Time penalties, overtakes, safety cars and a brief interlude in second place were among the spanners thrown in the works at Red Bull Ring on Sunday yet nothing could stop the Dutchman from bagging his fifth Formula One win in a row.
After a first-lap clash with teammate Sergio Perez in the F1 sprint race, Verstappen cruised off the line in the grand prix to leave the Ferrari pair of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz in his dust.
A safety car was quickly required, however, after Yuki Tsunoda lost chunks of his front wing on Esteban Ocon following an ambitious Turn 1 move. With the debris swept up, Verstappen once again launched clear of any challenges.
Leclerc was some way back from the reigning champion when a virtual safety car was called for Nico Hulkenberg’s retirement. A Ferrari double-stacking attempt was fumbled to drop valuable seconds for both of their drivers as Red Bull kept their man out.
That allowed Leclerc to swoop into first place by lap 25 when Verstappen did pit, yet the Monegasque driver’s resistance was quickly swept aside even with the knowledge he still had to pit again anyway, having taken a second set of medium tires under the VSC.
With the lead effectively decided, there was plenty of jeopardy unfolding behind with track limits returning to plague drivers as it had during Friday’s qualifying. Lewis Hamilton was an early victim and took a five-second time penalty before Sainz, Ocon and Alex Albon were among the six stung by breaches.
Sainz’s penalty knocked him off the podium to fifth place after his second stop, after which he overtook Lando Norris on what was an impressive display from the McLaren racer after with raft of upgrades.
"Lewis, the car is bad we know, please drive it" 📻
Toto Wolff over team radio to Lewis Hamilton 👇 pic.twitter.com/yRRZTC23RY
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) July 2, 2023
But both were soon under pressure from Sergio Perez, on a march up the field having qualified 15th before kicking the imperious Red Bull into gear. In fifth place with 20 laps to go, he could smell a one-two finish for his team.
A brilliant battle with Sainz for third saw curious claims of “intimidation” bandied about on team radio yet Perez eventually got the job done on a weekend that had started with him being struck down by sickness and a fever.
Sainz’s solid defensive work meant Leclerc was too far up the road and Verstappen even nabbed the Mexican’s fastest-lap point with a switch to soft tires on his last lap before he strolled to the chequered flag and an 81-point championship lead ahead of next week’s British Grand Prix.