Ferrari 'can't afford' another Leclerc and Sainz duel as Verstappen looks to continue Red Bull Ring dominance

By Sports Desk July 09, 2022

Charles Leclerc does not want a repeat of the tussle he experienced with team-mate Carlos Sainz in the sprint race as he targets victory in the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday.

The Ferrari drivers saw Max Verstappen race away from them in the sprint, the championship leader benefiting from the duel between Leclerc and Sainz to take the maximum eight points.

Verstappen eventually claimed triumph by 1.6 seconds from Leclerc, who insisted the Scuderia drivers must not risk losing time and wearing down their tyres by fighting with each other again at the Red Bull Ring.

He said: "I think tomorrow is going to be a long race and tyre management will be quite a bit more important compared to today, so probably tomorrow we cannot afford to do what we did today.

"We lost a little bit of time, but again when Max had the gap he also managed his pace, so we'll never know… but I felt like we were strong towards the end – probably stronger than at the beginning. Whether it [would have been] enough I really don't know."

Verstappen now leads the drivers' championship by 38 points, with Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, who climbed from 13th to fifth in the sprint, his closest challenger. Leclerc is a further six points back.

The Dutchman has won five of the last seven races and has an outstanding record at his team's home circuit.

He has won three of the last four Austrian Grands Prix and also prevailed at the Red Bull Ring in last season's Styrian Grand Prix.

However, Verstappen labelled his tyres "tricky" and is not anticipating a routine success across the 71-lap feature race.

"We had good pace at the beginning and after that we were very closely matched, it was as a sprint should go, it was quite flat out," said Verstappen.

"I do expect tomorrow is going to be a very interesting battle again."

George Russell will start fourth in a Mercedes that appears to lack the straight-line speed to mount a serious challenge for victory in Spielberg.

His team-mate Lewis Hamilton will start eighth having claimed the final points place in the sprint.

The seven-time world champion has experienced an eventful weekend, crashing in qualifying on Friday and being involved in a first-lap collision with Pierre Gasly before fighting back from 11th to eventually get past Mick Schuamcher's Haas for eighth spot.

"I'm grateful I managed to survive out there today," Hamilton said. "The team did such a great job to get the car back together last night and this morning. A big thank you to them, and I'm glad I brought it back mostly in one piece.

"We are slower on the straights, so I had to wait until I was out of the DRS train to overtake the cars in front. That's why it took a few laps to get ahead of Mick. Hopefully we can race stronger tomorrow – fingers crossed!"

There are six world titles split between the two drivers starting 18th and 19th. Sebastian Vettel, who was handed a suspended €25,000 fine for walking out of Friday's drivers' briefing, finished 19th in the sprint following a collision with Alex Albon that sent Vettel's Aston Martin into the gravel.

Fernando Alonso's Alpine failed to start the sprint due to an electrical issue. Valtteri Bottas, a two-time winner of this race, is the only man behind Alonso on the grid after the Alfa Romeo driver incurred a penalty because of his latest engine change.

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