Max Verstappen expects ‘closer’ pack in Austrian Grand Prix

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Max Verstappen is not expecting a carbon copy of his straightforward Styrian Grand Prix triumph when he returns to the Red Bull Ring this weekend.

Hopefully – from a neutral perspective – for the only time this season, a second race is being staged at the same circuit with the Austrian Grand Prix taking place at the Spielberg venue.

It marks a calendar year since a similar double-header finally launched the pandemic-delayed 2020 campaign, although that time it was the Austrian GP followed a week later by the Styrian.

Those two races produced very different results, five different drivers ending up on the podium, although the first had a real ‘first day back at school’ feel about it as there was a high attrition rate, with only 11 of the 20 cars finishing.

Last weekend, Verstappen led from pole position and barely had a moment’s anxiety as he was able to coast past the chequered flag – actually performing a burn-out in front of his Red Bull mechanics – 35 seconds clear of Lewis Hamilton, who had made a late pit-stop.

But the Dutchman is not anticipating it being so easy again at the circuit owned by the team he races for, expecting Mercedes to bounce back, while there is also rain in Sunday’s weather forecast.

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“The fact we were able to win the first home race was a team performance we can be very satisfied with,” said Verstappen. “But we can’t just do the same this weekend.

“The opponents will learn their lessons from the most recent races and we will have softer tyre compounds, which could also change the order.

“We produced a very good race but there are always things we can do better and I also expect the field to move closer together, as is usually the case when two consecutive races take place on the same track.”

Verstappen is now 18 points clear of Hamilton in the Drivers’ World Championship and while everything has gone his way in three of the last four races – the exception being a crash due to a tyre failure when set for victory in Azerbaijan – he is taking nothing for granted.

“We focus on our own work and I like that everyone is pushing harder and wanting to improve because that’s what Formula 1 is all about,” added the 23-year-old.

“It is very important for me to see everyone is motivated and their performance increases, and from my side I will continue to do my best every weekend to keep us ahead.

“At the moment we have a very good overall package, but we have to stay at the top because the season is still very long.”

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