Verstappen beats McLaren duo in Austrian Sprint

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen converted pole position into victory in Saturday afternoon’s Sprint at the Austrian Grand Prix, overcoming the McLarens of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris via some exhilarating wheel-to-wheel action.

While Verstappen held his lead at the start, Norris soon closed in and briefly moved into P1 with a bold overtake, only for the reigning world champion to reclaim the position moments later in a squabble that enabled Piastri to pass his team mate.

Behind the top three drivers, who maintained that formation to the chequered flag despite some more moments of excitement, George Russell and Lewis Hamilton sandwiched Carlos Sainz, followed by the recovering Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez.

With a tweaked format in play for the 2024 season, Friday afternoon’s Sprint Qualifying session set the grid for the 100km dash, in which points would be handed out to the top eight finishers – from a maximum of eight for P1 down to one for P8.

A thrilling, ultra-close fight at the front in Sprint Qualifying saw Verstappen beat Norris to pole position, with Piastri lining up third from Russell, Sainz and Hamilton, who described his session as “pretty disastrous” after a mistake on his final timed run.

There was a change to the order before the start, however, with Alex Albon being moved from 19th on the grid to the pit lane following a variety of set-up adjustments aboard his Williams, having struggled to make an impact in SQ1 after just one practice session.

Verstappen is pursued by the two McLarens.

When the tyre blankets came off for the formation lap, it was revealed that all 20 drivers would be starting on the yellow-marked medium C4 tyre, which sits between the white-marked C3 hard and red-marked C5 soft in this weekend’s allocation.

After an aborted start, Verstappen made a clean getaway when the race finally got going to maintain his lead over Norris into the first corner, with the McLaren man having to fend off an attack from team mate Piastri on the run to Turn 3.

Behind, Sainz got the jump on Russell with a fine move around the outside of Turn 4, as Hamilton held sixth over the fast-starting Leclerc, Perez, Kevin Magnussen and Lance Stroll – the Alpines of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly dropping out of the top 10 places.

Having kept Piastri behind him, Norris went on the attack, lighting up the timesheets to close in on Verstappen and, on Lap 5, bravely sent his car up the inside of the Red Bull at Turn 3, just about slowing it down at the apex to emerge with the lead.

But more excitement swiftly followed as Verstappen responded with a lunge at Turn 4, where Norris’s exit was compromised and Piastri managed to slip past his team mate, with Sainz, the two Mercedes drivers and Leclerc all watching on.

“I’m clipping way too much,” was the message from Verstappen, as he did his best to edge away from Piastri and get himself out of the Australian’s DRS window, while Russell fought back against Sainz to reclaim P4 with a clean and simple pass on the run between Turns 3 and 4.

Hulkenberg was handed a 10 second penalty for his incident with Alonso.

With the lap chart – now running to 23 tours after the aborted start – reaching double figures, Verstappen moved out of that decisive DRS window and began to build up a slightly more comfortable advantage over Piastri, and Norris also slipped back in third as the race settled down.

A few laps later, though, Norris began to up his pace again and applied some pressure on Piastri, leading to some anxious-looking faces on the McLaren pit wall as they tried to manage the situation and see out a double top three finish.

Up front, Verstappen took advantage of the McLarens focusing on each other to move further into the distance, eventually crossing the line 4.6 seconds ahead of Piastri, with Norris a further seven-tenths back after his late push.

Mercedes pair Hamilton and Russell held onto P4 and P6 around the Ferrari of Sainz, while Leclerc made up some ground after his Sprint Qualifying woes to take seventh, and Perez scored the final point on offer in eighth position.

Magnussen put up a determined display in his Haas en route to ninth, followed by the Aston Martin of Stroll and the Alpines of Ocon and Gasly, who were unable to build on their qualifying efforts and failed to score.

RB drivers Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo wound up 13th and 15th respectively, around the Haas of Nico Hulkenberg, with two-time world champion Fernando Alonso having to settle for 16th in his Aston Martin after a moment with the German at Turn 3.

It was a quiet outing for the Williams and Kick Sauber drivers, with Logan Sargeant leading home Albon after the latter’s pit lane start, and Valtteri Bottas beating team mate Zhou Guanyu to the flag.

Verstappen’s Sprint win means he has stretched out his championship advantage once more, with 71 points now sitting between himself and Norris in the drivers’ standings, and Leclerc six points further back in third.

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