By Jesus Coronel
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen extended his championship lead on rival Lewis Hamilton to 32 points at the penalty-ridden Formula 1 Austrian Grand Prix.
He had won his second consecutive race on June 27 in the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria, and won his third consecutive race on their home track July 4. Verstappen’s win gained Red Bull its fifth victory in a row.
Mercedes looked to close in on Red Bull as they gradually caught up on points in the championship.
After signing a two-year contract extension with Mercedes, Hamilton started in fourth at qualifying, with teammate Valtteri Bottas in fifth.
For Red Bull, Verstappen earned his third consecutive pole position while teammate Sergio Perez started in third.
The biggest shock was McLaren’s Lando Norris starting in second, the best start in his career.
On top of all of the buildup, the race was riddled with penalties from the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). There were a total of seven penalties during the race and two after.
As Norris was trying to fend off Perez on Lap 4, he forced the Red Bull driver off the track and into the gravel, for which Norris received a 5-second penalty.
Then Perez received a set of 5-second penalties, ruining any chance he had to contend with the Mercedes drivers ahead.
First was an incident where he made contact with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and pushed him off the track, giving Perez his first penalty.
Then he made a similar incident when he bumped Leclerc off the track again, giving him his second penalty.
Those penalties came back to bite Perez because, although he finished fifth, the penalties caused him to finish sixth, behind Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz.
Verstappen was well ahead of everyone on the track, cruising to a hat trick of wins in the process.
“Today was incredible to be honest,” he said in an interview. “The car was on rails! It was really enjoyable to drive.”
It was a sigh of relief for Bottas, gaining a season-best second place.
“It’s nice to be on the podium again in second place,” he said. “McLaren (was) really quick today, they were putting on the pressure.”
Although he had a 5-second penalty against him, Norris was able to hold on to third. He earned the Driver of the Day honors.
“It was a good race, he said. “It was exciting but I’m disappointed because we should’ve been P2. I thought Lap 1 was just racing.”
Norris’s podium and teammate Daniel Ricciardo’s seventh-place finish helped McLaren gain a lead on Ferrari in the Constructors Championship.
Leclerc was frustrated at Perez pushing him off the track twice because that held him back from a good points finish with an eighth-place result.
AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda received two 5-second penalties for crossing the pit lane entrance twice. His teammate Pierre Gasly didn’t fare much better as he only managed to finish in ninth.
Their main rivals Aston Martin were also affected by penalties.
That penalty came from Lance Stroll speeding in the pit lane, which gave him 5 seconds as punishment.
With three laps to go, Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen crashed into Sebastian Vettel, ending any hopes of a points finish. Raikkonen received a 20-second penalty for causing the crash.
Additionally, two black and white flags for unsporting behavior were waved for Raikkonen and Haas’s Nikita Mazepin.
The consistent Red Bull victories make it clear that they have gone all-in on winning the championship. Mercedes is currently awaiting an upgrade package to boost their chances for the British Grand Prix but who knows if it will help them contend for the championship.