F1: Max Verstappen can surpass Ayrton Senna with a 42nd win at Austrian Grand Prix

Max Verstappen F1 Austrian Grand Prix

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen during the press conference at Austrian Grand Prix. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

Max Verstappen can accelerate further into Formula One history with a victory at the Austrian Grand Prix on Sunday.

Victory on his Red Bull team’s home track in Spielberg would take Verstappen to 42 wins, one more than the late Ayrton Senna and alone in fifth place all-time for most GP wins.

Dominant Red Bull has won all eight races this season, with Verstappen winning the last four and six overall. The 25-year-old Dutchman finished second behind teammate Sergio Perez in the other two races.

Aston Martin driver Fernando Alonso, who has six podiums finishes so far, joked about how to win a race.

“Two Red Bulls out of the way would be a good way to achieve that,” Alonso said Thursday.

Alonso, who won the last of his 32 races 10 years ago, dismissed any notion that he had closed the gap at the Canadian GP two weeks ago because Verstappen won by a comparatively close 9.6 seconds.

“In Barcelona, just two weeks before Canada, we were one minute behind (Verstappen),” the 41-year-old Alonso said. “We need to wait for different layouts, different circuit.”

Red Bull has won 18 of the past 19 races overall. The only driver to beat Red Bull during that spell is George Russell, for Mercedes at the Brazilian GP in last season’s penultimate race.

“They’ve still got a lot of margin,” Russell said. “They’re cruising at the moment and they did a really good job (on the car).”

Red Bull is so far ahead that it might even start work on its 2024 car. But Verstappen refused to get drawn into a debate about whether the team’s near-total dominance is unfair.

“A lot of things in life are unfair,” he said curtly.

After Sunday’s Austrian GP, there are another 13 races for Russell and Alonso to take another shot at Verstappen — who won a record 15 F1 races last year and could even surpass that tally.

Such is Verstappen’s dominance and the superior speed of his car that it’s feasible he could also catch Alain Prost, who is third all-time with 51 wins, by the end of the season.

The top three are Lewis Hamilton (103 wins), Michael Schumacher (91) and Sebastian Vettel (53).

F1 greats Hamilton and Schumacher have a leading seven world titles each, but Hamilton went all last season without winning a race. The 38-year-old Hamilton’s contract with Mercedes expires at the end of 2023 and he has yet to sign a new one.

Verstapppen heads the championship by 69 points from Perez, with extra points on offer in Saturday’s sprint race.

The Austrian GP is the second of six F1 events this season featuring a sprint race on Saturday. It means that qualifying for Sunday’s main race takes place late Friday afternoon with only one practice session to prepare for it.

On Saturday, there is a qualifying session, which is known as the “sprint shootout,” to set the grid for the 17-lap sprint race.

The winner of it collects eight points and the driver finishing second gets seven points. Perez won the sprint race in Azerbaijan, where Verstappen collected six points by finishing third.

“In a sprint weekend so many things can go well or can go wrong,” said Verstappen, who is not a big fan of the new format. “It’s always very hectic.”

Perez did not come to the Spielberg circuit for his media duties on Thursday with his Red Bull team saying he felt unwell overnight and was resting to be fit for Friday’s action.


Ferrari Canadian Grand Prix Charles Leclerc

FILE– Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger

Ferrari’s last victory in F1 came here last year, when Charles Leclerc drove brilliantly despite a throttle problem. It gave Ferrari back-to-back victories after Carlos Sainz. Jr’s win at the British GP the previous week.

Ferrari has struggled since and even changed its leadership after a series of mistakes.

“It’s been a long year, for sure. From Austria last year until now it’s been tough,” Sainz said. “We’re trying to turn things around to make the car competitive again.”

Ferrari enters this weekend with a revised front wing on the SF-23 car. But Sainz is not sure it will change much.

“There’s a big gap between Red Bull and us. To think we’re going to cut the gap with one upgrade would be naive,” Sainz said. “Red Bull have killed everyone, killed the opposition in a way, and we’re not the only ones suffering.”


Formula One Austrian Grand Prix sprint

Red Bull Racing’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen competes during the sprint qualifying at the Red Bull Ring race track in Spielberg, Austria, on July 9, 2022, ahead of the Formula One Austrian Grand Prix. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Last year’s Austrian GP was marred by abusive behavior from some fans toward others.

Many fans — particularly women — used social media to make F1 aware of rampant harassment, sexism, racism, and homophobia.

Drivers roundly condemned the behavior, and Verstappen called on F1 and race promoters to implement stronger deterrents in the grandstands.

Verstappen was not asked about last year’s race on Thursday. But he responded to a question about what message he has for his army of orange-clad fans attending.

“Don’t get too drunk. Just watch the race, enjoy,” he said. “It’s always nice to see the orange color next to the track.”

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