Charles Leclerc wins nervy F1 Austrian Grand Prix over Max Verstappen after Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari blow-out

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 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

Max Verstappen has ruled the Red Bull Ring for years, backed by his Orange Army faithful who on Sunday adorned the track in flare smoke as their hero began the Austrian Grand Prix in pole position.

However, you could hear a pin drop at the Spielberg circuit were it not for the sound of Charles Leclerc’s raucuous Ferrari engine pulling away from the Dutchman as he secured a vital victory.

After the drama of Silverstone, F1 will have been pleased to see the pack competitive but clean through the first turn but Sergio Perez was sent spinning on Turn 4 after contact with George Russell.

A five-second penalty dropped Russell down the pack while Perez eventually retired, leaving Red Bull exposed in their hope of playing strategy tricks on Ferrari - as Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz trailed Max Verstappen off the start.

Quickly, Leclerc began to reel in the championship leader and comfortably pulled off an early overtake before Red Bull pitted the Dutchman.

Ferrari’s superior pace kept them on their planned strategy - a “Plan E” radio call to Sainz surely a bluff - and Leclerc’s eventual stop on lap 27 put him out second. Yet, a five-second gap was gobbled up by the Monegasque as he made another easy move for first place.

Sainz was next to catch Verstappen before he darted in to commence a two-stop strategy and concede second place with the aim of unnverving the Scuderia on quicker pace with fresher tyres to the end.

Indeed, Ferrari pitted both of their drivers with 20 laps to go and, within minutes, Leclerc had cruised into the lead and Sainz prepared to knock Verstappen back into third.

And yet, the British Grand Prix winner’s Ferrari engine blew as he looked to send it into Turn 4 and his car quickly caught fire as he pulled into a service road - calling out a virtual safety car. Sainz’s disbelief was palpable as he stopped with flames bellowing behind him, struggling to halt the wreckage from rolling back down the hill.

Best images of the F1 Austrian Grand Prix 2022

Both Leclerc and Verstappen stopped for Mediums under the VSC, which ended with a four-second advantage for the Monegasque driver.

The threat of more Ferrari mechanical issues wrecking not only one but both drivers’ races were suddenly very real. Throttle pedal issues emerged for Leclerc come as Verstappen gradually pulled closer and the chequered flag emerged on the horizon.

Nonetheless, Leclerc made it home to reinstate his title challenge on Verstappen. “Oh my God... I was scared, I was really scared,” declared the 24-year-old on team radio.

Lewis Hamilton finished third, a third podium in a row, after losing out to Mick Schumacher early on, before fighting through both Haas cars and Esteban Ocon after a slow pit stop for the Merc. Teammate Russell raced back through the pack to end up fourth.

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