Max Verstappen refuses to ponder title hat-trick despite another emphatic win

By Sports Desk July 02, 2023

Max Verstappen said he is refusing to dream about completing a hat-trick of world championships after he delivered another emphatic performance to win the Austrian Grand Prix.

The double world champion was made to work for his seventh victory from nine rounds after he passed Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz on track in Spielberg.

But after manoeuvring himself ahead of both Ferrari drivers, Verstappen raced off into the distance to the delight of his 70,000-strong travelling army from the Netherlands.

He leads Sergio Perez in the standings by 81 points – the equivalent of more than three victories – ahead of next weekend’s British Grand Prix.

However, when asked about the prospect of taking his third straight title, Verstappen said: “I don’t like to think about that yet.

“I am enjoying the moment, driving with this car, and working with this team. I am just very happy for this weekend and we will turn our focus to the next race at Silverstone.”

A day after taking the sprint race spoils, Verstappen was celebrating his fifth consecutive victory, and the 42nd of his career to move ahead of Ayrton Senna.

Verstappen fended off an aggressive Leclerc on the opening lap before he fell to third after the Ferrari drivers stopped early for tyres under the Virtual Safety Car.

It ended Verstappen’s remarkable run of 249 consecutive laps at the head of a race – a streak stretching back to the Miami Grand Prix on May 8 – however, the Dutchman required just 11 laps before he was back in charge.

After he left the pits on lap 25, Verstappen moved ahead of Sainz a couple of laps later, and then fought his way past Leclerc on lap 35 of 71.

From there, the Dutchman cruised to the flag – even stopping for tyres on the penultimate lap in order to set the fastest lap and take a bonus point.

“It was important to stay in front of Charles on lap one and after that we were able to do our own race,” added Verstappen.

“We chose not to box under the VSC and we followed our normal strategy and that worked out really well.

“I knew I would get them back eventually and following our own plan was the best way forward. To see all the orange in the grandstands and the flares at the end was incredible.”

Verstappen has won 16 of the last 20 races in F1, with Red Bull unbeaten this season as they bid to become F1’s first invincible team.

“We can only take it one race at a time,” said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. “Can we [go unbeaten]? Yes. Will we? Who knows.”

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    The seven-time world champion was speaking for the first time at length since his shock blockbuster move to the Italian giants in 2025 was confirmed earlier this month.

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    But it is Max Verstappen’s Red Bull team who head into next Saturday’s curtain raiser, also in the Gulf kingdom, as the favourites, despite the ongoing investigation into their embattled team principal Christian Horner. Horner continues to deny the claims against him.

    Hamilton, who joined Mercedes from McLaren in 2013, signed a two-year contract extension with the Silver Arrows only last August.

    But over the winter he elected to terminate his £100million deal 12 months early to make the switch.

    “Obviously in the summer we signed and at that time I saw my future with Mercedes,” Hamilton explained. “But an opportunity came up in the new year and I decided to take it.

    “I feel like it was the hardest decision I have ever had to make. I have had a relationship with Mercedes since I was 13. They have supported me and we have had an incredible journey together and created history within the sport. It is something I take a lot of pride in.

    “But ultimately I am writing my story and I felt like it was time to start a new chapter.”

    Mercedes have carried Hamilton to six of his record-equalling seven titles.

    But last year marked a second straight season without a victory for the British driver – a losing streak which now stands at 45 races – and Mercedes’ first winless campaign in a dozen years.

    Ferrari have not won a drivers’ championship since Kimi Raikkonen triumphed for them in 2007.

    And two decades will have passed since Michael Schumacher took his fifth consecutive title for the team in 2004 when Hamilton links up with Ferrari at the start of next year.

    “All of us sit in our garages and you see the screen pop up, you see a driver in the red cockpit and you wonder what it will be like to be surrounded by the red,” added Hamilton.

    “You go to the Italian Grand Prix and you see the sea of red of Ferrari fans and you can only stand in awe of that.

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    “As a kid I used to to play the Grand Prix 2 computer game as Michael in that (Ferrari) car. It is definitely a dream and I am really excited about it.”

    Hamilton said the biggest transfer in F1 history would not have happened if Fred Vasseur – the Frenchman who played a prominent role in his formative career – had not been appointed as Ferrari team principal last year.

    Hamilton continued: “I have got a great relationship with Fred. I raced for him in Formula Three and we had amazing success in Formula Three and GP2 and that is where the foundation of our relationship started.

    “We always remained in touch. I thought he was going to be an amazing team manager at some stage and progress to Formula One. It was really cool to see him at Alfa Romeo and when he got the job at Ferrari I was just so happy for him. The stars aligned and it would not have happened without him.”

    As for learning the lingo, the Stevenage-born racer, added: “In all these years I have not managed to learn other languages, but I will definitely try. I do remember when I was younger and karting in Italy I was able to pick up a few lines. Hopefully that will come back to me.”

    Ferrari might have finished on top on Friday, but the consensus in the paddock is that Red Bull have significantly improved the machine which won all bar one of the 22 rounds last year.

    “Our car is more enjoyable to drive and it is an improvement,” said Hamilton. “But we still have some time to find. Red Bull are out in the distance.”

    Ominously, Verstappen, bidding to win his fourth straight title, said: “For sure, the car is better than it was last year.”

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    The 39-year-old, who joined Mercedes from McLaren in 2013, signed a two-year contract extension only last August.

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    “Obviously in the summer we signed and at that time I saw my future with Mercedes,” said Hamilton as he opened up on his decision to make the move to Ferrari.

    “But an opportunity came up in the New Year and I decided to take it. I feel like it was the hardest decision I have ever had to make.

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    Horner addressed the media alongside four other F1 team principals on the second day of this week’s three-day test in Bahrain on Thursday. The new season starts in the Gulf kingdom next Saturday.

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    Horner was then asked if he could provided a timeline as to when the investigation might be over.

    The 50-year-old added: “I am dreadfully sorry but I really can’t comment on the process or the timescale.

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    Sources have indicated to the PA news agency that there could be a resolution before the opening race on March 2.

    On Wednesday, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff called for Red Bull’s probe to be transparent, and said the controversy is “an issue for all of Formula One”.

    McLaren chief executive Zak Brown, speaking in the same press conference as Horner on Thursday, echoed Wolff’s comments.

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    Red Bull won all but one of the 22 races last year as Max Verstappen stormed to the world championship.

    The Dutch driver, in his heavily upgraded machine, set an impressive pace on the opening day in Bahrain, finishing 1.1 seconds clear of anyone else.

    Mercedes’ George Russell said: “Red Bull are definitely the favourites and definitely a step ahead of everyone here in Bahrain. They have had an impressive winter, no doubt.

    “Hopefully Red Bull are already in that sweet spot, and we can close the gap, but it is going to take a lot of hard work to do so.”

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