Motor racing-F1 leader Verstappen wins Austrian sprint race

SPIELBERG, Austria (Reuters) -Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen beat his battling Ferrari rivals to win a Saturday sprint race and put Red Bull on pole position for Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix at his team’s home track.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc will line up alongside the Dutch 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 qualified on 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.

ALONSO SIDELINED

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 at the back on Sunday with Aston Martin’s four-times champion Sebastian Vettel the only other retirement.

“We couldn’t switch on the car on the grid, so we moved into the pit lane and then we tried an external battery, but there were still no signs of it switching on and we had to retire,” said Alonso.

The field did a second formation lap after Alfa Romeo’s Chinese rookie Guanyu Zhou stopped, sending him to the pit lane from where he fought back to 14th.

He is expected to start 13th on Sunday, with team mate Valtteri Bottas set to go to the back of the field due to a power unit change.

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 pit wall.

“Probably tomorrow we cannot afford to do what we did today,” said Leclerc, mindful of tyre wear.

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.

“It was very cool to see Mick holding off a seven-time world champion. It was very good team work and I’m pleased with the result,” said Haas team boss Guenther Steiner.

Schumacher, who was passed on the penultimate lap, was summoned to the stewards after the race for alleged ‘starting procedure infringements’ along with six others but no further action was taken.

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

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by Alison Williams/Clare Fallon/Ken Ferris)

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