Leclerc finally returns to winning ways to deny Verstappen at Red Bull Ring after Sainz drama

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Charles Leclerc reignited his Formula One world championship ambitions with victory in the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring.

Throughout qualifying and Saturday's sprint, all signs pointed to defending world champion Max Verstappen continuing his run of dominance in Spielberg and extending his lead in the drivers' standings.

However, in cooler conditions on Sunday, the Ferraris of Leclerc and Carlos Sainz had a clear edge over the Red Bull of Verstappen, who had a clean getaway to stay in the lead into the first corner.

The Scuderia also made the perfect strategy calls to get themselves in position for a one-two, only for Sainz to be denied by an engine failure on lap 58.

Despite a worried Leclerc experiencing problems with his throttle, he held on to clinch a third victory of the season, although Verstappen's advantage in the standings remains 38 points.

Sainz had to go off the track at turn one to protect against a fast-starting George Russell, who was soon given a five-second time penalty for causing a collision after he made contact with Sergio Perez at turn four, with the Mexican sent into the gravel and eventually forced to retire because of the damage.

Leclerc got past Verstappen with a brilliant overtake down the inside of turn four on lap 12, and Perez's exit from the equation put Ferrari in full control of the race and in the rare position of seeing their strategy working to a tee.

Following his second stop, Leclerc got ahead of Verstappen for good on lap 53 at turn three, and Sainz appeared set to repeat the feat five laps later on turn four, only for smoke to begin billowing from the back of his car.

Sainz's fiery exit, which led to a virtual safety car under which Leclerc and Verstappen both pitted, understandably caused nerves for his team-mate.

Leclerc, who saw victories in Barcelona and Baku taken away from him by an engine failure, was soon reporting issues with the throttle, and Verstappen began to loom in his mirrors.

But his car held together to allow him to weave across the finish line in delight, with Lewis Hamilton profiting from Sainz's misfortune to take third behind Verstappen and ahead of Mercedes team-mate Russell. Esteban Ocon was fifth for Alpine.

Leclerc wait finally ends

Leclerc had not tasted victory since the Australian Grand Prix, going seven races without a win in a run that encompassed the failures in Barcelona and Baku and the questionable strategy calls in Monaco and at Silverstone.

This time, though, everything went perfectly to plan until the throttle problems added late drama. They were not quite enough to deny Leclerc a triumph that gives him hope of catching Verstappen at the halfway point of the season.

Sainz goes up in smoke

Verstappen's lead would have been shrunk if not for Sainz's engine failure, which prevented him from scoring a fourth podium in five races and a likely second-placed finish.

Such was the extent of the blow-up, with Sainz's car immersed in flames, that it will almost certainly lead to penalties for changes to parts later in the season. If Ferrari are to get the better of Red Bull in the second half of the year, they must find a way to improve reliability.

IN THE POINTS

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +1.532secs
3. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +41.217s
4. George Russell (Mercedes) +58.972s
5. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +68.436s
6. Mick Schumacher (Haas) +1 lap
7. Lando Norris (McLaren) +1 lap
8. Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +1 lap
9. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +1 lap
10. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +1 lap

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 208
2. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 170
3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 151
4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 133
5. George Russell (Mercedes) 128

Constructors

1. Red Bull 359
2. Ferrari 303
3. Mercedes 237
4. McLaren 81
5. Alpine 81

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