Mercedes driver George Russell of Britain leaves his motorhome prior to the start of the Sprint Race qualifying session at the Red Bull Ring racetrack in Spielberg, Austria, Saturday, July 9, 2022. The Austrian F1 Grand Prix will be held on Sunday July 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Max Verstappen cruises from pole to win Austrian GP sprint

World champion Max Verstappen comfortably won the sprint race from pole at the Austrian Grand Prix to extend his championship lead, while Ferrari teammates Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. almost collided as they scrapped behind him.

Verstappen made a clean start and was untroubled thereafter over 23 laps of the 4.3-kilometer (2.7-mile) Red Bull Ring packed with orange-clad Dutch fans setting off orange flares and cheering him on.

Verstappen’s second sprint win of the season gave him an additional eight points. Leclerc picked up seven points for second place and Sainz got six for finishing third with the top eight scoring points.

George Russell collected five in fourth place ahead of Sergio Perez, who drove superbly from 12th to finish fifth and score four points. Esteban Ocon was sixth for Alpine ahead of Kevin Magnussen (Haas) and Lewis Hamilton, who scored one point the day after crashing in qualifying.

The final positions from the sprint set the grid for Sunday’s race. Verstappen will start at the front as he aims for a fifth win at his team’s home track in Spielberg.

Sainz Jr. overtook Leclerc at the start, only for Leclerc to quickly overtake him back and reclaim second place.

The Ferraris brushed each other when Sainz tried to pass his teammate on Lap 6, with Leclerc holding him off. Sainz went for it again on the next lap, going through on the inside but Leclerc dived back on the inside as the tension rose between them. Leclerc did the hard work and Sainz didn’t get another go.

Hamilton attacked Mick Schumacher in the closing laps but Schumacher defended aggressively until Hamilton zoomed past him on Lap 21.

Former F1 champion Fernando Alonso was eighth on the grid but there was a problem with his Alpine car and he did not start.

“Five minutes before the start we saw the car was not starting,” the Spanish driver said.

Chinese driver Zhou Guanyu’s engine cut out on the formation lap and forced the Alfa Romeo driver to start from the pit lane one week after surviving a crash at the British GP.

In the first sprint race of the season, Verstappen overtook Leclerc to win the Emilia-Romagna GP sprint in April, then won the GP race with a fastest lap bonus for a maximum of 34 points overall.

Earlier, the British GP winner Sainz led second practice ahead of Leclerc with Verstappen finishing third. Ferrari raced with its original Prancing Horse logo on the 90th anniversary of its first appearance in motorsport, at Spa-Francorchamps in 1932.

Russell placed seventh in practice with Hamilton ninth. Mercedes had to repair both cars after they crashed near the end of Friday’s qualifying session.