Max Verstappen won Saturday’s sprint race to extend his championship lead and secure pole position for the Austrian Grand Prix.

The Dutchman held off Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz in the opening corners before racing unopposed to the chequered flag to the delight of his travelling orange-clad army.

Charles Leclerc took second after a number of nail-biting exchanges with team-mate Sainz – the Spaniard, who won at Silverstone six days ago, completing the podium.

George Russell started fourth and finished in the same position while Lewis Hamilton, involved in a collision with Pierre Gasly at the start, dropped from ninth to 11th before finishing eighth.

Sergio Perez, thrown down the grid for exceeding track limits, drove back from 13th to fifth. Verstappen’s championship lead over his Red Bull team-mate stands at 38 points ahead of tomorrow’s Grand Prix, with Leclerc 44 points back.

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Sixty thousand spectators have travelled from the Netherlands to Austria to turn this weekend’s event into a home race for Verstappen and he did not disappoint with a composed performance from pole.

Verstappen said: “There was quite a lot of orange smoke [from the fans] at the end which was nice to see. We were closely matched so it was good and like a sprint should be – quite flat out.

“I expect tomorrow is going to be an interesting battle again. The car is good and there are just a few things to fine tune. But overall we have been really competitive this weekend.”

Sainz, who moved ahead of Leclerc at the opening bend, nibbled at Verstappen’s Red Bull gearbox on the run down to Turn 3 but could not make a move stick. From there, the world champion cruised off into the sunset.

Hamilton raced in the spare Mercedes after he crashed out of qualifying, and the British driver was involved in an accident after the opening metres when he became the meat in an Alex Albon-Gasly sandwich.

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Hamilton’s front-right tyre made contact with Gasly’s left-rear wheel, sending the French driver briefly up in the air and into a spin.

Hamilton was able to continue but dropped two places. He fought his way past Albon on the fourth lap and then overtook Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas on lap eight.

The Mercedes driver spent the majority of the remaining 15 laps attached to the rear of Mick Schumacher’s Haas.

But the son of Michael Schumacher delivered an expert defence to keep Hamilton at bay until the seven-time world champion finally got his man with two laps to go.

After dropping behind Sainz at the opening bend, Leclerc was back past on the same lap. Sainz launched a handful of attacks on his team-mate to provide a number of hairy moments for the Ferrari pit wall.

Leclerc kept Sainz behind to finish second and join Verstappen on the front row for tomorrow’s race.

Leclerc said: “It was tricky. I had a small fight with Carlos. I started to push and I was gaining on Max. Hopefully tomorrow we can put a bit more pressure on him.”

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Elsewhere, Fernando Alonso failed to start following a mechanical failure in his Alpine, while Sebastian Vettel was punted off into the gravel after a coming together with Albon as they duelled for 13th place.

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Sourse: breakingnews.ie

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