SPIELBERG, Austria (AP) — Charles Leclerc revived his Formula One title challenge by holding on to win the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday for a third victory of the season, while his Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz’s hopes of a second-place finish ended when his engine blew as he was about to attack Max Verstappen’s Red Bull.
Leclerc was clearly stressed in the closing laps as his throttle was not working properly, making it more difficult to control his speed into turns.
“Yes! Come on!” Leclerc screamed on team radio after crossing the line. “I was scared. I was really scared. Yessss!”
The Monaco driver held on to beat second-place Verstappen by 1.5 seconds.
“I definitely needed that win, the last five races have been incredibly difficult,” Leclerc said. “At the end it was really difficult, I had this problem with the throttle.”
A relieved Leclerc sang along as the anthem played on the podium, then engaged in a Champagne-spraying joust with a grinning Verstappen. Leclerc didn’t forget Ferrari’s race director Laurent Mekies, either, dousing him with bubbly.
The mutual respect between Verstappen and Leclerc — both 24 years old and former fierce karting rivals — is growing strongly.
“You guys were so fast today,” Verstappen said in the post-race cool down room.
“Yeah, we were very quick,” Leclerc replied.
Leclerc moved up to second overall but is still a distant 38 points behind Verstappen — 208 vs. 170 — with Red Bull’s Sergio Perez dropping to third. He retired after 26 of 71 laps after being hit on the opening lap when trying to overtake George Russell’s Mercedes.
Verstappen picked up a bonus point for fastest lap to go with the eight points he took by winning Saturday’s sprint race.
Lewis Hamilton finished third for Mercedes and encouragingly gained a third straight podium place. Russell got a five-second time penalty for the Perez incident but placed fourth. Even more impressive since Mercedes had to repair both cars after a late crash in Friday’s sprint qualifying.
“Those are great points and we move forwards from here,” Hamilton said. “So thankful to the team for working so hard.”
After cutting out on Lap 58 of 71, Sainz’s car was burning and started to slide backward in the gravel as a marshal rushed toward it with a fire extinguisher and urged the Spaniard to jump out. Sainz got out in time as flames were licking his race suit. He was unharmed, sitting on the grass to contemplate his bad luck.
The incident brought out a virtual safety car, causing Leclerc and Verstappen to change to fresh tires in case a real safety car came out.
Leclerc’s fifth career victory was one of his best, considering how he held on at the end. It was also a very welcome one for the driver after five difficult races without a podium and much confusion over team decisions.
Last Sunday, it was Leclerc who was exasperated at the British GP when his team kept him out on track rather than pit him for new tires during a late safety car, leading to Sainz’s first victory and discussion about team divisions within Ferrari
This time it was Sainz who was left with a bitter taste.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no,” he repeated disbelievingly when his engine went.
Seconds later he had more pressing matters as flames rose around him.
Verstappen never really looked like getting his seventh win of the season and his fifth overall at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, where legions of orange-clad fans roared him on at his team’s home race.
“It’s great to see so many fans coming to Austria, it’s just a shame I couldn’t give them a win today,” he said. “We suffered with the tires. Still, second place is a good result.”
Six years after his debut, Esteban Ocon celebrated his 100th F1 race with fifth place for Alpine ahead of Mick Schumacher, who is on a roll with Haas after securing his first career points with eighth place at Silverstone.
Lando Norris (McLaren), Kevin Magnussen (Haas), Daniel Ricciardo (Mclaren) and Fernando Alonso (Alpine) completed the top 10.
Leclerc had already overtaken Verstappen twice with clean passes to control the race. But with around 20 laps to go Verstappen led again after Ferrari pitted Leclerc and Sainz in quick succession.
But with only a small lead Verstappen was unable to hold out for long and Leclerc overtook smoothly — before late drama threatened to scupper his victory.
Verstappen had started from pole ahead of Leclerc and Sainz. They almost collided as they chased each other in Saturday’s sprint race as tensions carried over from Silverstone. By late Sunday afternoon, Leclerc was all smiles and Sainz was being consoled in the team garage.
Elsewhere, Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri bumped Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin into the gravel and got a five-second penalty. After emerging unscratched from a horror crash last Sunday at the British GP, Chinese driver Zhou Guanyu placed 14th for Alfa Romeo.