AUSTRIAN GP – Max Verstappen wins action-packed Grand Prix as Charles Leclerc closes down Red Bull’s pace advantage

Testing & Race Reports

Max Verstappen has taken his fifth win at the Austrian Grand Prix finishing the race five seconds ahead of Charles Leclerc. The Red Bull driver continued his dominant form to take ten wins for Red Bull in a row after leading nearly every lap and showing how dominant the Red Bull is and although the gap appeared to narrow as he was only five seconds behind.

Although that gap was narrowed thanked partly to Verstappen having enough of a margin to make a pit stop and go after fastest lap. Verstappen looked like a rocket after winning yesterday’s sprint he in the early stages look difficult to beat Leclerc meanwhile had a decent race with Ferrari looking to have slightly close the gap.

The two-time champion looked to make easy work of repassing the two Ferraris during the middle stint but his strategy looked not to trouble him as the pace advantage of the Red Bull soon saw him regain the lead. But behind Verstappen there was cracking action-packed racing through out the field.

The way Verstappen repassed Leclerc for the lead on lap thirty-four, was an example of the Dutchman’s talent coupled with the pace of the Red Bull. He smartly held back before completing the move on Leclerc to ensure the Ferrari didn’t gain DRS on the following straight, the race-winning move as from there he sailed into the lead.

The Dutchman’s fifth win in a row moves him eighty-one points clear of team-mate Sergio Perez in the championship. Red Bull have now won nine out of nine races and two out of two sprints this season, and all but one race and sprint since this race last year. The question is can they do the unthinkable and something which has never been done before win every Grand Prix in 2023?

Leclerc meanwhile lost out  when opting not to pit under an early Virtual Safety Car and opting to take an extra stop in the closing stages to put on fresh tyres to seal an extra point for the fastest lap.

Sergio Perez was third, the Mexican who had a poor qualifying session was once again use the pace advantage of the Red Bull to come through the pack and then have a thrilling battle for the second half of the race and a nail biting final few laps. Sainz and Perez justling with each other through AMG AG along the back straight and int Rauch.

Sainz once brilliantly repassing the Red Bull around the outside of Turn Four after Perez appeared to have taken the place, before the Mexican ultimately prevailed. Sainz’s defence meant Leclerc was able to build a thirteen second gap ahead of Perez with nine laps to go after passing the Ferrari, and the Red Bull made no inroads into that gap before the chequered flag.

The battle with Sainz lost him the chance to go after second, While Sainz felt Perez was “intimidating” him, there was nothing he could do once Perez finally got DRS out of Rauch and shot ahead on the run to the downhill right-hander.

But Perez drove a excellent patient race to progress through the field and eventually came out on top a brilliant late battle with Sainz to secure a first podium in four races.

Verstappen said, “I think most important to me was of course lap one to stay in front after that we could do our own race. Of course we opted not to box during the virtual safety car and just follow our normal strategy and I think that worked out really well. The tyre life was not that high around here and I think our stints were perfect so a great day, I enjoyed it a lot.”

Leclerc who finished second added, “Yeah I think Friday and today, we maximised what we had. It was more yesterday that I was off pace but its good to be back on the podium. The upgrades we brought made me feel better. It’s looking good for future. The team did an excellent job to bring the upgrades earlier. Obviously there’s still a lot to do, Max and Checo have a lot of pace.

Perez finished in third and said: “Yeah I am really happy it’s been a difficult weekend for me personally, physically I have been really weak, you know I was sick on Thursday and it hasn’t been an easy weekend, you know high fever, no sleep. Fantastic strategy from the team and we had great pace.”

Ferrari looking now to have found a possible solution to race pace and tyre wear, possibly because of upgrades. In the opening phases and up towards the middle of the second stint they were able to track closely behind Verstappen, Sainz at one stage asking for team order to see if he could have a go at challenging Verstappen.

But after the first pit stops Leclerc edged clear of his team-mate, whose hopes were dashed with a five-second penalty for exceeding track limits. Sainz one of nine drivers, almost half the field, to be penalised in this way, and this number included Lewis Hamilton, who had a dispiriting race for Mercedes and could manage only seventh place.

Meanwhile Aston Martin has launched an appeal against the provisional race classification after claiming that a number of cars were not penalised for potentially having breached track limits repeatedly.

The FIA has since revealed it was unable to review all reports of cars having strayed beyond the painted white lines with all four wheels during the race since there were over 1,200 cases during the race. Aston Martin’s protest is likely to specifically target Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz.

However post race twelve additional penalties were given for track limits, demoting Sainz to sixth and Lewis Hamilton to eighth. this followed the protest by Aston Martin, but Esteban Ocon is the biggest casualty of the new evidence presented to the stewards. He has copped four separate penalties that combine for a 30s hit. His twelfth place becomes fourteenth.

The Spaniard was already hit with one five-second penalty for exceeding track limits. A second five-second penalty would possibly drop the fourth-placed driver behind McLaren driver Lando Norris. A more severe punishment would relegate him behind Aston’s own Fernando Alonso.

Norris had another brilliant race one of the best results for McLaren this season, he was fifth showing hope with the team’s upgrades for this weekend they are heading in the right direction heading to his and the team’s home race at Silverstone next weekend.

Norris’s pace would have also been encouraging for McLaren he was just four seconds behind Sainz, and they introduced a major upgrade to his car for this race weekend. It is the first of a series of developments that will be used over the coming races and seemed not only to improve the McLaren’s pace, but also another of its biggest weaknesses, its tyre wear.

Fernando Alonso was sixth while it is not the headline-grabbing result of earlier in the season, it was still a solid result. The Aston Martin driver gained sixth when Hamilton severed a ten-second penalty at his second stop around the halfway stage when the virtual safety car was out, after Nico Hulkenberg’s Haas stopped at AMG AG. That triggered the first round of stops, with everyone but the top four going to a two-stop.

Hamilton finished the race seventh nearly ten seconds ahead of teammate George Russell, a decent recovery for the second Mercedes who was knocked out in Q2 on Friday and made up three places from where he started the race. But still perhaps a frustrating race for Hamilton after losing out to Norris at the start.

Pierre Gasly was ninth ahead of Lance Stroll. Stroll had lost out to his teammate Alonso at the start then the timing of his pit stop as the VSC came out on lap fourteen saw him lose the advantage. Several drivers, however, were caught out by track limits Alex Albon was eleventh the final driver on the lead lap finishing nearly seventy seconds behind Verstappen.

Esteban Ocon was twelfth, as well as being one of the drivers being caught out by track limits, he reached a additional penalty for an unsafe release. At his first stop he was released into the path of Logan Sargeant, who had to brake his Williams and allow Ocon through in order to enter his bit box, who finished one place behind.

The other drivers penalised for track limits abuse were Sargeant, Kevin Magnussen and Tsunoda, who got a second five-second hit for continued running wide at the final corners. Guanyu Zhou was fourteenth ahead of Nyck De Vries who split the Alfa Romeo’s with Valtteri Bottas sixteenth.

Oscar Piastri was seventeenth ahead of Yuki Tsunoda and Kevin Magnussen. Magnussen teammate Nico Hulkenberg was the only retirement, the Haas driver stopping at the side of the road following a loss of power.


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