He might oversleep one Sunday. He might take his Red Bull racecar to the mall and forget where he parked it. Or lose the keys. He might run into the worst run of bad luck in Formula 1 history.
Barring those possibilities, however, Max Verstappen now seems a safe bet to win his third straight Formula 1 title sometime this year. He inched ever closer on Sunday at the Austrian Grand Prix with his fifth straight Formula 1 victory, the final cherry on top of a dominant weekend in which he was fastest in practice, fastest in qualifying, first in the sprint race and first on Sunday.
Sunday’s victory in Spielberg, Austria, was Verstappen’s seventh in nine races this year — he was second to his teammate in the other two. It was marred only by the end of his streak of laps led. Entering Sunday, Verstappen had led every race run in Formula 1 since the May 7 race in Miami Gardens, Fla. But the streak ended at 249 laps when he exited his first pit stop on Sunday in third place, behind the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.
It hardly mattered: Verstappen passed Sainz and then Leclerc in short order, and promptly started a new streak. It has been that kind of year. Verstappen wins. Everyone else, it seems, is now racing for second.
Best of the Rest
Leclerc was second for Ferrari, a heartening sign for a team whose midseason improvements are bearing fruit. And Sergio Pérez was smiling after a great weekend in Austria: He was second to Verstappen in Saturday’s sprint race and third on Sunday, returning to the podium on a day he had started 15th.
“It’s been a bit of a rough stretch for me,” Pérez said, underplaying a run of weeks of frustrating performances. “Now hopefully we are back.”
The Race in Photos
Talking Point: Track Limits
One driver after another was penalized on Sunday for violations of what are called track limits: Essentially, they repeatedly went outside the white lines that mark the edge of the racing surface of the track. It got so bad at one point that drivers who had been penalized began snitching on the cars in front of them, telling their teams to report rivals who had gone off the track.
After the checkered flag, Aston Martin filed a protest that produced time penalties for eight drivers. The result reshuffled the order of finish — and the points standings — hours after race had ended.
The top three finishers were unaffected, but the changes scrambled the top 10. Carlos Sainz of Ferrari dropped to sixth from fourth, and Lando Norris of McLaren (to fourth) and Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin (to fifth) each rose one place.
Aston Martin’s second driver, Lance Stroll, also benefited from the new penalties: He had finished 10th but jumped to ninth, swapping places with Pierre Gasly of Alpine.
A spokesman for auto racing’s governing body told reporters that the federation had received more than 1,200 complaints during the 71-lap race about drivers who had possibly breached the track limits. Reviewing all of them took hours, and left the final results — and the points standings — uncertain long after the race had ended.
“Due to the specifics of the circuit layout and the propensity of many drivers to repeatedly drive outside of the boundaries of the track, an unprecedented situation arose which resulted in all potential infringements not being able to be reviewed during the race,” the spokesman said.
Track limits had been a talking point all weekend after dozens of laps were erased in qualifying on Friday. Those penalties had sent a handful of drivers — notably Pérez — far down the starting grid.
“People will say, ‘You should have kept the car in the white lines,’” Verstappen said Friday, when he was among the drivers who lost a fast lap in qualifying. “If it was that easy, you can take my car and try it.”
But as the protest proved, track limits taketh, and track limits giveth, too.
Pérez finished third Sunday in part because Sainz had been penalized five seconds during the race. After it ended, Sainz lost even more time, and two places.
Show of Force
How confident was Verstappen on Sunday? With two laps left and a 24-second lead, he persuaded his team to let him pit for fresh tires so he could try to post the day’s fastest lap and claim the extra point in the drivers’ standings that comes with it.
How good is he? It worked.
It was a risky play: A pit stop at Red Bull Ring costs a driver about 20 seconds, and the Ferraris were looming, ready to steal the win, if anything went wrong. But nothing is going wrong for Verstappen and Red Bull these days.
What They’re Saying
“Great day. I enjoyed it a lot.” — Verstappen, every week.
“Lewis, the car is bad. Please drive it.” — Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal, trying to calm Lewis Hamilton’s complaints and focus him on the task at hand.
“I think Friday and today we have maximized what we have, really. It’s good to be back on the podium.” — Leclerc, who stood on it for only the second time this season.
Drivers’ Championship Standings
Verstappen’s victory and his cheeky push for the fast lap’s bonus point pushed him 81 points clear of Pérez at the top of the standings.
Season in Review
March 5: Bahrain Grand Prix. Winner: Max Verstappen
March 19: Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Winner: Sergio Pérez
April 2: Australian Grand Prix. Winner: Max Verstappen
April 30: Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Winner: Sergio Pérez