappen’s supporters, saying it is “mind-blowing” they cheered after he ended up in the tyre wall when he lost control at 140mph in qualifying. “I don’t agree with any of that, no matter what,” Hamilton said. “A driver could have been in hospital, and you are going to cheer that? It is mind-blowing that people would do that, knowing how dangerous our sport is. I was grateful I didn’t end up in hospital and I wasn’t heavily injured.”
The sprint, a format with which F1 is entirely enamoured and intends to use at six meetings next season, was once more an underwhelming affair – as it has largely been on its previous outings. Hamilton at least had a lively race. He started from ninth and took damage to his steering when he clipped Pierre Gasly at turn one. Fighting back he caught Haas’s Mick Schumacher and the pair duelled across a sequence of laps. Schumacher defended stoutly, well enough to deny the seven-time champion an obvious chance until Hamilton finally made it stick on lap 22 at turn four.
The battle at the top of the championship remains between Verstappen, Pérez and Leclerc. With eight points for the win Verstappen now leads his teammate Pérez, who was fifth, by 38 points and Leclerc by 44.
Esteban Ocon was in sixth for Alpine, Kevin Magnussen seventh for Haas, Schumacher ninth and Valtteri Bottas 10th for Alfa Romeo.
Off track, Sebastian Vettel endured a private battle with the FIA, who summoned the four-time champion to the stewards for “his behaviour at the drivers’ meeting”. The sporting code cited in the summons referred to “Words, deeds or writings that have caused moral injury or loss to the FIA”.
In what was understood to be a lengthy and animated drivers’ briefing on Friday with the race director, Vettel had expressed his frustration and walked out. The stewards saw him after the sprint race and found he had breached the rule requiring him to attend and failed in meeting the standards required of him as a role model to other drivers. He received a suspended €25,000 (£21,200) fine.