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Dominant Verstappen driving – and sounding – like a champion

Dominant Verstappen driving – and sounding – like a champion

SPIELBERG, Austria — 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 Saturday and 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.———More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

F1: Red Bull's Verstappen the driver to beat at Austrian GP

F1: Red Bull's Verstappen the driver to beat at Austrian GP

SPIELBERG, Austria — A Formula One driver in superb form in a car that’s increasingly fast.Sounds familiar?It’s not Lewis Hamilton in the usually ultra-dominant Mercedes this time, but Max Verstappen who seems to be finding extra speed in every race for Red Bull.Verstappen has won the past two races and leads Hamilton 4-3 for wins this season heading into Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix, at Red Bull’s home track in Spielberg. It’s the same circuit where Verstappen drove to victory from pole position last Sunday, with Hamilton lagging behind.Verstappen is the championship leader and is posing a major threat to Hamilton, who trails him by 18 points after eight races of a so far captivating season.“Max is driving with great maturity and consistency. We’ve just got to keep turning the screw,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. “The Styrian Grand Prix was our strongest and most complete performance so far.”Red Bull has won four straight races, three for Verstappen and the other only won by veteran Sergio Perez at the Azerbaijan GP because Verstappen’s tire blew a few laps from the end while he was leading.After seven years of Mercedes dominance, including six of Hamilton’s record-equaling seven F1 titles, Red Bull is re-emerging as the force it was from 2010-13 when Sebastian Vettel won his four world titles.Now, after winning every drivers’ and constructors’ title since 2014, Mercedes trails on both fronts. Red Bull is 40 points ahead in the constructors’ contest. Not since 1991 has a car with a Honda engine won this many consecutive races.“They’ve definitely made some big steps and we’ve not really got an answer for it,” Hamilton said, adding “I’ve got confidence in the team that we’ll somehow find something.”Hamilton is aiming to overtake Michael Schumacher and stand alone among F1 greats with eight titles. But he needs to find a way to stop Verstappen’s rise.The 23-year-old Verstappen, already credited with being the youngest driver to win an F1 race when he 18 years and 228 days, has tallied 14 GP wins. He would have had far more if Red Bull was more competitive in previous seasons.In that time with Red Bull lacking speed and dogged by reliability issues, only Ferrari briefly threatened the Mercedes dominance when Vettel led at the halfway point of the season in 2017 and ’18, only to fade away.Other than that, it’s been Hamilton all the way except for when his then-teammate Nico Rosberg won the world title five years ago — and then retired.Hamilton has long been the most consistent driver: brilliant in qualifying with a record 100 pole positions and dominant in races with a record 98 wins.Now Verstappen is starting to impose himself.He has placed in the top two positions in nine of the past 11 GP races going back to the end of last season, winning five of them.Hamilton has finished top-two in eight of the past 11 races and won five.With his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas lagging behind in fifth place overall in the standings, it seems only Hamilton can stop Verstappen.But Verstappen knows who he’s up against, and he expects Mercedes to hit back.“People will learn from what they didn’t do so well,” said Verstappen, who needs one more podium to reach 50 in F1. “I expect everyone to be closer as this is usually what happens when you have back-to-back races at the same track.”PEREZ MILESTONEPerez will be starting in his 200th F1 race, 10 years after making his debut.The 31-year-old Mexican driver counts two wins among his 12 podium finishes.“I can’t believe this is my 200th race,” Perez said. “It would be very special to step up on the podium here at our home race.”His F1 career got off to the worst start, however, when he was disqualified after crossing the line in seventh spot at the season-opening Australian GP in 2011 for an illegal rear wing on his Sauber.The next GP, in Malaysia, was hardly better considering the car was damaged and he had to retire from the race.Three races later, he was in the points with ninth place at the Spanish GP.———More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

Verstappen pushing Hamilton hard in thrilling F1 title race

Verstappen pushing Hamilton hard in thrilling F1 title race

LE CASTELLET, France — Lewis Hamilton’s wish for a closer Formula One title fight is coming true.And Max Verstappen looks like a rival who will take some stopping, judging by his impressive win at the French Grand Prix on Sunday.It was Verstappen’s second win in three races, and extended his lead over Hamilton to 12 points. Each driver has two pole positions and three wins, with both failing to score points in the other race.It’s proving a remarkable contest between the 36-year-old defending champion and the 23-year-old would-be usurper to his crown.A much more exciting one, too, considering Hamilton crushed the competition last year to win by 124 points, by 87 points in 2019, and by 88 in 2018.It’s looking far, far closer this year.Verstappen overtook Hamilton on Lap 52 of 53 in Sunday’s race. He used the DRS system to pass him on the inside before zooming to the 13th victory of his career. A bonus point for the fastest lap made it a great day for Red Bull, which had never beaten Mercedes on the Paul Ricard circuit in southern France.It was a close call, though, with Red Bull’s gamble on a two-stop strategy for Verstappen countered by a one-stopper for Hamilton as Mercedes kept him out on the same tires.With five laps left, Hamilton was 3.5 seconds ahead.Verstappen quickly ate into that lead, kept calm and then positioned himself perfectly to attack on a long straight in the way Hamilton has done countless times in his record 98 wins.“When we made the call to do a two-stop, luckily it paid off,” Verstappen said. “We had to work hard for it.”Verstappen, who won by 2.9 seconds, has 131 points to Hamilton’s 119.Red Bull’s Sergio Perez sneaked past a dejected Valtteri Bottas to take third place and strengthen Red Bull’s lead in the constructors’ championship: 215 points to Mercedes’ 178.“We pulled the trigger and we went with the two-stopper and it worked. And great job from Sergio making the one-stop work,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. “The strategy guys are working the numbers and they go for it.”Verstappen took an impressive pole position ahead of Hamilton and his teammate Bottas.Verstappen got away cleanly, but then made a basic error cutting the kerb on Turn 1 and gifted Hamilton the lead.“In the beginning it was so difficult with the wind. Really difficult to keep the car stable,” Verstappen said. “Just lost the rear, tried to correct it, correct it, correct it, but it kept going.”He made up for it, and heads confidently into the Styrian GP in a week’s time on Red Bull’s home track; followed by the Austrian GP a week later on the same circuit, nestled in the Styrian mountains.Verstappen has already matched his career best for a season with three wins and looks a major threat for Hamilton, who is trying to win a record eighth F1 title to move one ahead of Michael Schumacher.Red Bull has thrown down a huge marker to Mercedes, which has won every drivers’ and constructors’ championship since 2014. The previous four years were Red Bull doubles with Sebastian Vettel at the wheel, and Mercedes is under pressure now.“I think it will be like this the rest of the season,” Verstappen said, smiling.Red Bull have won three straight races, the other going to Perez, and Hamilton is sounding concerned.“We’ve got to find some pace, that’s for sure,” the British driver said. “Most of the time we lost today was just the straights.”Lando Norris finished fifth for McLaren, again beating his more experienced teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who was sixth ahead of Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri and two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso in eighth.It was another disappointing day for Bottas, who is fighting to keep his seat next year.He is only fifth in the standings behind Norris and Perez.First, Bottas was overtaken by Verstappen after an undercut on Red Bull failed to work and then Perez overtook him almost as easily as Verstappen had done.“Why did no one listen to me when I say this should’ve been a two-stopper?” the frustrated Finnish driver barked on team radio.Verstappen led by three seconds when his team changed tires for the second time on Lap 34, anticipating a similar move from Mercedes.It looked like Red Bull may have got it wrong, but Verstappen proved them right to strike a blow in a thrilling title fight.———More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports