SPIELBERG – Max Verstappen was unfazed when he won the sprint race from pole at the Austrian Grand Prix, his effort was aided by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. battling behind him to a small point.
They almost collided, with tensions seemingly lingering since last Sunday’s British GP where Leclerc was unhappy with the team’s decisions and Sainz won.
The sprint positions set the grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix, so Verstappen starts in the lead as he aims for a fifth victory at his Formula 1 team’s Spielberg circuit. Verstappen surprisingly thinks the car is a bit lacking in speed.
“We’re still not amazing in qualifying, we’re still a bit heavy,” he said. “It’s just a limitation we have, we still have to lose weight with the car.”
This week Leclerc played down divisive talk within Ferrari after Silverstone where, following a safety car, he was left baffled by team principal Mattia Binotto’s decision to keep him on track instead. than switching to faster tires. He was also in the lead at Monaco, when Ferrari pitted him for new tires and he finished fourth.
Leclerc was asked if he and Sainz could work together on Sunday to catch Verstappen.
“I really hope so,” he says bluntly. Later. he added: “I don’t know the rules of engagement, it’s not us who decide. It will be Mattia.”
Sainz insists ‘the team will pull through’ and they can work in tandem.
“We are both going to make Max’s life as difficult as possible in the rest of the championship. We have to push hard because he’s way ahead,” Sainz said. “We have to make sure we’re closer at the start of a stint and we’re closer at the end.
Ferrari was neither on Saturday, with Verstappen in charge.
He got off to a good start and lapped over 23 laps of the 4.3 kilometer (2.7 mile) Red Bull Ring filled with Dutch fans dressed in orange setting off orange flares and cheering on the Formula 1 champion.
“It was a decent race,” said Verstappen, who has won six of 10 races so far. “Tomorrow will be an interesting battle. The car is good.”
Verstappen’s second sprint win of the season gave him eight more points. Leclerc had seven points for second place and Sainz had six for finishing third with the best eight points.
Verstappen has improved to 189 points overall and leads Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez by 38 points and Leclerc by 44.
George Russell collected five in fourth place. Perez drove superbly from 12th to fifth and scored four points. Esteban Ocon was sixth for Alpine, followed by Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and Lewis Hamilton, who scored a point.
Sainz passed Leclerc at the start, only for Leclerc to quickly catch up and reclaim second place.
The Ferraris grappled when Sainz tried to advance on lap six, with Leclerc holding him back. Sainz started again on the next lap, going inside but Leclerc dove back inside as the tension mounted.
“It was a lot of fun, as it should be. . . race,” Sainz said. “Probably a bit overheated the tyres, running behind Charles. I had to back up and finish the race.
Mick Schumacher defended aggressively from Hamilton until the seven-time F1 champion passed him on lap 21.
Double world champion Fernando Alonso was eighth on the grid but there was a problem with his Alpine car and he did not start.
Chinese driver Zhou Guanyu’s engine cut out on the formation lap and forced the Alfa Romeo driver out of the pit lane a week after surviving a crash at the British GP.
Four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel retired when Aston Martin told him to take the car back to the garage on lap 22. He was later summoned to the stewards for storming a drivers meeting on Friday night and given a suspended fine of 25,000 euros. ($26,000).
Vettel was “expressing his frustration in the meeting” and then left before the end.
“Drivers are not free to leave whenever they want,” F1 said. “Drivers at this level are role models for all drivers in the world and in the opinion of the stewards Vettel has failed to meet this standard.”
Vettel later issued an unqualified apology to the race director, F1 said.
Seven drivers were called in for radio messages on a second formation lap as the start of the sprint was slightly delayed due to Alonso and Zhou’s problems. But after checking the team’s audio, no action was taken.
Earlier, Sainz led the second practice ahead of Leclerc and Verstappen. Russell placed seventh with Hamilton ninth. Mercedes repaired both cars after they crashed in qualifying.
“It was a huge team effort, so it was good to get some points,” Russell said.
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