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Verstappen extends title lead with Styria win


OK, some reverse psychology today.

Ahead of every session thus far we've had a warning of a 30% - 40% chance of rain, yet nothing ever appeared... and this after last weekend's no show by those pesky Weather Gods.

Consequently, today we refuse to be played by them and we are going to accept that even if there's a 75% chance of rain it will remain dry from lights out to chequered flag.

Of course, if the Weather Gods want to prove us wrong...

Back to the racing and it's all getting a little bitter to be quite honest.

For the last couple of months we've had Toto and Christian sniping at one another, but now others appear to be getting involved.

Of course, it's understandable that Max, Lewis and Valtteri will defend their respective teams, but we are increasingly seeing the likes of McLaren getting involved, the Woking team, of course, a customer of the Three Pointed Star.

Then, in the wake of his grid penalty for that dumb sin in the pitlane, Valtteri claims his rivals were responsible for his punishment, the Finn adding that "everyone is trying to screw you in this sport".

Welcome to the Piranha Club Valtteri.

And are we alone in noticing that TV pundit Anthony Davidson regularly jumps to the defence of Mercedes, the Briton having been a Brackley man since 2001.

Moving onto today's race, lessons will surely have been learned over the last seven days.

First off, Max will be keen to ensure there are no repeats of his first corner off, while Lewis will be keen to push him into just such a mistake.

Meanwhile, though the race is only expected to be a one-stopper, Mercedes will be mindful of last weekend's game-changing undercut and the strategy switch that followed.

As if the elbows out approach we can expect from the title contenders wasn't enough, we have a very frustrated Valtteri starting behind Lando and an ever-improving Sergio, all three of who are keen to make a point.

Add Pierre, Charles and Fernando to the mix and you have the prospect of some real fun and games.

Also, as a result of his penalty, Yuki will be keen to get amongst it, as will Carlos and Daniel, both of whom are having a torrid time of it at present.

Having narrowly missed out in qualifying, George will be keen to make amends, and in all honesty this is looking to be his best chance of the season thus far.

Ignoring the WGs, track limits, the wind et al, the Red Bull Ring has a certain reputation, consequently, as ever, it is going to be about surviving the first lap with incident.

Lewis insists that as it stands he cannot race Max, therefore his intention today will be to keep up with the Red Bull in the hope that the Dutchman or his team make a mistake or the WGs make an appearance.

The 71-lap race has a high lap count owing to the short length of the circuit, but it should still be a one-stopper: especially with this weekend's tyre selection of C2, C3, and C4.

The most favoured one-stop strategy for the bulk of the top 10 is likely to be softs to hards. Otherwise, mediums to hards is set to be what Max and the two Mercedes drivers opt for: which is also a possibility for other drivers outside the top 10 on the grid. Softs to mediums (or vice versa) is feasible too, but more difficult to achieve without careful tyre management.

As usual, there's also the possibility to do the opposite - beginning on the harder compound before switching to a softer one. This makes sense for those starting close to the back and hoping to run a longer first stint to gain track position. There are a few good overtaking opportunities over the course of the lap (also considering the three DRS zones) so track position isn't quite as essential as it is at some over circuits.

Naturally, all of this depends on the WGs. Track temperatures though will certainly influence the tyre life - especially on the softs - and therefore the strategy.

The pitlane opens to bright sunshine, and one by one the drivers head out.

Ahead of the formation lap the air temperature is 26 degrees C, while the track temperature is 53 degrees. There is a 40% chance of rain (groan).

Verstappen is told of a "fairly neutral wind" at Turn 3.

Other than Verstappen and the Mercedes pair, Russell, Sainz, Ricciardo, Vettel, Giovinazzi, Latifi, Ocon, Schumacher and Mazepin start on mediums. Raikkonen starts on hards, while the rest are on softs.

They head off on the formation lap, all getting away cleanly.

Verstappen takes his place on the grid while the backmarkers can be seen in the background on the other side of the circuit.

The grid forms, the Haas pair the last to take to their slots.

They're away. Verstappen gets a great start and leads Hamilton up the hill. Norris is alongside Perez. The McLaren is on the outside in Turn 1 and runs wide, while further back Leclerc does likewise, the Ferrari three abreast with Gasly and Alonso.

On the long run to Turn 3, Norris and Perez remain side by side, as battle for sixth between Gasly, Leclerc and Alonso continues.

At the back of the field three cars spin, its Gasly, Latifi and Giovinazzi.

Replay shows that Leclerc and Gasly touched in Turn 1, indeed they touched twice, once on entering the corner and again as the Ferrari rejoined the circuit. In the process Leclerc picks up damage to his right-front win and Gasly damages his left-rear tyre.

Slipping down the field, Gasly is subsequently involved in a further clash with Giovinazzi and Latifi.

At the end of lap 1, it's: Verstappen, Hamilton, Norris, Perez, Bottas, Stroll, Alonso, Russell, Ricciardo and Tsunoda.

Leclerc pits while Gasly also pits with what looks like left rear suspension damage. The Frenchman's race is over as Latifi also pits.

Hamilton is worried about damage to his front tyre after running over debris but his team assures him all is OK.

After 4 laps, Verstappen leads by 2.2s, with Norris a further 3.9s behind. Russell remains seventh, ahead of Ricciardo, Tsunoda and Sainz.

In the midst of it all, hard-runner Raikkonen is up to 12th.

Perez is hard on the heels of Norris, as Bottas remains 1.5s adrift of the Mexican.

Norris calls on his team to keep an eye on his tyre pressures as he is concerned that he too ran over some debris.

Suddenly, Ricciardo is down in 13th, "no power, oh God, no power," sighs the Australian. "It has recovered," he is told, but it is already too late.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Spielberg, here.


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