Max Verstappen reeled off his third win in a row from pole in the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday to consolidate his world championship lead over Lewis Hamilton who after finishing fourth said his toiling Mercedes team were “miles away from Red Bull”.
Second place in the ninth round of the season went to Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas with McLaren’s Lando Norris a fine third after picking up a five second time penalty.
Verstappen’s latest step towards ending Hamilton’s hold on the drivers’ title triggered a carnival atmosphere in Formula One’s first capacity crowd since the coronavirus pandemic struck with most of the 100,000 in attendance decked out in his Dutch orange colours.
“To see so much orange in the stands is incredible, it’s an extra motivation, thank you” Verstappen told his cheering congregation at the Red Bull-owned Spielberg circuit.
Verstappen’s Dutch supporters provided a carnival atmosphere at the track owned by his Red Bull team
“The car was unreal,” added the 21-year-old threat to Hamilton’s bid for an unprecedented eighth world crown who was following up his win at the track last week.
“It’s insane – I’m a bit amazed myself how today went. I didn’t expect it to be like this. Incredible job by everyone to deliver something like this.”
After his fifth win of the season Verstappen moved on to 182 points in the standings, 32 clear of Hamilton ahead of the seven-time world champion’s home British Grand Prix next month.
Hamilton, without a win since Barcelona in early May, had forecast after qualifying Saturday that beating Verstappen looked unlikely.
Aside from his Red Bull rival’s superior pace, damage to Hamilton’s car late on in the race cost him a likely second place.
“We’re miles away from them Red Bull. We need all hands on deck. They have brought a lot of upgrades over the last few races – and we haven’t brought any,” he said.
– Flawless –
Verstappen enjoyed a flawless in the Austrian mountains alive with the sound of his supporters who had come to watch his latest attempt towards a possible world title.
He was clean away at lights out from Norris but by turn three the safety car had to be deployed after Esteban Ocon’s race came to a premature end when his Alpine was nudged by Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo.
Racing got back under way on lap four with Verstappen gliding clear with Norris fending off an attack on his second spot from Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull.
The Mexican, in his 200th Grand Prix, paid dearly for his audacity, going off on to the gravel to drop to 10th.
On lap 20 Norris was dealt a double blow.
He was told race stewards had handed him a five second penalty over the Perez incident, and was then overtaken by Hamilton despite valiantly trying to fend off his compatriot.
“Such a great driver, Lando,” Hamilton told his pits.
After all the leaders had pitted for the first time Verstappen was over 15sec clear of the chasing Hamilton, with Bottas now up to third.
Down in midfield it was Perez’s turn to pick up a five second penalty for aggressively shutting out the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc.
Bottas was told by the pits not to overtake Hamilton whose car had picked up damage to his rear left tyre.
But by lap 52 the Finn heard over the radio he was clear to race his teammate and, fighting for his job next season, nipped by him.
Norris (right) overcomes time penalty to make podium
Norris meanwhile, having served his time penalty, had Hamilton’s wounded Mercedes in his cross hairs and he duly swept past to cement his fourth podium finish.
“It was a lot of fun, a good race,” said the man leading McLaren’s revival – he is the only driver to score points in all nine races staged this season.
He added: “It was exciting but also disappointing because I felt we should have been in second place.
“Should have, would have, could have in the end. It’s nice to know that we can race them, first time in many years we have been able to keep up with the Red Bulls and Mercedes.”
Another English driver George Russell, the man Bottas is in a ‘drive-off’ with to be Hamilton’s teammate next season, went desperately close to earning his first point for Williams only for Fernando Alonso’s Alpine to pass him on the final lap.
This latest win for Verstappen, who also picked up the point for the fastest lap, was Red Bull’s sixth from nine races and it has left Mercedes with their backs to the wall ahead of Silverstone on July 18.