If Max Verstappen made a statement of intent last week as he overtook defending F1 champion Lewis Hamilton a couple of laps from the end to win in France, in Austria on Sunday he put the foot down to power clear in the Drivers’ Championship race with a flawless masterclass behind the wheel of his Red Bull.
The Dutchman dominated the Styrian Grand Prix on Sunday to win back-to-back races for the first time in his career, leaving Mercedes’ Hamilton full of admiration and searching for answers.
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After a toe-to-toe slugfest to start the season, Verstappen has established himself as the man to beat as Red Bull have overtaken Mercedes as the F1 superpower, having now won four on the trot.
Verstappen roared clear of Hamilton from pole position on the starting line and never looked back as he — seemingly — coasted to the easiest win of his still young career, crossing the finish line 35 seconds ahead of Hamilton (who, in fairness, had pitted late on to claim the bonus-point fastest lap).
Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas completed the podium with a much-needed third place after a few weeks in the doldrums. Red Bull’s Sergio Perez rounded out the top four and, had there ben one more lap, he would have taken Bottas for third.
“The car was on fire,” Verstappen said after the win — speaking figuratively, of course. “Straight away I felt good balance in the car,” he said. “It was good to manage the tires basically from the start. We just kept on going, trying to hit our lap times and that worked really well today.”
Verstappen notched up his 14th career win and fourth of the season, increasing his lead over seven-time world champion Hamilton in the drivers’ standings to 18 points after eight races.
Hamilton pitted again on the penultimate lap to take the somewhat paltry consolation of the fastest-lap bonus point.
“It was a bit of a lonely race, really. I was trying to keep up with those guys but the speed they have ... They obviously made some big improvements over the last couple of races,” a magnanimous Hamilton said, reflecting on Verstappen’s masterclass. “It was impossible to keep up. I don’t know where we are losing all this time.”
Racing on their home track in the Austrian Alps, Red Bull partied, knowing they were one step closer in both Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships, as Hamilton’s wait for his 99th career victory stretched to seven weeks. It looks like it will go on a bit longer on this form from the flying Dutchman Verstappen.