Max Verstappen wins sprint race at Austrian Grand Prix and extends title lead

Red Bull driver starts from front ahead of Ferrari duo Leclerc and Sainz

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen celebrates after sealing pole position after the sprint race for the Austrian Grand Prix. AFP
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Max Verstappen beat his battling Ferrari rivals to win the sprint race and edge further ahead in the championship battle ahead of Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc will line up alongside the Dutch Red Bull driver on the front row after a scrap for second with Spanish team mate and British Grand Prix winner Carlos Sainz, who finished third.

The victory at the Red Bull Ring stretched Verstappen's championship lead to 38 points over team mate Sergio Perez, who finished fifth after starting 13th. Leclerc is six points further back.

"It was a decent race. We had a good pace at the beginning and after that we were very closely matched. It was good, it was like a sprint should go, quite flat out," said Verstappen, who had sealed pole on Friday.

"The car is good. Just a few things to fine tune but overall we've been really competitive again this weekend," added the 24-year-old, who took the chequered flag 1.675 seconds clear of Leclerc.

Verstappen also won the season's previous sprint at Imola in April and his army of Dutch fans let off flares to send clouds of orange smoke billowing from the stands before and after the 23-lap race.

Mercedes's George Russell took fourth place, with seven-times world champion team mate Lewis Hamilton taking a point in eighth.

Alpine's Esteban Ocon was sixth, the Frenchman stopping on track after the chequered flag, with Kevin Magnussen seventh for Haas.

The sprint race awards points to the top eight, with the winner taking eight.

Ocon's team mate and twice world champion Fernando Alonso failed to start the sprint after his car remained jacked up on the grid with tyre blankets still on.

It was then pushed back into the garage with Alonso set to start on the back row on Sunday with Aston Martin's four-times champion Sebastian Vettel the only other retirement.

The field did a second formation lap after Alfa Romeo's Chinese rookie Guanyu Zhou stopped, sending him to the pit lane.

Leclerc passed Sainz on lap one but the Spaniard remained on his tail, trying to retake the position in a battle that would have done little to calm the nerves of Ferrari bosses on the pitwall.

"Probably tomorrow we cannot afford to do what we did today," said Leclerc.

"It was tricky. The first part of the race was all about managing. Max was pushing and I was just trying to look after my tyres.

"I had a small fight with Carlos and then I started to push towards the end and could close in a bit but it was very close."

Hamilton started ninth but made contact with Pierre Gasly's AlphaTauri on the opening lap, dropping to 11th. The Briton then battled back but had a tough and lively battle with Mick Schumacher for eighth.

The Haas driver, who was passed on the penultimate lap, was summoned to the stewards after the race for alleged 'starting procedure infringements'.

Williams's Alex Albon was also in trouble with stewards, collecting a five-second penalty for forcing McLaren's Lando Norris off the track on lap four. He also tangled with Vettel.

Updated: July 09, 2022, 4:26 PM
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