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Verstappen wins Austrian GP to complete ‘classy’ Spielberg sweep

SPIELBERG BEI KNITTELFELD, AUSTRIA (AFP) – Defending champion Max Verstappen continued his relentless charge towards a third world title on Sunday when he claimed a record fourth Austrian Grand Prix victory in emphatic style.

The 25-year-old Dutchman finished 5.155 seconds clear of a revived Charles Leclerc of Ferrari, in second, with Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, showing revitalised form, taking a battling third after starting 15th on the grid.

Austrian GP winner Red Bull Racing’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen celebrates. PHOTO: AFP

It was a race of attrition, punctuated by safety cars and influenced by a high number of drivers’ receiving penalties for exceeding track limits.

Several drivers served pit penalties during the race but after a stewards’ investigation, eight received further late-night punishments including Carlos Sainz, demoted from fourth to sixth and Lewis Hamilton from seventh to eighth.

During the race, Verstappen’s unbroken run of laps led ended on 249, when he pitted.

But it was only a pause in his serene progress to a fifth consecutive victory, seventh in nine races this year to extend his lead ahead of Perez in the title race to 81 points.

It followed the Dutchman’s success in Saturday’s sprint and with the fastest lap gave him a maximum points haul from the weekend.

“That is the full sweep, classy Max, very, very classy,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner over the team radio.

“The car was on fire!” replied Verstappen after his 42nd career win.

Despite a third title being his to lose Verstappen said he preferred to take it one race at a time.

“I don’t like to think about that yet,” he said. “I am just enjoying driving this car and racing for this team. The sprint weekend can be very stressful so I’m just glad it all went to plan.”

His win total lifted him to fifth in the all-time list of winners and clear of Ayrton Senna, with whom he had shared 41 victories since winning in Canada.

Including a triumph in the 2022 Styrian Grand Prix, run during the COVID pandemic, this was Verstappen’s fifth win at the Red Bull Ring circuit overall.

Leclerc and Perez were also pleased with their performances.

“We have maximised what we have,” he said. “It was just yesterday that I was off it a bit. The upgrades have worked as expected, but there is still a lot of work to do.”

Perez said, “It’s been a rough patch for me so I hope we are back now and we can keep some consistency.”

Leclerc’s second place earned Ferrari their 800th podium finish.

After the results were revised by stewards, McLaren’s Lando Norris was fourth, two-time champion Fernando Alonso fifth with Ferrari’s Sainz sixth ahead  of the Mercedes pair of George Russell and Hamilton.

Lance Stroll was ninth in the second Aston Martin after Pierre Gasly was demoted to 10th for Alpine.

The race was preceded by a minute’s silence in memory of Dutch racer Dilano van’t Hoff, 18, who was killed racing in heavy rain at Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday.

In warm and dry conditions, Verstappen made a clean start and on lap 25 of the 71, he pitted, handing the lead to Leclerc to end his run of 249 consecutive laps led since lap 48 at the Miami GP.

The Dutchman swiftly regained second, however, and then swept inside Leclerc at Turn Three, on lap 35, to regain the lead.

Hamilton served a penalty while pitting as did Sainz, Ocon, Gasly, Albon and Tsunoda.

Hamilton’s frustrated fuming prompted a radio rebuke from team boss Toto Wolff.

“Lewis, the car is bad,” he said. “We know it. Please drive it.”

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