Max Verstappen wins the Austrian Grand Prix, on a day where track limits featured as much as overtaking.
The chaotic conditions of Saturday gave way to overcast skies on Sunday. With only a 30% chance of rain during the race, the teams had the luxury of dry running.
With the grid set from qualifying on Friday, Sergio Perez lined up P15, very much out of position. Teammate Verstappen stormed to Pole Position, with their on-track antics in the Sprint Race causing concern in the Red Bull garage. The hope for Perez was for the Mexican to finish on the podium.
The main threat to Max Verstappen came from the two Ferraris. Charles Leclerc started in P2, with Carlos Sainz directly behind him in P3. Lando Norris said his race in the upgraded McLaren would be long, but did not commit to fighting the front runners from P4. Nico Hulkenberg was a driver out with something to prove, starting in P8.
Two drivers saw their chances of a good result take a significant setback before the race had even started. Kevin Magnussen and the under-pressure Nyck de Vries both started from the pit lane. Not an ideal start to the Grand Prix for de Vries, who needs to produce solid results to have any chance of keeping his seat.
As the drivers took to the grid, the traditional pre-race tension began to build. Ferrari had their best chance yet to take victory away from the all-conquering Red Bull. Verstappen though, would push hard from the home win on the first return to Austria since the death of former CEO Dietrich Mateschitz, and the announcement the track will feature on the calendar until 2030.
Lights out and a quick Safety Car
At lights out, Verstappen took his now customary lead into the first corner. Behind was more chaotic. Hamilton overtook Lando Norris, with Alonso clearing his teammate. Perez moved up two places, but Kevin Magnussen suffered a power unit issue and dropped back after his pit lane start.
Leclerc was on the offensive behind. Attempting to pass the Red Bull at turn two and turn three, he ultimately had to settle for P2 after robust defending from the championship leader.
Yuki Tsunoda caused a Safety Car with a cheeky move into turn one but collided with the Alpine of Pierre Gasly. Damaging his front wing, he braked late into the downhill turn three and took a trip across the gravel. No additional damage was done but a new front wing was needed. The Safety Car came in just one lap later, with the debris cleared.
Verstappen bolted early at the restart, pulling over a second clear. With DRS now unavailable, the Red Bull began to stretch clear. Perez and Russell needed rapid progress to salvage their races. Perez moved into P12 overtaking Esteban Ocon, with Russell now stuck behind the Williams of Alex Albon.
Lance Stroll began to recover after a tough start, passing Hulkenberg’s Haas to move into P7 after the German ran wide. Alonso in the second Aston Martin looked strong in P6, on the hard tyres.
The two Ferraris began a battle for P2. Sainz closed to under half a second of his teammate, with DRS assisting the Spaniard in his quest for P2. All he needed was one mistake. Coming on the radio, Sainz said to his team he had more pace. The Scuderia ordered him not to attack.
Perez and Russell fought hard, with Perez banging wheels with the Mercedes as went through. Once past, the Mexican began to speed past those in front, pushing into P9.
Further up the order, Norris proved the progress of the upgraded McLaren, staying within half a second of Lewis Hamilton, who was beginning to push track limits. A black and white flag for the Mercedes added to his woes.
Hulkenberg’s Haas ground to a halt with smoke pouring from the car. Norris and Hamilton dashed to the pits as the Virtual Safety Car deployed. Mercedes and McLaren double stacked, fitting the hard tyres, committing them to a two-stop strategy.
Red Bull did not pit either car. Ferrari missed the pit entry and pitted a lap later. Two slow stops for the Scuderia allowed Norris and Hamilton to pass Sainz. The Spaniard got passed the McLaren with ease, passing the Mercedes, one lap later as Hamilton was awarded a 5-second time penalty.
Track limits violations became left right and centre. Yuki Tsuonda, Esteban Ocon, and Lewis Hamilton all received penalties.
The battle for P9 was frenetic as racing resumed on lap 16. with Magnussen, Lance Stroll, Esteban Ocon and Alex Albon locked in an intense battle all through the race.
Perez found himself a sitting duck with both Sainz and Hamilton passing them with ease. With Leclerc committed to a two-stop strategy, the Ferrari began to slowly make inroads on Verstappen’s lead on his new medium tyres. Verstappen responded to the threat, pitted for hard tyres and lost the lead, putting Ferrari in first and second.
Verstappen passed Carlos Sainz a lap later, as Perez pitted, dropping to P10, earning a black and white flag for track limits violations. Once his new tyres were fitted, the Mexican began to fly up the order.
Norris finally passed Lewis Hamilton for P4 on lap 28 after a lock-up in turn three for Hamilton. Carlos Sainz became the latest to receive a 5-second penalty for track limits.
Verstappen closed on Leclerc with ease, the seemingly invincible Red Bull showing its pace as Leclerc’s medium tyres began to degrade. Verstappen moved to within striking distance of the Ferrari, passing him one later. pulling six seconds clear in just six laps.
Alex Albon and Pierre Gasly became the latest to be awarded penalties for track limits, as de Vries pushed Kevin Magnussen into the gravel, Magnussen was able to continue but was now further down the order. De Vries was awarded a five-second penalty for the incident.
As Lando Norris pitted for more tyres on lap 42, Perez surged passed Fernando Alonso. Hamilton pitted one lap later, serving his penalty first. Norris passed Gasly with ease for P6.
Aston Martin pitted two laps later, unable to move up the order further when he rejoined. Sainz then joined in the action, serving his 5-second penalty before rejoining, Lando Norris passing the Ferrari for P4, Sainz then re-passing after turn 4. But the battle raged on, with the McLaren setting the fastest lap. This was in stark contrast to teammate Oscar Piastri, who ran P19 and last for the entirety of the race in the old spec car.
Leclerc entered the pits, having fallen 14 seconds behind race leader Verstappen, losing P2 to Sergio Perez, but the Mexican had yet to stop. It would be the World Champion that pitted first for Red Bull, Perez pitting one lap later, emerging in P5.
The scene was now set for a sprint to the end. Perez had 20 laps to close in those ahead of him to secure P2, with rain on the horizon for the end of the race. With Sainz and Norris battling hard, the Mexican closed as much as half a second on the battling duo.
Back-markers caused issues for the drivers, with Sainz and Norris encountering a slow-moving Yuku Tsunoda at exactly the wrong moment. Norris locked up and ran wide, with Perez taking advantage to take P5 on lap 58.
Sainz proved a slightly more difficult obstacle, with strong defensive driving from the Spaniard and DRS keeping the Red Bull behind. Expert driving from Sainz saw the Ferrari hit the DRS detection zone behind the Red Bull for two laps. A cheeky radio message from Sainz reaffirmed the intensity of the battle. Eventually, Perez was passed on his way, and set off after Leclerc for P2, with just ten laps to go.
Stroll took the final point away from Albon’s Williams on lap 65, with the Mercedes cars locked in P7 and P8 after a disappointing afternoon. Coming across a group of lapped cars, Hamilton had to thread his way through.
Logan Sargeant’s strong afternoon in P13 saw a significant setback, as another five-second penalty was dished out by the stewards. Verstappen made a pit stop on the penultimate lap for the fastest lap.
Winning the race one lap later, Verstappen secured his fifth consecutive victory. Teammate Perez received a 5-second penalty for track limits, but keeping P3 ahead of Carlos Sainz. Norris secured a strong P5 for McLaren, Alonso was P6, the two Mercedes cars in P8 and P9, with Lance Stroll rounding out the top ten.