Lewis Hamilton lost considerable ground in his contest for a record eighth world drivers’ title after Max Verstappen powered to a dominant victory in the Austrian Grand Prix.
The Brit finished a disappointing fourth and now trails the Red Bull man by 32 points with nine of the 23 rounds completed.
That is a concerning margin for Hamilton, who struggled all afternoon and finally had to pit a second time as he wrestled with his possibly damaged Mercedes.
As for Verstappen, he started on pole and led throughout. He also set the fastest lap.
Valtteri Bottas finished second for Mercedes, a dot in the victor’s mirrors, with McLaren’s 21-year-old Lando Norris a brilliant third on the Bottas’s
Now the Verstappen’s record over Hamilton reads: five wins to three and four poles to three. This was also the Dutchman’s third win in a row and Red Bull’s fourth.
Verstappen’s victory went down a bomb with his orange-shirted fans who lit up the air with flares before and after the 71-lap race at the Red Bull Ring.
Momentum is with the Milton Keynes-based team heading into a full-capacity British Grand Prix at Silverstone on July 18.
Nothing much changed at the stops – Verstappen led by 13 seconds and increasing – other than Norris serving a five-second penalty and moving down to fourth for forcing Red Bull’s Sergio Perez off the road and into the gravel early on.
It was a harsh decision. ‘For what?’ asked Norris. ‘What did the guy expect around the outside?’ Fair question.
But things now got worse for Hamilton, then lying in second. His car was damaged. First, Bottas passed him under orders from the pit wall and then Norris smartly got through down the inside of Turn Six.
Hamilton only qualified fourth and was stuck behind Norris in the early part of the race.
The younger Brit drove superbly and this hampered the world champion’s attack on Verstappen.
But in truth, Verstappen simply had too much pace regardless of whether anyone was acting as a buffer.
Hamilton finally passed Norris, who had defended well, on lap 20.
Hamilton immediately pitted, at the end of lap 53. He emerged still in fourth, where he stayed.
With 10 laps remaining and Verstappen holding a 27-second advantage over Bottas behind him, Red Bull used up the luxury of bringing him in for new tyres to get him through the final 10 laps of honour.