Max Verstappen was untroubled as he won the sprint race from pole at the Austrian Grand Prix, his effort made easier by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. scrapping each other behind him for one meager point.
They almost collided, with tensions appearing to carry over from last Sunday’s British Grand Prix, where Leclerc was unhappy with team decisions and Sainz won.
The positions from the sprint set the grid for Sunday’s grand prix, so Verstappen starts at the front as he aims for a fifth win at his Formula One team’s home track in Spielberg. Verstappen surprisingly thinks the car lacks a bit of speed.
“We are still not amazing in qualifying, we’re still a bit heavy,” he said. “That’s just a limitation we have, we still need to lose weight with the car.”
This week, Leclerc played down talk of divisions within Ferrari following Silverstone where, following a safety car, he was baffled by team prinicipal Mattia Binotto’s decision to keep him out for track position rather than switch to faster tires. He was leading in Monaco, too, when Ferrari pitted him for new tires and he ended up fourth.
Leclerc was asked if he and Sainz could work together on Sunday to catch Verstappen.
“I really hope so” he said bluntly. Later. he added, “I don’t know the rules of engagement, we are not the ones to decide. It will be Mattia.”
Sainz insists “the team we will work it out” and they can work in tandem.
“We’re both going to make Max’s life as difficult as possible in the rest of the championship. We need to push flat out because he’s far ahead,” Sainz said. “We need to make sure we’re closer at the beginning of a stint and we’re closer at the end.”
Ferrari was neither on Saturday, with Verstappen in control.
He made a clean start and coasted over 23 laps of the 4.3-kilometer (2.7-mile) Red Bull Ring packed with orange-clad Dutch fans setting off orange flares and cheering on the Formula One 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 an additional eight points. Leclerc picked up seven points for second place and Sainz got six for finishing third with the top eight scoring points.
Verstappen improved to 189 points in the overall standings and leads his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez by 38 points and Leclerc by 44.
George Russell collected five in fourth place. Perez drove superbly from 12th to finish fifth and score four points. Esteban Ocon was sixth for Alpine followed by Kevin Magnussen of Haas and Lewis Hamilton, who scored one point.
Sainz overtook Leclerc at the start, only for Leclerc to quickly overtake him back and reclaim second place.
The Ferraris brushed each other when Sainz tried to pass on lap six, with Leclerc holding him off. Sainz went for it again on the next lap, going through on the inside but Leclerc dived back on the inside as the tension rose.
“It was good fun, like it should be . . . racing,” Sainz said. “Probably overheated a bit the tyres, running behind Charles. I had to back off and finish the race.”
Mick Schumacher defended aggressively from Hamilton until the seven-time F1 champion zoomed past him on lap 21.
Two-time 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 to start from the pit lane one week after surviving a crash at the British GP.
Four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel retired when Aston Martin told him to bring the car to the garage on lap 22. He was then summoned to the stewards for storming out of a drivers’ meeting on Friday evening and given a suspended fine of 25,000 euros ($26,000).
Vettel was “expressing frustration at the meeting” then left before the end.
“Drivers are not free to leave when they want,” F1 said. “Drivers at this level are role models for every driver around the world and in the opinion of the stewards Vettel failed to live up to that standard.”
Vettel subsequently apologized without reservation to the race director, F1 said.
Seven drivers were summoned for radio messages during a second formation lap as the sprint start was slightly delayed due to Alonso’s and Zhou’s problems. But after team audio was checked no action was taken.
Earlier, Sainz led the second practice ahead of Leclerc and Verstappen. Russell placed seventh in with Hamilton ninth. Mercedes repaired both cars after they crashed in qualifying.
“It was a huge team effort, so it was good to get points,” Russell said.