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Charles Leclerc beats Max Verstappen at tense Austrian GP

Charles Leclerc won the Austrian Grand Prix on a day of mixed fortunes for Ferrari as teammate Carlos Sainz retired 14 laps from the end with an engine fire.

Leclerc’s triumph ahead of Max Verstappen at Red Bull’s home circuit breathes life back into his title campaign, but the gap between the two drivers still stands at 38 points in Verstappen’s favor.

Leclerc, who prior to Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix victory had not won a race since April, beat Verstappen in a straight fight, but his lead looked under threat in the final laps as he complained about his throttle sticking open and problems with gearshifts.

The overlapping strategies of the two drivers saw Leclerc overtake the reigning champion on three occasions, only for Verstappen to reel him in after a late tyre change under a Virtual Safety Car for Sainz’s retirement.

Before he stopped, Sainz also looked on course to beat Verstappen as Ferrari seemed to get a better handle on tire strategy than Red Bull. But on lap 57, as he closed in on Verstappen to make a pass, a puff of smoke emerged from the rear of his car and he pulled up in the run-off area at Turn 4.

The victory is crucial for Leclerc, who missed out on chances to win in Spain, Monaco, Azerbaijan and Great Britain due to reliability issues and strategy blunders, but Sainz’s retirement will raise fresh concerns about Ferrari’s reliability.

Sainz struggled to get out of the car as it rolled backwards while on fire, but with the help of a marshal he jumped clear and appeared to be unharmed as he watched the race unfold from behind the crash barriers.

Sainz’s retirement permitted Lewis Hamilton to score his second podium in as many races despite starting eighth on the grid following an accident during Friday qualifying. Although Hamilton had to fight his way through the field to some extent, he was also helped by Sergio Perez and teammate George Russell clashing at Turn 4 on the opening lap.

Russell, who was defending position on the inside of the corner, made contact with Perez’s car, pitching the Red Bull into a spin. The incident dropped Perez to the back of the pack and ultimately led to his retirement, while Russell also received front wing damage and was hit with a five-second penalty at his first pit stop for his part in the collision.

Russell dropped to the back of the field following his first pit stop, but recovered to fourth with an impressive drive back through the field. Esteban Ocon concluded fifth ahead of Mick Schumacher, who seemed to spend a large proportion of his afternoon making overtakes into Turn 3 to secure his career-best finish of sixth. Lando Norris was seventh for McLaren ahead of the second Haas of Kevin Magnussen, teammate Daniel Ricciardo in ninth and Fernando Alonso, who started last, in tenth.

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