Verstappen eases to Austrian win, Perez charges to podium
By Mat Coch
Monday 3rd July, 2023 - 12:32am
Max Verstappen has eased to victory in the Austrian Grand Prix as his Red Bull team-mate charged from 15th on the grid to the podium.
Verstappen dominated the race, taking the bonus point for fastest lap in the process, to head Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez to the line.
The race saw a swathe of track limits penalties, with eight different drivers picking up time penalties during the 71-lap encounter.
Carlos Sainz was among them, the Spaniard finishing fourth for Ferrari, just ahead of an impressive Lando Norris for McLaren in fifth.
Verstappen held the advantage off the line, followed by Leclerc, Sainz, and Hamilton who jumped Lando Norris.
Alonso challenged the McLaren driver into Turn 3 but couldn’t make the move stick.
Leclerc challenged Verstappen for the lead into Turn 4, but the move was easily defended.
Behind them, Yuki Tsunoda picked up front wing damage at the first corner before firing into the gravel at Turn 4 half a lap later.
That drew the Safety Car despite the Scuderia AlphaTauri driver recovering the car to the pits for a new front wing.
Kevin Magnussen was also pitted with a suspected energy recovery system issue, the Dane being promptly sent back on his way.
The race resumed on Lap 4, Verstappen sprinting clear of Leclerc to hold a 1.2s advantage at the end of what was effectively the first racing lap.
Sergio Perez made progress in the early laps but soon found himself caught in a DRS train behind George Russell, the duo running 11th and 12th.
While hardly sprinting clear, Verstappen inched clear out front as Leclerc appeared to struggle for grip in second.
By Lap 8, he was eight seconds back from the race lead and had Sainz latched onto the rear wing.
Perez launched an attack on Russell at Turn 3 on Lap 10, using DRS to send it up the inside of the tight right-hander.
The Red Bull driver couldn’t complete the move there, but came out of the corner alongside the Mercedes.
He completed the move on the run to Turn 4, moving up to 10th.
That became ninth soon after with a clean move on Alex Albon at Turn 3.
On Lap 12, Hamilton was shown the black and white flag for track limits, the Mercedes driver the first to be given the official warning.
Nico Hulkenberg’s race ended moments later as he pulled the Haas off the road with smoke from the Ferrari power unit.
That drew the Virtual Safety Car, Norris and Hamilton electing to take the opportunity to box on Lap 15.
Ferrari pitted its two drivers a lap later, the duo having been beyond the pit entry when the Virtual Safety Car was deployed.
It saw Leclerc emerge still in second while Perez rose to third having stayed out.
Sainz was delayed, dropping behind Hamilton – who was handed a five-second penalty for track limits – and Norris.
The Spaniard got ahead of Hamilton to reclaim fourth on the run to Turn 4, the Mercedes to brake earlier to allow the Ferrari to ease his way through.
Perez, who had not stopped, was also made short work of by the charging Prancing Horse driver.
He moved back into third on Lap 21, the Red Bull driver defending when Hamilton attacked soon after into Turn 4.
Oscar Piastri picked up front wing damage in the pack when the cars ahead of him checked up at Turn 3.
With nowhere to go, the Australian tagged the rear of the Magnussen’s Haas to damage his McLaren.
Race leader Verstappen stopped on Lap 25, dropping to third behind Leclerc and Sainz.
Red Bull had fitted a set of hard compound tyres onto the Dutchman’s car, feeding him out in the wheel tracks of Sainz.
That battle lasted barely half a lap, Verstappen forcing Sainz to defend into Turn 3, cutting back underneath exiting the corner to take the inside line at Turn 4.
Nursing a brake issue, Hamilton was easy pickings for Norris on Lap 28.
The McLaren driver got a better exit out of Turn 3, Hamilton having pinched the brakes to compromise his exit, leaving him vulnerable at the next corner.
Track limits warnings were coming thick and fast, Sainz picking up a five-second penalty for his fourth transgression.
On Lap 35, Verstappen had caught Leclerc, passing the Ferrari at Turn 3 to resume the lead.
Leclerc quickly fell away, dropping more than a second a lap back from the Dutchman.
Perez in the other Red Bull moved up to fifth when he put a move on Fernando Alonso at Turn 3 on Lap 42.
As that happened, Russell was in the lane for the second time in the race.
Next time by, Hamilton stopped for a second time, serving his five-second penalty in the process as he dropped to eighth.
Ferrari called Sainz in soon after, swapping his medium tyres for a set of hards after waiting the obligatory five seconds.
The delay meant Norris was able to clear the Spaniard to move into fourth on the road.
Sainz was impatient, putting a strong move on his former team-mate at Turn 4.
The pair ran wheel to wheel but gave each other racing room as Sainz claimed the place.
It was Leclerc’s turn on Lap 48, also swapping onto the hard tyres for the 23-lap run to the chequered flag.
Two laps later, Verstappen boxed for the final time for a set of medium tyres in the run home.
Sitting second, Perez completed the second round of stops a lap later, feeding back in behind Norris in fifth.
The McLaren driver had hung on to the back of Sainz despite having lost track position some five laps earlier.
Perez soon reeled the pair in, his cause aided by Norris running wide at Turn 3 on Lap 56.
That left him vulnerable on corner exit as he slipped behind the Red Bull in the run to Turn 4.
Two laps later, Perez looked to have Sainz beaten as they accelerated out of Turn 3, only for the Ferrari driver to use Magnussen, who was a lap down, to fend off the attack.
The move was repeated a lap later, a better exit giving the Red Bull the position.
Sainz fought back at Turn 4, using DRS to keep his nose ahead.
The battle continued into Turn 6 before the Mexican was forced to back out of the move.
It was a case of rinse and repeat next time around, Perez nosing ahead into Turn 3 and as a result handing Sainz DRS on the drag out of the right-hander.
On Lap 61, with the aid of DRS, the Red Bull driver finally got by, taking to the outside entering Turn 4 to sweep into third place.
While Sainz lost out in that scrap, it was good news for his team-mate.
Leclerc had been theoretically vulnerable had Perez been able to clear him quickly but the delay meant the Monegasque remained out of reach.
So too was Verstappen, who cantered to victory from Leclerc and Perez. Such was Verstappen’s advantage, he boxed at the end of Lap 69 in pursuit of fastest lap.
He had a 23.9-second advantage as he did so, a 2.3s stop leaving him still out front by 2.1 seconds, winning by 5.1s at the flag.
Sainz hung on to fourth from Norris with the top 10 rounded out by Alonso, Hamilton, Russell, Pierre Gasly, and Stroll.