Dominant Verstappen driving – and sounding – like a champion

Sports

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands, left, steers his car during the Austrian Formula One Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring racetrack in Spielberg, Austria, Sunday, July 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

SPIELBERG, Austria (AP) — Max Verstappen is driving in the same dominant way that Lewis Hamilton did for so long.

And he is even starting to sound like him.

“When you go into the weekend and everyone sees you as a favorite, it’s not easy to deliver,” Verstappen said after clinching his fifth win of the season at the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday.

He extended his advantage in the Formula One championship to 32 points over Hamilton. He leads the defending champion 5-3 for wins; 5-2 in pole positions.

“I’m enjoying it, but I’m very focused for the rest of the season,” the 23-year-old Verstappen said after his 15th career win and 50th podium. “It’s still very long.”

Hamilton dropped from second place to fourth late on after going too wide on a turn and rolling over a kerb, damaging the floor of his car.

“Obviously it’s frustrating to lose so much downforce on the rear of the car and not be able to hold onto second,” Hamilton said. “A lot of points lost today.”

Disappointment for Hamilton, who has not won for two months, elation for the Dutchman Verstappen in front of his adoring orange-shirted fans after another clinical drive.

“I’m a bit amazed myself how today went,” he said. “The car was on rails.”

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas finished second ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris, who clinched the fourth podium of his career on the same track where he secured his first last year.

The 2020 top-three finish made Norris the youngest British driver on a podium and third-youngest overall behind Lance Stroll and Verstappen. The ultra-consistent Norris is the only driver to have scored points in every race this season.

He could have finished second but was given a five-second time penalty for an incident with Red Bull’s Sergio Perez on Lap 1.

“It was exciting. I’m disappointed because we should have been in second place,” Norris said. “We had good pace. It’s nice to know that we can be there and can race. Hopefully we can keep it up next time.”

Hamilton has not won since the Spanish GP on May 9, a dismal streak of five races for the defending champion seeking a record eighth F1 title. All of those have gone to Red Bull, with Perez taking the other.

This was another crushing success for Verstappen at the Red Bull ring, his team’s home track and with thousands of Dutch fans cheering on his 15th career win. He also won here last weekend at the Styrian GP.

“Even better than last week,” Verstappen said. “The car was unreal.”

Verstappen clinched his third straight pole on Saturdayand got away cleanly again for another lights-to-flag win, the way Hamilton has so often done.

A great day for him was completed by a bonus point for the fastest lap.

Meanwhile, Hamilton’s wait for a 99th F1 win continues and he will hope for a change of fortune at the British GP in Silverstone in two weeks’ time.

Verstappen jumped into the arms of his mechanics and engineers as the legions of his compatriots packing the stands celebrated.

“Seeing so many fans here and so much orange here is just incredible,” he said.

The safety car came out on the first lap following an incident involving Alpine driver Esteban Ocon, who got sandwiched between two Haas cars at the back and had to retire with a broken wheel rod.

When the race restarted on Lap 4, Verstappen pulled away.

Perez tried to overtake Norris on the outside and was bumped off the track into gravel, coming back out in 10th spot. The incident went to the race stewards and Norris was handed a time penalty.

Verstappen clocked fastest laps as he surged clear, while Hamilton was on the back of Norris.

The Battle of the Brits — young gun Norris vs. veteran Hamilton — saw the 21-year-old Norris hold Hamilton off until Lap 21.

“Such a great driver, Lando,” an impressed Hamilton said on team radio.

Norris’ excellent spell of defending suited Verstappen just fine.

He was by now nearly 10 seconds ahead of Hamilton.

Bottas followed Norris in for new tires on Lap 31 and Hamilton came in a lap later for a quick 2.2-second tire change, with Verstappen switching soon after.

All the changes were smooth, and so Verstappen’s advantage remained a healthy 14 seconds approaching the midway point of the 71-lap race.

Perez got a five-second penalty for nudging Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and finished sixth behind Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz. Jr.

Mistakes are creeping into Hamilton’s driving, in part because Verstappen is cranking up the pressure.

As Hamilton started losing speed because of his damaged car floor, Mercedes swapped him with Bottas and then Norris passed him to move into third spot.

A day to forget for Hamilton, one to remember for Verstappen.

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More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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